Thief of Joy

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I was talking with a girlfriend last night about comparison. About all the people living their best lives on social media. Getting engaged in Majorca, sporting klieg light-sized diamonds, wearing bikinis like they were born in them and sipping green juice laced with artisanal vodka.

These are the images that stick in our brains, the ones that make us feel less than. We don’t remember the horrifying stories of couples splintered by addiction, infidelity and ennui. We see the rainbows not the dark nights, because there’s no narrative arc without growth: The hero must return from the wilderness with the groceries, otherwise no narrative.

Here’s the thing: Instagram is a repository of stories. Each one a curated fiction of some kind. That photo of me and Mitch looking so cute making pancakes? For all I remember, we tussled over making them. Or maybe we didn’t. But dang, don’t we look adorable with our heritage-grain flapjacks?

Maybe some of us are more porous than others and given to comparison. When a friend of mine told me years ago that her new boyfriend said, “Being around you is a sexual experience,” I immediately flashed to what Mitch said early in our courtship, “Leslie, you’re OK.” A real Lance Romance, right? That rankled until the aforementioned lust-drunk boyfriend cancelled their wedding two weeks prior. I picked up the wedding dress, already paid for and returned it to the bride, a deflated white balloon.

There have been couples I’ve envied where he’s cheated or she has or both of them have. Where lies have been uncovered, debts revealed or someone walks out after less than a year of marriage.

When we compare, we are telling ourselves toxic lies. We don’t know what’s underneath the pixels on Instagram or behind the public displays of affection at dinner parties, because people and relationships are complex and dynamic. There may be beautiful starts and messy endings or fights and repairs, infidelity and healing and truths finally shared after years in the shadows. We don’t know. And, how can we? It’s challenging enough trying to cipher what’s going on in our own backyards.

I’m writing this mainly for myself, because I’ve been bedeviled by comparing us and them, as if I’m competing for a grade or running a race or trying to get to some ideal endpoint. Yes, good can come from comparison if taken in the spirit of curiosity: Maybe that couple is further down the evolutionary road than we are? Maybe there’s something we can learn from how they do? Maybe it’s OK that we are who and where we are, failing and getting up and relishing the moments when are hearts do open and we’re mingling our souls in those rare moments of grace.

And, about stories, they aren’t over until they’re over. We are in media res until we’re no longer.

My friend whose fiance cancelled their wedding? They did eventually marry. You just never know, do you?