I’ve known I had to write this one for a while, but I’ve put it off because I’ve had more fun things to write about and also because it’s one of the worst things about me and I am so ashamed. It’s so annoying to me that something from childhood could still be such a motivation at 39. But here we are, fresh off a sleepless night of wondering why the hell I can’t catch up to my friend’s accomplishments and why I never made the cut with her boyfriend.
We’ve already been over the fact that I wrecked my mom’s life simply by being born, and that I was blamed for all of the family’s problems simply because my birth instigated the family’s existence. My brother had his own set of issues and traumas, but not my sister. She had an entirely different childhood than we did. Where we ran the gamut from tolerated to berated, she was the one who was always praised. She was cute as a button and never did any of her chores, but she didn’t complain about it either, so she was held up as an example: “Just be easygoing like your sister and you won’t keep getting into trouble.” My sister has walked through the world her whole life knowing she is loved and lovable, and I’m still pissed that I never learned to feel that.
My sister knew from almost the time she WAS a baby what she wanted to do with her life—she wanted to be a mother. She went very quickly from carrying around her baby dolls to carrying around whatever small children happened to be near. There was never any 1990’s style Douglas Couplandy angst for her, she just always knew what to do. She met her husband in college and was pregnant before they got married. Now she has five children, two of them autistic, and I have never seen her express any moment of self-doubt or any emotion more negative than mild exasperation. She sure is making up for those years of not doing her chores- she hosts every holiday and her husband has never washed a dish.
I never regretted any part of my adult life until this year when I found myself 39 and freaking the fuck out about the fact that I somehow need to find a husband. I’ve been so angry with myself lately about how I’ve mismanaged my life. When I graduated from high school, I felt (even after a life of mostly straight A-s) like I was too stupid to go to college or do any demanding job, so (aside from a very brief trip to photography school) most of my early 20s were spent waitressing and working retail, doing neither thing well. I made art, I hung out in coffeeshops, it was the Nineties. Slacking was okay. Art school and graduating from college seem like they should be accomplishments, as should 10 years as mostly a full-time poet, but it all just seems like such a waste, especially since Sweetie paid for it all and it’s part of why we’re now so trapped.
Just like I feel ashamed of being so behind my friends sexually, I feel awful about not having known what to do with my life sooner. I wish, like my sister, I’d just known.
Having not-the-pretty-sister syndrome has never been helpful in friendships or dating, and especially not in poly. My response to feeling competed-with my whole life has always just been to take myself out of the equation—there’s no way I could deserve it as much as the other girl does (or girls do), so if she wanted it, it was hers. I think I was trying to teach myself out of that reflex by struggling to stay on Steampunk Guy’s radar, and in that light, interrupting him while he was chatting up that girl at the party that time seems like kind of a victory. Still bad form, though.
When jealousy comes, it never feels like the urge to take something from the other girl. It’s always the wish that I not have to walk through the world as myself anymore, unlovable and ugly. Since I can’t be her, I want to be nothing. It’s a deep-seated urge to erase myself because I “know” that nothing was made for me here, there’s no place for me in this world, certainly no family. The more I’ve managed to prove that idea wrong, the harder the fear is to fight, the more I feel like I should let go of everything I love, like, or might want, because the person it really belongs to will be along shortly to claim it.
No wonder the big deal guy of this story is someone whose body is often angled away like he’s just about to leave. The thing-that-happens-sometimes. The unpredictability, the rare praise that shines on you sometimes like All Summer in a Day, the this-could-never-be-mine-ness is the only thing that felt real sometimes, the only thing, paradoxically, that really felt mine. Not-having. Yearning. Starving until I am ready to accept way less than I deserve. These are my worst habits and addictions, and I want to quit.
I can’t actually imagine a guy who’s mine, much as I want him. I believe, all the way deep in my bones, that it’s a thing I’m not capable of. I don’t know what’ll change that, except paragraphs and therapy, but I’m ready to stop being convinced that I’m less than other women, because I deserve every good thing for myself.