Compare and Despair

Compare and despaire.png

I've recently rediscovered a series by Gerry Bartlett that I started years ago. Her Glory St. Clair series about Real Vampires is clever and entertaining thanks in large part to a voluptuous vampire named Gloriana and her on-again, off again vampire lover, the Highland warrior, Jeremiah Campbell, aka Jeremy Blade (Glory calls him Jerry—a play on the author's name). I like the series, although Glory's obsession with not being a size four and her inability to commit to one lover over the course of ten books has grown tedious (although it makes for good sex scenes). But the biggest problem I have with Gloriana St. Clair is her propensity to compare herself to others and come up wanting. After 400 years, you'd think she would have figured out that to compare is to despair.  One of the banes of modernity is the over abundance of information that tells us we don't measure up. There is so much data available to show us that everyone is prettier, thinner, smarter, more successful and richer than we are. On the other hand, we have reality television to make us feel better about the lives we do lead. Everywhere we look, we compare and despair. Just like Glory, except we don't have the same number of years of experience to teach us not to be so stupid. Regardless, we should know better.  When we compare ourselves to others, only two outcomes are possible, both unpleasant: we’re either inferior or superior to ‘that’, ‘him’ or ‘her’. And, whether we feel one up or one down, what we don't feel is equal or connected. Instead, we exist on a continuum that encompasses both doormats and dictators, see-sawing between the nausea of two extremes. It’s a vile existence whether it’s for 40 or 400 years.

By definition, comparison is dissatisfying. When we compare, we can't be happy with the gifts we've been given—we want someone else's or a better version of the ones we have. When we compare, we feel we must keep up with the Joneses or the Kardashians or whomever pop culture declares our role models at the moment. If we happen to be the standard by which others are judged, we need to not only keep up, but exceed expectations. If last year's holiday party was a blow out, next year's must be even better, so that by comparison, it measures up. Once the beast is unleashed, it must be fed. Continuously. That genie is never, ever going back into the bottle. Sad.

So we chase a finish line that keeps moving farther away. We measure ourselves against metrics that are either grossly exaggerated (e.g. Photoshop) or flat out lies (e.g. the false perfection of so many celebrity marriages, right before they devolve into divorce). What we need to do instead is walk carefully away from the ends of the see-saw and hang out in the middle, where we're balanced, and where we can embrace our individuality and also enjoy everyone else's personality. We need to stop comparing ourselves to everyone else. Particularly as we tend to compare our insides to everyone else’s outsides. Apples and oranges, folks, apples and oranges. Because the unhappy fact is that we’re trying to measure something that cannot and should not be gauged. There is no absolute benchmark for true beauty, or intelligence or achievement. Sigh. I would think that a 400-year-old vampire would know this. In the seventeenth century, a zaftig woman, as my beloved father used to say, was considered beautiful and desirable. Similarly, I would think most 50 year-olds would know that comparisons are specious; as late as the the early 1960s, Marilyn Monroe's size 12 figure was the epitome of female beauty –today we’d put her on a diet before we gave her movie parts. So not only shouldn't we compare, we should remember that beauty, success, wealth and intelligence have been measured quite differently, depending on time and place. It’s silly to pin ourselves down as either an utter failure or complete success. Today's triumph could be tomorrow's defeat. And vice versa. In the end, we’re all just Bozos on the bus, doing our best with what we've got. If we waste our time comparing and despairing, it's just another way to squander the gifts we’ve been given. Which is depressing – especially as most of us don’t have 400 years to figure it out.