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9 January 2024

I never experienced jealousy – until now

In 2023, for the first time in my adult life, a friend’s success made me bitter and resentful. Why?

By Amelia Tait

I’ve never really experienced jealousy, because I’ve always thought of myself as the greatest person who ever lived. I’m joking; except I’m not; except I am. The real reason I’ve never felt much jealousy is (somewhat relatedly) because I am delusional. I’ve always believed that a mansion is out there somewhere with my name carved above the door – and a slide next to the spiral staircase. Tomorrow will be the day that people run down the street to ask breathless questions about my opinions and burst into applause wherever I go.

The ego is a wonderful thing. Mine is a powerful defensive weapon, and though we often think of ego in negative terms, it has shielded me from jealousy. This means I have almost always been delighted by other people’s accomplishments – I feel genuine happiness when I see a friend’s swanky new pad or an acquaintance’s career high. Hooray for them! Hooray for me! Soon I’ll have a house with a slide in it!

This all changed in 2023. For the first time in my adult life, jealousy squatted inside me, making my body its own. To put it as annoyingly obliquely as possible: a lifelong dream didn’t come true. I cried, and then I raged, and then I seethed. And then something new happened to me, something I hated. I saw a friend’s swanky new pad and an acquaintance’s career high and I felt bitter and resentful.

I have obviously felt jealousy before, once or twice. I recall as a teenager going round to a friend’s house and catching sight of the array of perfume bottles on her dressing table. I was so envious, thinking bitterly of the singular, small bottle that I had to make last between visits from Santa Claus. And in those years, I was often jealous when people kissed the boys I wanted to kiss or had body parts that looked better than my body parts.

But in my adult life, I have lived remarkably jealousy-free. You’d be forgiven for thinking it’s because I’m lovely or enlightened – but it’s not. When other people accomplish something, it simply shows me what’s possible for me. I’ve never thought of success as a scarce resource – I’ve always thought of it as something we share, with plenty to go around. My delusional belief is that it’s my turn for unparalleled success and eye-watering riches next – all I have to do is wait in line.

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Unfortunately, 31st birthdays have a way of shattering delusions. I’ve long abstained from putting money into a pension pot because I have ambiently believed that someone will declare me a genius and hand me their family fortune. It turns out you don’t just wake up one day with a million pounds in your bank account. (Even as I’m typing that, I’m struggling to believe it.) It turns out wishing upon a star doesn’t make dreams come true. It turns out some people get things and other people don’t and there’s little rhyme or reason to it, except that the people who have always had things seem to somehow always get more of them.

What a horrible sentence! What a bitter reflection! How pathetic! How embarrassing! How completely not-jealousy-making! Another reason I’ve refused to feel jealousy before is because it has always seemed an embarrassing emotion – a confession that you’re actually not the greatest person who ever lived. Even writing about all of this makes me feel a little fearful; I worry I’m fostering some kind of mysterious negative energy around myself, as though labelling myself a “jealous person” will make me so forever. I don’t like feeling pathetic. And I’ve often been frustrated by the jealous people I’ve met, left wanting to shake them and ask: “Why dwell on what others have? Why not simply just go and get it yourself?”

I’ve learned pitifully late that you don’t just get things because you believe in yourself. As a child, I regularly took that movie message to heart – the only thing stopping me from winning this round of crazy golf is that I don’t believe! If I believe, I’ll suddenly have hand-eye coordination! Subconsciously, I was applying the same TV trope to my adult life. Of course my dreams will come true, because I dream them so hard.

I’m so out of practice that I’m totally unequipped to deal with jealousy, so it can sour my mood for a morning or more. Now the floodgates have been opened, things that I previously didn’t bother to blink at suddenly make me jealous – people’s beautiful bathrooms; the opportunities that they’ve converted into accomplishments. 

I doubt anyone enjoys feeling jealous, but I hate it so much that I’m now making a conscious effort to resist it. Thankfully, I’ve figured out the secret. When we think of a “lifelong dream”, we often think of it as from birth rather than to death. Who is to say it won’t all happen for me at 72?  

Until it does, I am happy to dwell in dreams and fantasies. I used to fear counting my chickens before they’d hatched – I refused to daydream about a career high or even an upcoming holiday because I felt like somehow that would stop it from happening. Now I’ve learned that things might never happen – sometimes dreams are all you have. Why not enjoy them? 

Perhaps this isn’t delusion, but hope: a powerful antidote. As long as I’m working towards the next goal (and I am!), I can keep jealousy at bay. If I’m confidently doing my own thing and enjoying the fizzes of hope that accompany it, I can’t really feel jealous at all. How could I? I have it all, right here in my head! 

Or perhaps this is delusion – a Willy Loman-esque defence against difficult feelings. You’re supposed to end this kind of writing on an optimistic note – but I think it’s probably better to admit the truth. We can’t always escape our horrible emotions. We simply have to let them pass. They will pass – and then they’ll return. Then they’ll pass again. Then they’ll return. It’s fine, really. It doesn’t make us the greatest people that ever lived – but it does make us people.  

[See also: Last January, I let go of goals – and I’ve never been happier]

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