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I have been telling my husband the same thing for almost 20 years. I tell him, “Honey, you never need to worry about me looking at other men. I’ll be too busy looking at the women with them.” Some of you women know exactly what I’m talking about. But for those who might not, let me set the scene for you.
You’re with your husband (or boyfriend, or partner), and you enter the party. Maybe it’s an office party, so you recognize some of the faces and smile hello. Maybe it’s a birthday party for a friend’s spouse, and so most of the faces look unfamiliar. That’s not what’s important here. What’s important is where your eyes go. And where your mind goes. Because from the minute you walk into that party, your eyes leap from woman to woman. Her gorgeous dress. Wow, I wish I looked that gorgeous in a dress like that. Ooh, her hair. Is that her natural color? How is her hair so shiny? I’m already hiding way too many grays. Or how about her smile? Her teeth are so white, so gorgeous. She must have had braces as a kid. No way can teeth naturally look that beautiful. Yikes, I can’t smile at her, or anywhere near her. All night long, your eyes bounce from woman to woman, from gorgeous figure to beautiful skin, to impeccable taste. And your mind jumps from judgement to judgement. Not at them. At yourself. Every time your eyes fall on another woman, a judgement falls on you. You cannot stand with her, or her, or her. You fall short over and over and over again.
Does this sound familiar to you?
This is what many of us women do every single day. Comparison. We spend day after day comparing our bodies, our jobs, our families, our minds, to other women. And we come up short.
This quote by Teddy Roosevelt sums up most women perfectly. So much, so that I almost want to pretend that maybe he first heard it from his wife. Too many women know the painful truth of these words. The joy of any moment can be stolen by our comparing ourselves to other women around us. Once the comparison is made, the joy is gone. The fun outing at the pool with the family? Gone in one glance at the mom with 4 kids and a fantastic figure. The afternoon trip to get ice cream? Gone in one moment as you spot another mom whose kids are much better behaved than yours. Lunch with the girlfriends? Stolen away in self-judgement after self-judgement.
OK, let me stop here and turn to you, reader. Are you finding yourself agreeing with every point I’m making here? Are you nodding your head with every sentence, murmuring in your heart and mind, “Oh my goodness, yes! This is me. I do this all the time.”? Can you relate to my story? To the stories of so many other women who live this life of comparison?
Well, there it is. The fork in the road. The crossroads where we women stand, right now. The crossroads of comparison and connection. Of isolation vs. relation.
If comparison is where you always find yourself, perhaps it’s time to consider the other path. Where comparison isolates you from the women around you, connection brings you closer. While comparison hurts both you and “the other woman”, connection benefits you both, through encouragement and compassion (for both you and her). Comparison is a losing battle. Connection is a win/win for sure.
But how can we move from comparison to connection? I ask this with all sincerity and honesty, as I all too often find myself stuck on the rocky, downhill, comparison road. How can we stop comparing ourselves to others and start connecting with them? How can we move from self-judgement and self-loathing, to self-compassion, and self-kindness? How can we stop seeing those other women as unapproachable, unrealistically ideal, or completely separate from who we are?
Let’s brainstorm a few ideas.
1. Exercise Vulnerability
I think the first thing we can do to move away from comparison and toward connection is to look inward. Be courageously honest with yourself. Call yourself out on your comparison, as soon as you recognize it. I have been catching myself a lot in these moments, and am trying to call myself out. It’s not easy! And it doesn’t mean I miraculously move forward, away from self-judgement and into self-compassion. I wish! No, it’s not always that easy, but I think, like anything else, practice is making perfect. And so I’d encourage you to try the same thing. Try to recognize in yourself the specific moments when you find yourself comparing. Is it at the park surrounded by other moms and kids? Is it at the office, surrounded by other creative professionals? Take a look inward, and recognize where you tend to self-judge. Then gently call yourself out when you do.
Not only is it important to recognize our own personal tendencies to compare and self-judge, but it is equally important to look outwardly toward those “other women”. Chances are they have their own tendencies to compare and self-judge. You might see a perfect waistline, but what she might see in herself is her lack of patience with her kids. Where you might see her power in the office, she might only see her self-doubt with her financial capability. Remember that many of us women tend to compare. So chances are high that the woman you’re putting yourself down to is doing the same somewhere else.
Take the time to recognize the struggle for all of us. This will help you see other women less as stars on pedestals, and more as women just like you. Ah, the connecting has begun.
3. Be Beautifully Brave
We’ve all heard that saying, “The most important thing a girl can wear is her smile”. Cheesy, maybe. But consider it here. How brave would it be to stare right into the eyes of that woman you just compared yourself to, and smiled? How kind to both of you, to make her less an object of comparison, and more a fellow woman? Your smile is beautiful. I know it is. I’ve never seen a smile that’s not. So share yours with other women. Even the gorgeous ones. Even the powerful ones. Even the best moms. Chances are you need to offer it. Chances are they need to see it.
