What’s the difference between envy and jealousy?
Penelope Trunk writes
In therapy lately I am learning to identify my feelings. Maybe you’re thinking this is elementary, but did you know that envy is about wanting something you don’t have, but jealousy is the fear of losing something you already have?
It’s my tendency to accept the written word (almost every written word, to a fault) as truth, but I read and re-read that paragraph over and over, debating that distinction and I’ve come to the conclusion that I simply couldn’t possibly disagree more.
In my minds eye, jealousy is a mean sort of emotion. Jealousy is looking at an acquaintance and wanting what they have, not just wanting it for yourself but wanting to take it from them.
Jealousy is feeling that they haven’t quite earned it. That you could somehow fit their life more than they do; you’d excel at their job, be kinder to their spouse, take better care of their home.
Jealousy is telling someone they don’t deserve their life as much as you do.
Envy, to me, is sweeter somehow. Envy speaks almost exclusively about those close to you, it is filled with a sort of expansiveness, detached appreciation for a choice, a way of life. I am fond of saying that I envy my siblings, all five of them, for different reasons each.
I don’t want to take their lives. I don’t even necessarily want what they have - Hilary’s wild pursuit of life, Lizzie’s sweet nature, Claire’s independence, Liam’s insane intelligence and Mawney’s calm blend of all of it.
I don’t want what they have, I just envy their place within it.
Envy is like being single and seeing an elderly couple at dinner, holding hands and laughing and still madly in love even after miscarriages and fights about dishes. Envy is wanting to end up in that same place through different means, but wanting it without bitterness or regret or sadness- envy is knowing that you’re halfway there already and will arrive in your own time.
It’s kind, soft, nonthreatening. It’s the desire to feel the same way about your life, rather than wanting that exact life for yourself.
This long preamble was all in order to say that while I was on the Island this weekend visiting my mum and watching Adam careen around the ice scoring goals and scrapping, I also envied my sister Hilary.
When we drove back to Ontario a few summers ago Hilary and I got into a fight - a rarity now that we’re all older. She angrily accused me of having nothing kind to say about her. She alleged that I complimented all of the other sisters, made positive comments about their appearance, their endeavors, and rarely did the same for her.
I was flabbergasted. I felt like saying “Hilary, have you MET you?”
She’s incredible. She steals the spotlight, is always the life of the party, pursues life with breathtakingly happy abandon. It seemed ridiculous that she would want, would need compliments from me, her boring older sister.
What would I say? What could I say? Complimenting Hilary feels like throwing ice cubes into a waterfall.
But she was right, I didn’t compliment her, I still don’t, as much as I do the others.
In order to be genuine it would feel sycophantic, I would be heaping it on with a shovel, I adore her wit and her fashion sense (always two years ahead of the trend), her artistic endeavors, the carefree way she makes decisions, her raucus life.
There’s just too much.And you look at someone like this, with the confidence of three of us mere mortals, eagerly embracing life, making best friends with everyone she meets, mastering Spanish, learning how to play the harmonica, performing spoken word poetry, jumping on stage, and you think “What could I possibly add to this?”
So this weekend I basked in this life, and I sat back and I enjoyed it and, yes, envied it, became inspired by it.
Being a practical sort of person, I tend to talk myself out of experiences, I struggle to find their worth. I weigh, in a very cold, rational manner, the cost of the experience against the potential benefits. And I make my decision from there.
This is a pretty sane way to make a decision, but it also becomes difficult when you’re pressed, by a sort of cold internal accountant, to justify learning French when you’re 28.
How do you find a “reason” to learn how to paint?
The accountant asks me to explain why exactly, I need to do this. Is it going to be worth the time and the money and the potential for stress and scheduling conflicts and, just what, exactly, am I planning to DO with it?
What’s the point?
It’s hard to justify. So I haven’t.
Hilary changed this.
"Why," my accountant asks, "Why would anyone spend hours learning how to play the tambourine?"
"Because," Hilary answers, "Because then one cold Saturday night you’ll be out dancing with your friends and the singer will spot it in your hand and invite you onstage to play with the band and you will be filled with such a wild happy joy that you think you might explode, THAT’s why."
Because sometimes learning is the means and the end, rather than just being a bridge to future achievement.
It was fascinating and exhilarating to realize this. And I’m not going to learn how to play the tambourine, but I’m going to find my own source of wild happy joy and fill it with learning and that’s the beauty, the sweet advantage of envy.
Sisterly Love: A sign Lizzie made for me when I came home from University one weekend in 2005
It’s funny how much harder this post is to write than one where I make fun of Adam’s messiness or how he wears stocking caps and uses chocolate trails to lure me into traps. I’ve been putting it off for days but I also feel very strongly that I should write it, because it’s very sweet and I think Adam deserves to have some of that sweetness showcased along with the snark.
There’s a saying that living with a writer is like having an assassin in the house. I think Adam might agree. We do have limits (both unspoken and explicit) about what I will and won’t write about him, our marriage, our lives. But he also has no way of knowing which of our daily interactions will end up written on a public blog for all to see and consume and judge. He has no control over the way he is portrayed, nor the words I use to describe him, nor how I sometimes tweak what comes out of his mouth to make a story more amusing.
