“To cure jealousy is to see it for what it is: a dissatisfaction with self.” ~Joan Didion
For a few years in the late 90s, I had a date with the green-eyed monster every other Monday at 6:00 PM on the dot.
That was when my women artists support group met in my friend Anne's studio.
For those three hours, like clockwork, the envy monster took over my body, mind, and spirit.
Oh, how I wanted a studio like Anne's! Wide open space for her to paint, high ceilings, natural light through clerestory windows, a small office for her computer off the main room.
My own “studio” was a tiny bedroom, so small it was a miracle my drafting table even fit inside. Where Anne had spacious shelves and flat files to store her supplies, a sofa for visitors, and still had plenty of space left over to spread out and paint, I barely had space to turn around.
It wasn't just her studio that I envied, either. Unlike me, Anne seemed to have a happy, functioning marriage. And her house was gorgeous, an old bungalow in pristine condition, with the kinds of details you just don't find in newer construction: old hardwood floors, a fireplace with hand-made tiles, built-in glass cabinets in the living and dining rooms.
In expensive Silicon Valley, houses like this—even tiny ones—don't come cheap, and I seethed with envy, wishing I could afford a place like Anne's.
It takes a two-income family to afford such a home in my town, though, and with my marriage falling apart, I was soon to enter the ranks of the single-income—and a limited income, at that.
Face it, with her well-paying design work, her (also well-paid) husband, her beautiful house, and her to-die-for studio, Anne represented everything I wanted and did not have.
Hence that bi-monthly date with the green-eyed monster.
I should note that I didn’t begrudge Anne all of her riches. I was glad for her.
I knew from reading Betsy Cohen’s book The Snow White Syndrome that envy could be a great tool, a gauge to discover your own deepest longings.
I didn’t want Anne’s studio, house, and husband; I just wanted the equivalent for myself. And that wanting burned me up inside. Life would be so much better, I just knew it, if I had what Anne had!
As my marriage disintegrated and my husband and I eventually filed for divorce, I found myself without a studio altogether. I moved into a one-bedroom apartment and moved my drafting table into the living room. With no separation between my work- and living spaces, I was surrounded by constant chaos.
It was a challenging time: I was desperately sad and confused from the “failure” of my marriage, anxious from dealing with being single again for the first time in eleven years, and under the gun to make my “hobby” art business actually pay the bills.
My little apartment, with its windows overlooking asphalt, was a big step down from the house I’d lived in with my husband. You’d think the bi-monthly treks to Anne’s studio would be harder than ever.
In fact, to my great surprise, I found just the opposite: almost overnight, my envy dissolved.
I didn’t have high ceilings, spill-proof cement floors, and space to spread out, like Anne. I didn’t have a solid relationship, or a beautiful bungalow with hardwood floors and a craftsman fireplace.
I was in the middle of a divorce, living in a tiny, cramped apartment, with no yard, no dishwasher, and no studio, yet I stopped being plagued by the green-eyed monster at our Monday meetings—what was going on?
True, my apartment was plain, and way too small, but it was mine. And for the first time I realized that my life was mine as well.
When I met my husband at age 21, my identity was still unformed, my path as yet uncharted. Without realizing it, in my youthful naiveté, my wants and needs evolved to mold around his wants and needs.
In short, I never truly developed my own identity.
It took my marriage ending for me to “find myself,” and once I did, the lacks that I felt—and the resultant envy—didn’t abrade as much.
I remember, during that awful summer of my divorce, a surprising sense of glee and hopefulness about the life I was creating. I remember walking down my tiny little carpeted hallway, thinking to myself (or even exclaiming out loud), “I love my little apartment! I love my apartment!”
It wasn’t a big studio I needed, it turned out; it was comfort with who I was and where I was going.
My date with the green-eyed monster was really a clue that it was myself I was dissatisfied with, not my surroundings, relationship, or possessions. I just had to realize that my envy was there to be my teacher—that the key to taming it was simply in learning what it was there to show me about myself.
So often we're taught that envy is a sin, something to be avoided, or at the very least hidden away where nobody will see it. When we can look straight in the face of our envy, instead of running from it, however, it always has something to teach us.
When you're feeling envious, ask yourself, “What is it about me that I’m dissatisfied with? What really needs to change in my life in order to feel content again?”
You may not always find the answer immediately, but if you're open to receiving, it will come eventually, and when it does, you can bid farewell to the green-eyed monster. At least until the next time it appears to teach you about yourself again.
Photo by Gregory Tonon