What other ways can we women move away from comparison and closer to connection? How do you help yourself move away from self-judgement and toward self-compassion? Help us women grow more connected by sharing your ideas in the comment section below.
And remember, next week I’ll be sharing my new Self-Compassion Startup Workbook right here on the blog. And it will be FREE! Make sure you’re subscribed here so you don’t miss it.
A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog post about a new project I hope to begin, called The Great American Portrait Project. Still on the early road to discovery, I envisioned a tapestry of beautiful lives, tied together through portraits and stories. You can read a little about that here.
After sharing that blog post, I received an email from a friend who asked if I would consider sharing her story. She was not sure it was part of my vision, but thought it an important one to share. I could not agree more.
Laura's story is one of grief. It is not an easy story to read, as I'm sure it was not an easy one to write- or an easy one to live for that matter. But Laura's story is beautiful.
Here it is, in her own words.
Thank you for sharing this with us, Laura.
I am a member of the club nobody wants to join.
It’s a club of unimaginable pain, of sleepless nights, of staggering guilt and despair. It is a club in which you question the very nature of life and existence.
It is the club of widowhood.
I am alone now, but not single like I was before I met Adam nearly 18 years ago. I will never be single again. I will always be widowed. I will always feel an emptiness in my heart, and I will always carry the burden of grief on my shoulders.
I have realized that no matter how long you have your love, whether it’s five days or 50 years, it will never be enough. Nevertheless, I am still part of the subset of this nightmarish club … the young widow subset. I don’t have a few years ahead of me to carry this grief, but a lifetime.
Any time is the wrong time to be a widow, to be left behind. At 47, I am caught in between. No longer am I the sparkling, businesslike 30-year-old in a short skirt and sweater who walked into a print shop, catching the eye of an even-younger free spirit. Now, after years of happiness, those skirts don’t fit me anymore, the shine in my hair is from a bottle, and the years have made their mark upon my skin. It is in this shape that I am left—broken inside and out.
Now, I am the awkward silence that fills the room when I crack a joke about death. I am the ultimate question mark… how will she act tonight? Should I bring up her husband? Should ask I how she is? What do I do if she cries?
The likelihood a widow dies in the first year after her husband’s death increases dramatically. I know this intimately. I have wanted to die. I have spent dark moments keening in a lonely house, desperate for solace, desperate for an end to pain. I have relived every moment of his illness, positive in a fleeting moment that he could come back if I just had said or done something differently. I have believed I had the power to control another human being, and to control life or death.
Because there is another subset to which I belong.
I am the widow of an addict. My guilt, be it rational or not, is real. I could have made different choices. They might have made a difference. They probably would not have. I, no, we, made our choices at the time, but the disease of addiction is a mighty monster. It claws through the best of marriages, ripping the seams right open. If there is a weakness in your marriage, it will find it and tear it wide open until it becomes that gaping hole of death and despair.
And people will judge. They will judge me. They will judge him—a man they didn’t know, who was a soul of unwavering kindness. They will say he was weak, that he could have been stronger. Those of us who have watched the path of addiction from beginning to end know there are no easy answers. All I know is that the disease took my love from me and left me in its wake.
I am alone, but not alone. I have been lifted up by a thousand hands … hands that didn’t judge, that showed me love beyond what I could have hoped.
And there is Bixby. Our dog. Let me tell you, the grief of a widow is such that even his life would not have deterred me from my determined path toward death had it not been for the love of people around me. They pulled me through for him. Now it is the two of us on this road together.
We both believe in love. He is by my side as I fight for my life; as I fight for hope and meaning when all seems gone.
In the late waning hours of a November day, I lay in a hospital bed with my beloved as his wondrous life slipped away. The doctor held my hand as I wept and cried out “I can’t do this. My life is over.” She held me tighter and just said, “No, your life isn’t over. But it will never be the same.”
Much to my surprise, she turned out to be right. My life isn’t over, no matter how hard I wished it would be. My life is not the same, no matter how hard I try to make it so.
The worst thing that could have happened to me has already happened. Together, Bixby and I have no fear of what is to come.
So, we look ahead. Sometimes, grief calls to us so loudly that we cannot ignore him, and the darkness takes over. But I am here to tell you… it is survivable. It is survivable because of love and compassion…because of family and because of friends.
I will bear this burden if I must. I will bear it so you may all have the life I was not granted. Your smiles are my gift. Your smiles are my knowledge that I will see the sun again.
Thank you for making me feel beautiful again, Jen.
I am one with the Force, and the Force is with me.