It is my opinion that people, in general, use the words “envy” and “jealousy” interchangeably, and I see them as two very different words that come from the same ‘root’.
For me, envy is when you see something a person has, tangible or intangible, and wish you had one of your own. But jealousy, for me, is when you see something someone has and want to have that very thing for yourself, even if it means taking it away from the person who has it.
It was typical in my high school years to see jealousy in action. We all had our crushes, and we were jealous of the people who were ‘with’ the person we wanted for our own. And yes, things were often done, some not even subtle, to try and steal our crush away from someone else. In that context, I can honestly say that I was never jealous. I would be envious of the high-school romances that were played out in front of me, but simply wished I could have a romance like that. I didn’t want that person.
I can be envious of someone who has a great marriage I wish I could have, but I’m not jealous because I have no desire to take it away from him/her. I envy people who have confidence because I often do not, but I would never want to take it away from them so I could have it for myself instead.
I’m not following the many places I’ve researched that state that envy is as evil as jealousy. I suppose it can be, if the action from feeling it is hateful, but for me, it is actually an inspiration. If I see something that someone has that I want, I am envious that they already mastered what was needed to achieve having it, but it signals to me that I need to look intently about how to achieve the same result in my own life and if I’m willing to take the steps to do so.
My dad and his wife at the time of his death were once married to siblings. My dad was married to my mom, of course, but his wife was married to my mom’s brother. Both were married for a long time to their previous spouses before becoming widowed, and both couples were very close, spent time together, went on trips together, etc., and everybody got along. Yet, after my dad and his last wife were married, I was present at times when their jealousy showed by comments they made. My dad was jealous that a small 5 x 7 photo of his wife and her previous family, including husband, children and stepchildren, was in a frame on a shelf in the den. He didn’t like that a photo of her previous spouse was displayed in the home that he and she had bought and were sharing. His wife was jealous because the table in their kitchen nook had belonged to my parents together and she wanted to replace it simply because it has once been my mom’s. Both of them were jealous about each other’s previous spouses. How crazy is that?
I recall only being truly jealous one time in my life. I was dating a guy and we hung out in our town’s version of “Cheers” (where everybody knows your name). One of the female regulars decided, even knowing we were a couple, to flirt with my guy and come on really strong. He wasn’t rude to her, but he didn’t take the bait either. At last call, when all of us were leaving, she walked up to us at the door, looked at my guy, leaned her entire body into his, and said something like “I can fulfill you so much more than she ever will”. When we got outside and she went towards her car, I looked at my guy and said something like “If I had a gun right now, I’d shoot her in the back from here”. And honestly, in that moment, I felt like I would have had I had the opportunity. That is the only time I recall being jealous in a relationship.
On the other hand, I am always envious. That comes from my insecurity but also comes from some anger towards myself for some of the choices I’d made along my lifeline. My best friend and her family bought a double wide mobile home already established in a location and had money and means to renovate/update every room in the place (expect maybe the laundry room?). I’m envious of that because it has a kitchen where I can imagine spending many, many hours of happiness. It has two bedrooms and two baths, again, all updated and new carpet throughout. They have their own driveway which can hold two cars. They have a deck space on one side where they can enjoy the outdoors. They have central air and heat. Meanwhile, I am living in my apartment with one tiny bathroom, an also very tiny kitchen, a place so old that I don’t even have a breaker box but still have a fuse box. I had to purchase the two window A/C units that I use. The second bedroom houses an entire shelving unit with all of the extra pots and pans and appliances I can’t begin to fit into my kitchen cupboards. A second shelving unit holds what most people would store in a linen closet, as well as things like trash bags, extra boxes of tissues, the big box of coffee pods I get from Amazon, etc. I have two very small closets, one in each bedroom, and so totes filled with things like Christmas tree ornaments and seasonal door decorations and such, sit against the wall next to the closet. But here’s the thing – – I may be envious of what they have, but I don’t in any way begrudge them the right to have it or want to take it from them.
