I learned early how comparison can wound a person.
I was 12 years old, sitting on a street curb with my friend on a July afternoon. It was so hot that the street's tar bubbled up around our flip-flopped feet.
I had called a curbside meeting because I needed her ear. I don't remember what had troubled me, but I do remember how I thought my heart might burst with sadness. Tears spilled down my face.
I wiped my cheek with the back of my hand and started to confide in her.
"Oh-OOOOH-ooh," she interrupted me. "Sounds like trouble in paradise."
I remember how she rolled her eyes, how her blonde ponytail whipped through the air when she shook her head—and how it felt like she took satisfaction in my momentary troubles.
My friend saw only the outside of my life, only the parts that looked like some version of paradise. The truth is, I did have a good life. I lived in a nice house, earned good grades, wore nice clothes, had dependable parents. Our family gathered around our dinner table almost every night, just after the six o'clock whistle blew from the top of the town's water tower.
My life wasn't perfect, but to my friend, it must have looked rather Beaver Cleaver-ish. My friend lived in a single-parent, low-income home. School was difficult for her, and her big brother was often getting into trouble.
When my friend held her life up next to mine, she saw a trash heap next to a gold mine. And I can't say for sure, but I walked away from the curb that day believing that, somewhere deep inside her, she felt a little bit better because I was hurting so badly.
Curbs are everywhere
Turns out, our little-girl penchant for comparison grows up with us.
Turns out, women can be 25 or 55 or 75 and still trying to figure out how they measure up to one another.
Turns out, there are curbs everywhere.
The curbs are on Facebook and at the city park. There are curbs on Twitter and the blogosphere and in churches and school gymnasiums and the carpool lane.
It gets hot out there on the curb, where people's envy bubbles up like tar. We're comparing waist sizes, square footage, IQs, kids' report cards, approval ratings.
Comparison is a quiet vulture, swooping in to peck its sharp beak at our joy, our camaraderie, and our witness to the world.
We compare our trash-heaps days to someone's paradisiacal online updates. We might be tempted to roll our eyes at the precocious comments that some preschool mama quotes. Somewhere inside of us, we might be turning green with envy at another writer's bestselling book, a former colleague's success in a new business venture, another couple's second trip to the beach in a year. We might even quietly harbor a sense of satisfaction when the object of our envy stumbles.