Recently my wife and I went out with a very attractive and impressive couple who have moved to town. They seemed to have it all: money, a loving family, and they seemed very much in love - the type of couple that says "we" a lot when referring to their activities. I was a little envious of them. On the way home my wife said, "They seemed really happy and in love, don't you think?" I said I thought they were a nice couple, but she kept pushing the comparisons with them: They were so affectionate with one another, they had money - implying, I felt, a criticism of me. Why couldn't I be more affectionate? Why couldn't I make more money? We had a huge argument, I wound up sleeping in the basement, and I feel like she's looked at me differently ever since. Now this couple wants to have dinner with us again. I don't know if my marriage can stand it! Is there any way to repair the damage done by this fabulous couple? Should I avoid them to put off future conflict?
Well, of course envy comes in all shapes and sizes.
House envy. Womb envy. I've even heard of "topsoil envy" (between green-thumbed neighbours) and "religious envy" (I've got a touch of that one myself, having often wished I had been born Jewish).
You've got "fabulous couple envy."
Before I go on, let me say these lovey-dovey, PDA (public display of affection) type couples are not always all they may seem.
Take Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, for example. All smiles and hugsy-wugsy in public. But who knows what goes on behind the fortified walls of their 400-acre compound in Telluride, Colo.?
("Release the hounds, Rolf," an unsmiling Tom Cruise says to his chief of security as he watches Ms. Holmes scamper across the lawn in her nightgown on the monitors in his Surveillance Room. "She's making a break for it again.")
But let's say this couple you've encountered are as marvellous as they appear to be, and then some.
Don't avoid them. Learn from them. Let their wonderfulness be the goose that goads you to greater heights of accomplishment.
Your wife has looked at you and thought: "Why can't he make more money and be more affectionate?" As Dr. Seuss might say: a thought like that, once thinked, can't be unthunk.
I know some advice-givers may say: "She should love you the way you are, even if you are a little shy on the shekels."
Not me. I say, here's a little riddle:
Q. What time is it when your wife is giving you the hairy eyeball and wondering why you don't make more money?
A. Time to start busting out some career moves.
Life is not a highway, brother. Nor does it in any way resemble a cabaret, my friend.
For me, the only metaphor that works is: It's a street scrap. It's a full-on, rib-crunching, bloody-tooth-spitting, head-butting free-for-all. Or, as the tennis player Jimmy Connors, who is one of my heroes because he never, ever, ever gave up, once put it: "People don't seem to understand it's a damn war out there."
Get out here with the rest of us, put on brass knuckles and go for the brass ring. Show your wife you're a player, not a punk. That you're not just a man, you're the man.
Repeat after me. You da man. Grrr. "Me da man. Grrr." You da MAN! GRRR! "Me da MAN! GRRR!"
And never forget your ABSes and NBCs.
ABS: Always be striving. NBC: Never be contented. Women care where we are in our careers, sure. But they also want to know where we're going. And as long as your wife sees you're making moves, and have not hit some kind of couch-potato career plateau, I can pretty much guarantee she will be mollified and stop giving you the stink-eye every time you go out to dinner with fabulous, successful people.
As to her contention that she could use a bit more affection - easy one! Give her some. You don't have to be all over her. But what's so hard about bestowing a little peck on the back of the neck while, say, she's doing the dishes? It takes two seconds.
In public - well, a little PDA is a-okay if tastefully handled. It shows her you're thinking of her and still feel connected to her.
And if you keep it subtle, a quiet touch here or there; it should have the bonus effect of buoying the spirits of those in the vicinity, rather than triggering their gag reflexes.
But first you've got to stop beating each other with the Blame Stick: your wife in particular, from how it sounds.
Instead of saying, "You should make more money," she should say, "How can we make more money?" Instead of saying, "You're not affectionate enough," she should say, "Let's be more affectionate with one another."
You need to start working together as a team. It's you and her versus the world, never forget that. When you start to think it's you and the world versus her, or her and the world versus you, that's the primrose path to the divorce courts, son.
And from here on in, whenever you encounter someone who has achieved or acquired something you wish to have, let it fill you with hope, not envy.
Don't think: "Why can't we have what they have?"
Think instead: "Now we know it can be done."
And then go to work on getting there. If you work together, and not against each other, everything is possible, all is within reach.
You too can become ... fabulous. And then maybe other couples will squirm and eat their livers with envy, chew each other out, then banish each other to the couch after having dinner with you.
And so the cycle of life will continue.
David Eddie is a screenwriter
and the author of Chump Change and Housebroken: Confessions
of a Stay-at-Home Dad.
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