Envy, jealousy, and longing, pt 1

I already linked to Figleaf’s rather brilliant insight that jealousy, for him at least, is mainly just a feeling of longing. It is when you crave something or feel unsatisfied that jealousy has the potential to rise. The interplay between jealousy, envy, and longing is complicated, and I’m going to try to write a series of posts here delving into each one. (I am notoriously bad at follow-through on planned series: naggers, get nagging!)

First longing. Our culture is really, really bad at dealing with longing. Most of our stories have happy endings, which is to say that the story’s grand “I WANT” is rewarded with a “Here you go!” Now I actually like happy endings, but when it comes to narratives of loss and disappointment, we are horribly fragmented. One of the main messages is “just try harder!” …because we find it difficult to believe that the great I WANT of ours or anybody else’s life could really be unattainable. Failing that, we default to “you must not really deserve it” (these two can ping-pong nicely with an overarching message of “you don’t deserve it because you haven’t tried hard enough,” no matter how hard you have actually tried.) Then we sort of muddle into stoicism or asceticism, with a “maybe you shouldn’t be wanting it anyway.” Manifestly absent is the ability to just live with unfulfilled longing, to accept it as one of the many experiences of life. (One reason I love/hate the movie It’s a Wonderful Life: if you pay attention, you notice that George Bailey never realizes his childhood dream. Not even close.)

I guess it’s part of the “American Dream,” this idea that if you work hard enough you can have anything you want. And in areas of material achievement, it has its merits. But you know where it completely fails? Love. It is flatly untrue that if you work hard enough, you can have the love you want… despite the fact that we create lots of narratives saying otherwise. (I’m looking at you, Patient Unrequited Lover Finally Gets the Guy/Girl.) I have — um — LOTS of experience dealing with unfulfilled romantic longing. About a decade’s worth, all told. And there were years in there where I tried hard, years where I felt I didn’t deserve love, years where I decided not to want love (it worked for a couple of months). I could say I eventually made peace with the unfulfilled longing, but “peace” is not usually accompanied by occasional nights of racking sobs. “Peace” isn’t the right word… but I did learn to live with it, in some way. And the key to doing that was rejecting all of the coping mechanisms that our culture offered. I was trying as hard as I could without reaching the self-sabotage point; I did deserve to be loved, as much as anybody does; I did want it, more than almost anything I could name. Trying to deny those facts only made things worse. Accepting them, I could in a perverse way make friends with my longing, accept it as part of my life, not something to be escaped before real life could begin.

Which, as it turns out, was a good move, because now I’m very happy in love and guess what? Happiness in love does not mean immunity to longing, even to romantic longing. Having learned to cope with it during those long single years has been a profound advantage in conducting my current love life. More on that to come.

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