“It was New Years Eve. I slammed the car door in his face and he ended up being my husband,” the woman seated opposite me declared, her candle-lit eyes meeting mine over the elaborate floral centerpiece as she lifted a glass to her lips.
It was the second day of a recent blogging excursion to the beautiful yet quaint town of Stone Ridge, New York, and after a long day of shooting, we were treated to an outdoor patio dinner. I was unsurprisingly the youngest blogger invited on the trip, seated ironically across from the most established woman in the room. Upon spying my name card opposite hers, I quickly gave myself a mental pep talk. “Don’t say anything stupid, Katy.”
As we ate, the sun lazily dipped below the long slanted roof of the house, a blanket of dusk settling around us. Fireflies flickered in the woods, seemingly unperturbed by the clinking of glasses and loud, trilling voices.
It was getting to be that familiarly hazy part of the evening where formalities are reduced and stories become more saturated in romance and red wine.
The engagement rings of nearly every woman seated at the table seemed to sparkle with each raise of a fork or tuck of a stray hair, as they recounted the ways in which their husbands had proposed. I sat and listened, marveling at the crinkling of the eyes of the storyteller as they recounted tender memories of the heartfelt proposal, a warm sensation forming at the pit of my stomach.
“So, you slammed the door in his face, and then what happened?” I asked eagerly, leaning in ever so slightly to the older woman.
“He called me the very next day and asked me out to the movies,” she replied, smiling.
“And you said yes?” I asked.
“Well, sure.” she said. “I wasn’t entirely sold on the idea, but I went.”
“And how did it go?”
She held up her hand, weighed down by the strain of about six diamond bands on her ring finger.
“You could say it went pretty well.”
The woman went on to recount every last detail about her engagement, wedding, and first home, delighted to tell me every chance she had that she’d “hit the jackpot.”
“The secret is to find a man who isn’t intimidated by your success, and is the first to tell you that all of your critics are ridiculous and should go to Hell,” she said.
A hollow pang in my chest whisked me back into reality, bitterly reminding me that I haven’t found someone like that yet, no matter how hard I’ve tried.
As if sensing a change in my demeanor, she wagged a finger at me. “Katy, you have to stop looking for him,” she said.
I groaned. “So much easier said than done.”
I have come to the conclusion that a fatal flaw of mine is a severe lack of patience.
I’ve spent my whole life setting goals and chasing them until my legs practically give out, not resting until every box is checked.
I’ve gotten used to being the “yes, of course I can” girl, rather than the “hmm maybe I should check and see if this is rational” girl. I’ve postponed sleep, refused help and have even gone to the extent of hot-gluing decorations for an upcoming formal event in the dark with only the light of my iPhone screen while my roommates slept.
To most, I’m either a crazy person or inspiring.
To me, I fear living a life without goals and spending every waking moment aiming to reach them.
I recently picked up a book called “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck” by Mark Manson. (And by “picked up” I mean I went home for a week and found it propped against my pillow — thanks, Mom, I get the message.) Early on in the novel, Manson unpacks the idea of “happiness” and essentially how we give too much of a fuck about achieving it.
“There is a premise that underlies a lot of our assumptions and beliefs. The premise is that happiness is algorithmic, that it can be worked for and earned and achieved as if it were getting accepted to law school or building a really complicated Lego set. If I achieve X, then I can be happy. If I look like Y, then I can be happy. If I can be with a person like Z, then I can be happy.”
The final line to this section, which reads, “Happiness is not a solvable equation,” hit me like a truck.
Happiness is not a solvable equation.
I’ve never been very passionate about mathematics, but I admittedly have been treating my life like one of the various math equations I slaved over memorizing in high school. I thought if I did everything “right” and added the correct parts into the equation, that I would be entitled to a “perfect” result.
On-trend wardrobe, check. Good friends, check. Good sense of humor, check. Communicative but not annoying, check.
I’ve played the game, acted the part, but feel absolutely deflated when I don’t get the results.
“We have evolved to always live with a certain degree of dissatisfaction and insecurity,” Manson continues, “because its the mildly dissatisfied and insecure creature that’s going to do the most work to innovate and survive. We are wired to become dissatisfied with whatever we have and satisfied by only what we do not have.”
Ah, so it isn’t just me.
Ok, back to the candlelit dinner. After some thinking, I’ve come to the conclusion that the “hollow pang” I so eloquently described earlier was bred not from my own insecurity, but from comparison.
Truthfully, I’ve grown pretty fucking proud of my life. I’ve become fairly content with my appearance, gotten to know my strengths, weaknesses and fears, and have found solace in the constant of these things. It’s taken me forever, and I’m certainly not without bad days of deafening insecurity, but I’m getting there.
But it’s times like the candle-lit dinner in Stone Ridge that I feel most hollow and unaccomplished. Why? Because I, a human wired to be dissatisfied with what I have and satisfied by only what I do not have, began to compare myself.
I cannot speak for the woman opposite me, but she could’ve been analyzing me, a young woman free of wrinkles with seemingly endless potential, and feeling the same way.
In the moment, though, all I saw was what I am not.
But then it dawned on me— will I ever be done comparing myself? Even if I reach that pinnacle point of “Yes! I made it! My life is how I’ve always wanted it to be!” I’ll still find something to nit-pick. A grey hair. A sagging ass. A trendier, younger version of myself taking my job from me. The comparison game never ends. We’re never quite “done,” if you think about it.
The only thing that can change the way we view the comparison game is— yes, you guessed it: giving less of a fuck. Deciding that we don’t care about any of it. Others' success is not your failure.
BUT IT’S HARD.
Like, so what if I’m balancing college, a social life, heading several boards of extracurriculars and running a successful lifestyle brand but somehow find myself still ‘hopelessly single’?
Despite my successes, it’s that one, nagging “red flag” that I find myself highlighting and aggressively underlining on a daily basis. That one “flaw” has singlehandedly driven me insane in the past. It’s provoked me to do things extremely out of character.
It’s like looking at a photo of yourself where you look good but a single, annoying hair is out of place. “It would be perfect if that one stupid hair wasn’t sticking up making me look like I’m a cast member of The Little Rascals.”
I’ll never be done comparing myself.
I’m consistently haunted by the idea that I’m wasting my time living a life that isn’t how I’ve always imagined that it would be. But that’s the thing: you can’t outsmart life.
No matter what equation you try to play, life still has a way of turning you upside-down on your head and saying “Ha! Nice try.”
“Katy, you have to stop looking for him,” the older woman had said to me, her brow knitting into a concerned yet empathetic expression. And she’s right, in more ways than one.
It’s like attempting to assemble a 300-piece puzzle in the span of 30 minutes. This sort of attempt will result in a handful of broken puzzle pieces and maybe even a paper cut or two.
I can’t keep exhausting myself looking for puzzle pieces that aren’t ready to be placed yet.
It’s hard to adopt this attitude, simply because so often we’re taught that the more effort that is exerted into a task, the better the results. In most cases, however, it’s better if you don’t try.
It’s better to just be. It will all come together eventually, and even then, your life won’t ever be entirely “together.” You just have to give less of a fuck about perfection and accept this.
Stop looking for him. Stop looking for her. Stop looking for it, whatever it may be.
What you want will find you when you’re busy, hair in the wind, determination in your eyes, building an empire.
Top photo by @lukeschuetrumpf. I do not own any of the graphics.