On Real Clear Books today, I linked to Jessa Crispin’s latest literary advice column, on the subject of envy. Jessa counsels the married friend of a jealous single woman that being there for her will be “like trying to hug a crocodile: It might need the affection, and even be desperate for it, but it’s gonna take a chunk out of you if you try.”
The advice seeker professes not to “understand it” that her friend’s still single: “she’s beautiful and smart and so funny.” I do understand it, because I have dated That Girl, and she’s ugly. Oh, sure, she might be hot but envy is just about the least attractive personality trait a girl can have. It drapes everything in very unflattering shadows.
The envious girl can’t ever enjoy herself because every experience is reduced to a vicious Darwinian struggle for status. When she doesn’t have a boyfriend, she wants other women’s husbands. When she does have a boyfriend, she wants a better one. None of this can ever make her happy because she is essentially an emotional (and, for the purposes of long term relationships, guys, financial) black hole.
To be fair, I have also counseled That Guy. In fact, I have run into him a lot in Washington DC. He usually takes the form of a writer for me, because that’s the business I’m in. He may be funny and smart and, for all I know, good looking, but he’s constantly sabotaging himself.
The man sick with envy can never enjoy his successes because of the successes of others. He takes every business decision that doesn’t go his way as a personal affront. He blows perfectly good opportunities because he wants better ones. When he gets those better opportunities, he quickly manufactures reasons why they aren’t good enough. One struggles to communicate the point to him, and then finally gives up, that envy is awful for business.
I have often heard it said that envy is the one deadly sin from which we do not derive a lick of pleasure. That’s true enough, but more needs to be said. Envy renders people beyond pleasure. It’s like perpetual starvation not because you lack food but because you are unable to derive any sustenance from your food.