Thursday, November 19, 2009

Freudenschade


This summer I traveled to Washington, DC for a "girls' weekend" with two beloved friends from my former life.  After weeks of planning and pumping and with Husband's blessing, I prepared to jet off with a light heart, a clear conscience, an out-of-date New Yorker, and a venti iced House Blend.

Then I made the mistake of telling one of my friends here about my plan.  Her response, delivered with a dash of judgment and a soupcon of scorn, thinly masked behind a smile: "You're so good at doing things for yourself!"

Out of context, her words may have seemed supportive, but her tone and her expression conveyed her real meaning: You are selfish.

I hasten to tell you, and am almost embarrassed to admit, that this weekend trip represented the first nights I had ever spent away from Big Boy, with the exception of my stay in the hospital giving birth to Tiny Baby.  (Oh wait, I did spend two more nights away from him when Tiny Baby was hospitalized five weeks after his birth.  The evidence against me mounts.)  Yes, Husband and I had left Big Boy with a babysitter for plenty of dinners out and nights on the town (i.e. ice cream cones followed by a Kroger run) and I even read a book every now and then, but, in general, I had spent the prior two-and-a-half years pregnant, nursing, or both.  My hair was too long, my nails were too ragged, my muscles were an unappealing combination of atrophic and smasmodic.

I did not feel that a focus on myself was my problem.

I've read a lot lately about women and happiness.  About how we're less happy now despite objective improvements in the quality of our lives. About how we have too many choices.  About how having lots of kids makes us happier.  And I'm interested in these ideas.  Maybe I'll write about them someday.  But what I'm thinking about today is how we feel about other people's happiness, especially if we're unhappy ourselves.  How the structure of someone else's joy casts a long shadow over our own gloom and makes it that much more opaque.  How the idea of a friend enjoying a relaxing weekend makes the drudgery of a life without change, without decadence that much more lusterless.  How chipping away at someone else's shine can add some sparkle to our dullness.

Schadenfreude in reverse.  Freudenschade.   (Six years of German, and I'm not sure if I did that quite right.  Es tut mir leid, Frau Mueller.)

Just inchoate thoughts today, my friends.  Ideas percolating, but not yet fully caffeinated.

Do we feel bad (worse) when other people feel good?  Do our judgments of others more often than not reflect a void in our own lives?

6 comments:

  1. Kristen,
    Wow. "How the structure of someone else's joy casts a long shadow over our own gloom and makes it that much more opaque." This sentence makes me shiver with its beauty and truth. Yes.
    This is one reason I have tried so mightily to avoid comparisons - I really think that living life in the comparative register is one of the primary thieves of our happiness.
    And I think this is just another eloquent reminder of the fact that most of the things people say to us, most of the criticism, judgment or, even, approval, is about them and not us. We are mostly screens for other people to publish their own issues onto. I really believe that.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I try very, very hard to follow this rule: Thou Shalt Not Crush the Groove of Others.

    That woman who commented on your trip was a cold hearted, beady-eyed little snake.

    I found you via Momalom--I love your writing!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Oh, Kristen. Thank you. Isn't it so so difficult to feel judged by others. Or to come to your own judgments of yourself based on what other say? I have been where you are. I still am, really. Pregnant. Nursing. Both. The ins and outs, the joys and hardhips. Motherhood. It is NOT about the mother! I hope you had a wonderful time on your trip. I, myself, me, yes ME, have plans to go away this weekend with my sweetie. Just the idea feels decadent. And I would definitely like to have a weekend with Sarah, too, but for now, this is just perfect. And I feel just right about it. Hope you are planning the next trip!

    ReplyDelete
  4. I think her comment says more about her and her self-esteem (or lack of) than it does about you. If you don't carve out time for yourself, who will? We're not martyrs, we're mothers.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I'm going to quote that famous psychiatrist Dr. Frazier Crane who said, "It's not because she doesn't like you, it's because she doesn't like herself."

    That's the sad part, not that other people (moms) say mean things but that other people feel so poorly about themselves. Sad.

    ReplyDelete
  6. How did I miss this post? Not sure. But here I am. And I love your inquiry here. So relevant. I notice this all the time. In others. On those rare occasions where I am beaming, when I express joy, I notice when people are quick to deflate me. Frankly, if I am being honest, I have noticed myself doing this before too (and I hate myself for it). Why do we all have to see this as a competition? Why can't we realize that happiness for others can ebb and flow without affecting our own state of being. Is it that the joy of others brings into sharper relief our own resident gloom? Is it that we speak a language embedded with judgment that cannot be removed? I don't know. But it is unfortunate.

    Brilliant post.

    ReplyDelete

Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment. I love hearing from you! I often reply to comments via e-mail so please make sure your e-mail address is set to "public" on your profile.