My brother is someone who truly lives in the moment. What happened in his past may not have great memories attached, but he’s able to compartmentalize that as his past. He doesn’t worry about the future, not even the tomorrow, but truly lives his life daily making decisions for only that day. I am terrified even thinking about not having some sense of what I want my future to be and tend to try and always have a plan – and often a back-up plan or two – in case something unexpected pops up tomorrow, or next week, or next month… I am envious of my brother’s ability to not give tomorrow any thought until it gets here. That sounds freeing and liberating in a way I can’t even begin to imagine how it would feel. And yet, if I lived that way and things came crashing down around me tomorrow, or next week, or next month, the panic it would serve me would focus inward and I’d tell myself that was what I got for living so in the moment that I wasn’t prepared for the next moment when it came. I’m still very envious that he can live that way and truly live each moment as it happens, but I’m terrified of living that way as well. And so, I am in no way jealous of his ability because I wouldn’t want that ability, but I am envious of the moments of life I miss because I often look ahead towards what’s next.
So please, if I ever tell you I’m envious, don’t mistake it for jealousy. I don’t want to take what you have from you and make it mine instead of yours. But I suspect there will come many, many more times that I will be envious of what you have. Being envious allows me the right to look at myself and say to that same self, “If you would have done this instead of that, you might be able to have that, too” and realize I made the decisions in my past and present (and future) which put me where I am and I find no fault with anyone but me.
Whatever you have, you can trust that I have no desire to take it away from you.
8 thoughts on “The Green-Eyed Monster”
Alan Mulally, formerly of Boeing, said: The biggest problem with communication is the illusion it has occurred.
It’s my favorite quote.
I think one problem with a lot of modern evolution of language is it all means something differently to each of us
“When you say” – “What I hear” – “How I feel” makes your point, and is an exercise often used in marital counseling. And how can we “mean what you say” when what you say means something different than the intent with which you said it? I think why I prefer the written word over the spoken word is because of the lack of tonality and facial expression.
It’s all relative isn’t it? When I lived in a 16’x80’
It’s all relative isn’t it?
When I lived in a 16×80 trailer, I wanted a house and envied people who did. (I couldn’t afford one until the entire economy collapsed in 2008).
I remember reading Alain de Botton’s “Status Anxiety” to get some perspective. He pointed out that material envy tends to depend on who are what you’re living adjacent to.
I lived in the only trailer park on the outskirts of one of the wealthiest towns in one of the wealthiest counties in the U.S.
The minute I left my park I was surrounded by homes that started at a half-million and went up from there (not much for California, but for here it was).
I was terribly envious and angry too that no amount of my labor would allow for such a luxury. I wondered, “Who the hell can afford all these expensive homes?” Turned out, after the meltdown, not as many people as I thought. Suddenly, the newspapers filled-up with foreclosures.
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Well, the newer ones are now called “modular homes” and to be honest, I’d rather have one of those than an actual mortar and brick house. I almost bought a house once, but only for the reason that it made economic sense to “own” rather than “rent”. My realtor screwed up and I couldn’t buy the house (proof that he screwed up got me my deposit back, at least). I prefer to know that, if something breaks down, I don’t have to find the money to repair it. As to the thoughts in “Status Anxiety”, I’ve never really cared what I lived next to (as long as it wasn’t a landfill that stunk), but there is a nice sense, I guess, to keeping up with the Jones in the neighborhood.
I didn’t care about keeping up so much, but the contrast in lifestyles can wear on your unconscious. I just wanted the small house I grew up with (maybe felt a bit entitled to at least that) and that’s precisely what I ended up with – a small GI loan house from the fifties.
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In my own defense, I would like to point out that I do in fact have the ability to plan for the future. Today, I packed my lunch for tomorrow at work. But I did not pack my lunch for next week.
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That’s a useful distinction between envy and jealousy. I’ll be mulling that over. Nice to check in with you again. 🙂
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