Otherlife Envy

I suspect there is no word for this. I have an envy for the lives of other people. It is all pervasive, it is irrational, it pops up without warning, as unwelcome as a swimming pool erection. I can do little about it and I have had it ever since I was a child. I have no reason to envy others. I have a nice life. I have all I need. And yet there it is. Otherlife Envy, the niggling sensation that others are better off than me. I think it started in childhood, when I was imprisoned with warring parents in a cauldron of bubbling, viscous tension and I saw around me a world of functional, free people. People old enough and rich enough to be free. I was a gay boy in a cramped closet, longing to smash free and fly, to taste life, to experience all and live, to travel to lands far, far away, over rainbows, and oceans. I wanted the freedom to travel and make choices and fuck my brains out with a legion of priapic strangers.  I imagined setting out one morning and to not stop walking. Around me, everywhere, on TV and in society, I was confronted with perfect families, homes where nerves did not fizz and zing like electrified piano wires; families where children did not cringe. Later, as a student, travelling across Europe alone, with no money and no friends, I could only watch others as they strolled into marble hotel lobbies and sat in street-side cafes eating food other than supermarket picnics, sleeping in ensuite rooms not hostel dorms redolent of feet and towels. To this day I cannot fully enjoy a moment of sublime experience as it cannot last forever and because I cannot own it. No holiday is ever long enough. No walled garden or stately home leaves me unscathed. Envy is not an emotion one is taught to embrace. It is an emotion one is taught to disown. We are already extremely lucky if we are solvent, healthy and partnered, employed and safe. And there is an ugliness in the bitter whining of the fortunate. Yet it is human. And envy can hurt. A few weeks ago, I was in Amsterdam. I have always loved Amsterdam, with an intensity that can verge on discomfort. I was passing a group of stoned young men near the Leidseplein. One of them dropped something and I picked it up for him. It was an Irish passport. And I envied him. I envied him his Brexit-free future, his guaranteed freedom of movement, the independence of his nation from Britain, unlike my Scotland, with no puffy-faced, venal elite seeking to strip him of his cherished rights. Later, I heard a French couple in the Vondelpark and once more I felt the cramps of envy as I coveted their European citizenship. I began to build a virtual life for them, envisioning their Parisian apartment, their wealth, the many extra days of holiday contrasted to my impending return to a dysfunctional and fractious Brexit-Island. Occasionally, I envy others so much it can be physically painful, setting a thousand fuses of corrosive anger. Is this why people gloat, in order to cause others pain? Is envy perhaps a sign that our lives do not quite fit us, like the five-year old pair of jeans in our wardrobe? Are we living and working where we should? Is it our body telling us to take a chance, to leave, up sticks, move, to break in order to grow? Is that where the anger comes from, an irritation not with others but with ourselves? I have a lovely life, a fortunate life, so I do not welcome Otherlife Envy, though is it always bad, as a healing, warning pain?

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5 comments on “Otherlife Envy

  1. Thanks for this post. I’m struggling with jealousy lately, a lot seeing people living my dream. As you said it’s a human feeling and it’s not always toxic because, as you stated with your question, it’s a symptom that we must fight to reach that life we look up to and envy. This on paper, but as a chronically ill person who has some things I can’t change, no matter how strong, positive and willing I could be, I must say that’s not always true. And frustration combines with jealousy. Try to make a list of the things that make you jealous and make a realistic analysis if you can have/change them. Some things will take time, some others may be unachievable. Try to change your life for good and don’t feel guilty for what can’t be changed or for being envious.

  2. I admire the honesty and detail in the writing. I think every one feels envy in different magnitude at different times. The important thing is that you are accepting it and also realising that you have a good life. I do think that envy isn’t always negative. It may help to open our eyes to things our heart really wants (which we’d otherwise ignore in our comfortable lives).
    Thanks for the food for thought! 🙂

  3. Admire the honesty and details in the post. I think everyone feels different magnitudes of envy at different times. The important thing is that you accept it also realising that you have a good life. I do think that envy is bothersome but not always negative or wrong. It may help us realise what our heart really wants, which we would otherwise ignore in our comfortable life.
    Thanks for the food for thought! 🙂

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