Given all of that, it seems ridiculous that I would withhold a story that paints him in a positive light. Such a story would serve to balance the scales, show a different side, a different shade. But I can’t get over my reticence.
I think it’s because of our whole Facebook culture where status updates have become brag fests and online photo albums have become testaments to the awesome life you’re living, and none of it seems like its done in the spirit of connecting or sharing, but instead, of one-upmanship.
And so when Adam did this amazing, very sweet and thoughtful gesture my first thoughts were simultaneously ” I can’t wait to blog about this!” and “I can’t blog about this, it’ll seem like bragging.” Because what else would it be other than a long-winded “look how awesome my husband is” post?
I hate those posts, for me they fall into the same category as the “Look how perfect my house is” posts and “Look how cute my outfit is” posts. I’m so over the facade of perfection: SHOW ME YOUR WRINKLES!
Anyway. I posted a picture of him online wearing smokey eye makeup. He’s earned this, here goes.
A few weeks ago I took a day off of work right before my big market to get stuff ready, do last minute errands and relax a little from the chaos of the preceding weeks. When I told Adam, he got really pissy about it, interrogating me about how many vacation days I had in a year and why I was taking so much time off lately blah blah blah I don’t really remember the rest I wasn’t really listening towards the end of it.
I didn’t really understand why he was being such a dick about it, and sort of went off on a pseudo-feminist rant of my own, yelling some bullshit about “I am my own woman and I work my own job and I can take days off when I want!” and then I just started blurting out names like “Rosie Riveter!” and “Gloria Steinem!” and then finished up (as one does) by performing an interpretive dance routine to “Women Are Doin’ It For Themseves”!
So that was cool. And then, AND THEN last week everything made sense (except the dance routine, that remains pretty weird).
Adam and I were at work when his phone rang, he looked at the call display and then walked away to take it. Now, saying that you are not a jealous person is usually just something that people say when they are about to tell you about a crazy jealous thing they just did, but SERIOUSLY guys, I am not a jealous person.
It’s probably because Adam’s been out of the game for 10 years and has so very little left in the way of “moves” for anyone who is not his wife. I’ve seen women flirting with him and he becomes so violently uncomfortable that sometimes when I’m bored I slip pretty ladies $15 just for the privilege of watching his eye twitch when they ask for his number.
But anyway, I thought it was sort of weird that he was taking the call privately. Especially since Adam is physically incapable of keeping a secret. So obviously I snuck over to eavesdrop (okay so I WAS about to tell you about a crazy jealous thing I did. Haha, look at that!)
Then I heard him say: “Okay. Okay sounds good. Well at least I can tell her now”
And then, THEN the crazy came out. I ran over and started jumping up, trying to reach the phone or at least hear who was on the other end. All I could hear was a ladies voice and as he hung up I shouted guesses at him:
"OMG is someone pregnant? IS LIAM PREGNANT? Are Mitch and Colleen getting married? Is Mawney coming home? What is it? Who waaaaas it? "
Multiplying obnoxious whining and inquisitive interrogating by ten and Adam finally told me that it was my sister, this one:
Lizzie. She had been planning a visit, and she Adam were conspiring to surprise me.
Guys, I squealed. I SQUEALED.
And then Adam told me that she had to cancel her trip because one of her roommates bailed on her and she has to pay double rent for December.
And then I reverse squealed (groaned? whined? screamed?)
I hereby swear ON THE INTERNETS that if I ever see said roommate I will punch her in the throat. For serious. Sadness and rage do not begin to describe the feelings I was feeling.
NO ONE MAKES ME FEEL MY OWN FEELINGS!
Then everything began making sense. How Adam said “Sunday will be a day of BIG surprises” in a mysterious tone before going to bed one night, (oh what, like you would have figured it out? I WAS SLEEPY, guys. Bedtime is no time for sleuthing.) It also explains why he was so concerned about me taking time off.
It turns out he called my boss and booked four days off for me to hang out with Lizzie, travel to see my mum and just generally have a gay old time. This planning had been occurring totally unbeknownst to me, for weeks.
This, THIS was why he was so concerned about my vacation days, worried that I wouldn’t be able to get those four days, worried that I was unwittingly ruining everything.
It was very cute, and very thoughtful, and I so wish that it had been able to happen, because I can not even imagine how amazing it would be to suddenly just see my sister, there in front of me, out of the blue. Miss you Liz!
Two years ago I got a tattoo. I never, ever EVER thought I would. The idea of having something that permanent etched into my skin made me sick to my stomach. If I’m being honest, sometimes it still does.
The reason behind it was peer pressure in its purest and most evil form: sibling peer pressure.
Here’s what happened. I think the two youngest sisters started it (typical).
Hilary got a the outline of a five pointed star inked into her left butt cheek - the part that would peek out from under a bathing suit. Mawney got a teensy tiny version of the same star tattoed onto the top of her right foot.
Claire was next. She did it a bit differently (as is her wont) and she got two five pointed stars tattooed in the dimples of her lower back.
And then there was a bit of a standoff, as only Lizzie and I remained to get what was now being called “the sister tattoo”. Five points for the five sisters.
The heckling began. Every time we all got together it was all “When are you going to get the tattoo? Why haven’t you gotten the tattoo? How’s it supposed to be a sister tattoo if only three of us have it?”
I was pissed. Those bastards hadn’t consulted me about this so-called sister tattoo and now I was being peer-pressured into permanently inking a star onto my body. Where was the discussion? Where were the votes and designs and scheduled appointments? It all seemed a bit haphazard..different sizes, different places…the whole thing was a shitshow and I was being thrust into the middle of it.
Obviously I did it. But it wasn’t pretty.
One summer we traveled back to my grandparents cottage in Ontario. We drove out, four sisters and my mum in a minivan for three and a half days (Claire did it differently, and flew out…smart girl)
On the way I repeatedly asked Lizzie to draw a star on my wrist to get used to the idea. She claims to be an artist but this is the best that she could come up with.
Things were not looking good.
A few days after we arrived, Claire and my brother flew in and in short order Liam too began to feel the effects of my persuasive younger siblings as “the Sister Tattoo” morphed into “the Sibling Tattoo”, a little less catchy but with five points to represent each of our five siblings. He seemed convinced.
Finally the day came and all six of us packed into a minivan and took off for Peterborough, a town near my cottage large enough to hold a tattoo parlour or two.
The whole way there I felt like throwing up. I was so so SO worried that it would look bad, that they would make a mistake, that I would forever regret what I was about to do. But they wouldn’t let me back out.
Our tattoo artist looked like Edward Norton. This made me feel a bit better. Then the tattooing made me feel worse. It hurt. A lot.
And then it was done! Me with a bandaged wrist, Lizzie with a bandaged butt (she got it done as a mirror image to Hilary’s) and I was elated at the fact that I had a tattoo, but mostly just glad that the whole goddamned thing was over.
After seeing me crying and writhing and grimacing, Liam opted out of the sibling tattoo and STILL hasn’t gotten it done. For all his whining about being excluded from the ‘Sister Tattoo” he sure hasn’t out his ink where his mouth is. (Or where his arm is. I mean, he doesn’t have to get it done in his mouth is what I’m saying. just GET IT ALREADY. Feel free to heckle him here)
Me, Edward Norton, Lizzie
But guys, when I finally took off the dressing at midnight that night (unable to wait any longer) I fucking lost my SHIT. The tattoo was bad. It was my worst fear manifested in ink PERMANENTLY on my body.
It was lopsided, some points of the star were longer or fatter than others, there were weird little squiggles and bumps and blotches. I was horrified, I grabbed my phone and raced up to the long gravel driveway of our cottage where I crouched in the woods (so I wouldn’t wake anyone up) and I did what I always do when I am freaking out - I called Adam.
It’s funny, I can’t remember what I did two days ago, couldn’t tell you where I was a few months ago but the memory of being crouched in the woods of Ontario as a faint rain fell on my face and neck, sobbing into the phone is as clear as a bell.
Adam picked up and I started ugly-crying, heaving and sobbing and unintelligibly trying to articulate how horrible and truly disfiguring this tattoo was. “It’s BAD” I remember crying, “Like REALLY bad. Oh my god I KNEW this would happen why did I do this? I wish I never did it!”
Adam listened patiently for a while and then after a dramatic proclamation where I finished by saying “…it’s lopsided and wonky and HORRIBLE!” he interrupted and he said “MADELEINE. . You’re lopsided and wonky and horrible. It’s just a tattoo Relax.”
And surprisingly this did calm me down, I started taking deep breaths and then tiptoed down the stone steps and slipped into bed. This calm lasted until the next morning when I saw it again in daylight and started freaking out all over again.
I can’t blame the tattoo artist, Lizzie’s is perfect. I think maybe my extreme anxiety was making me twitch and jerk with the result that Adam was right, the tattoo was like me, overthought and imprecise, deeper in some places than others, striving for symmetry but missing the mark.
I wish I could say that through this little realization I found peace with the horrible tattoo but I didn’t. I obsessively researched. I looked at hundreds of pictures of other people’s horrible tattoo’s to make myself feel better. Because compared to tattoos like this:
…mine wasn’t so bad.
So I left it for a year.
Somehow I felt like I needed to conquer this imperfection, I needed to get used to and even accept that I had something permanently a part of me that was flawed and couldn’t be fixed. It stressed me out. But I lived with it for a year and learned to get over it.
After the year was through I bit the bullet and got the worst bits touched up but I left the wonky sides, the lopsided points, the varying degrees of thick and thin lines.
It’s the worst kind of cheese, the worst kind of writing to stretch meaning and metaphor into something like this, but I truly do feel that this tattoo has become less of a tribute to my sisters, and more of a permanent reminder that as Adam said, I can be lopsided and wonky and horrible. And (say it with me now)…