When my husband and I first got engaged, I was thrilled to be a part of his family. I saw in his parents, especially in his mother, wholeness and conventions that I had missed in my childhood.
They were normal, in other words, and being a part of their family would, I was certain, make me more normal as a result.
In the beginning, it was nearly exactly as I had hoped. We had Sunday dinners and I helped with dishes afterwards. We talked about the baby and our common role as mothers. We would occasionally joke about the shared quirks and habits of the men in the family, commonalities I could appreciate being married to one of those men.
I was part of them, and because of that, I was part of something safe.
I was perfectly happy with my relationship with Jared’s family in the beginning.
And then there was another daughter-in-law.
At first she was the girlfriend of the youngest brother, but she became one of the family so quickly I can’t even remember a time when she was not. Even before she was connected by marriage, she was connected by love and time spent together. And more than that, she was extremely close to my mother-in-law.
Specifically, their relationship was vastly different than my own with my mother-in-law had ever been.
They were closer, more at ease with one another, more alike naturally than I could have ever hoped to be. And it killed me.
I would cry to my husband, begging him to explain what was wrong with me that his mom wouldn’t love me. I would rage that it was unfair and mean. I was hurt, bitter, angry and, most of all, jealous.
“It’s not that she doesn’t love you,” Jared would say. “That’s just how my mom is.”
He was trying to tell me that our personalities were different, that his mother would never throw her arms around me or get into a deep discussion with me about feelings, not because of how she did or did not feel about me but because of who she was.
“No,” I would argue. “That’s just how she is with me.”
Because that was the crux of it.
A relationship I had cherished before when it stood on its own – or at least compared only to a figment of my imagination – was now being measured and weighed against another relationship. More than that, I was measuring myself against another version of myself, another daughter-in-law on the end of a relationship with the same name.
And in comparison, I wasn’t good enough.
It took me years and a cross-country move to let go of that hurt. It took being physically in another place for me to remove myself from a competition of my own making. Hell, it took that much for me to realize it was of my own making.
It was only when I could stop comparing that I could appreciate the merits of my own relationship with Jared’s family.
I am always good enough when I remember that one person’s worth can’t be measured by comparing it to someone else’s.
There is no hierarchy of worthiness, just like there is no hierarchy of beauty.
I know this.
I have learned to stop defining myself by way of comparison. I have learned to measure my own happiness, talents, successes and failures by my values instead of the limitations of more and less.
I know this.
And yet I am so damn susceptible to playing the comparison game when it comes to relationships.
I keep falling back into this old cycle, only with new relationships. I am perfectly fine, grateful even, for the relationships I have with the people in my life. It doesn’t occur to me to question what’s missing because I’m enjoying what is. I’m good. I’m fine. I’m great.
Until I am comparing it to other relationships, relationships of the same type that have been forged with other – better – versions of me.
Our friendship is great, cherished even, until I realize that friendship for you can include daily chats and casual visits.
It just doesn’t with me.
And then I am heartbroken. I realize all of the things I never even knew to ask for that you are so capable of giving – just not to me. I look around and suddenly find I’m surrounded by relationships where I am constantly not quite good enough. I’m good. I’m fine. But I’m not the most or the best.
I’m not quite enough.
I remember being small and told that I was loved. I remember being told that I was special and cherished and loved most of all, even. And yet, there was sadness and emptiness. Despite loving with everything I had, there was still a need for more love, love from someone bigger and more important. My love was not enough. I was not enough, even though it was my job to be exactly that.
That big hole left by that tiny girl comes back to me whenever I fall back into the comparison trap. Less than spirals into not good enough spirals into not enough spirals into broken. Wrong. Inherently flawed.
I know the dangers of making comparisons.
I know this.
But I’m struggling to hold onto my own definitions of enough when it comes to my friendships right now. I’m trying to browbeat myself into focusing on what I’m grateful for, pretending not to be hurt by the images I’ve shoved off into my peripheral vision.
Of course, that never works.
I can no more turn away from sadness and jealousy because it’s irrational than I can outrun fear. I have no choice, now that the comparisons have been made, but to let the new inadequacies wash over me, mingling with the old hurts. My only hope for letting it pass is to let it come.
I’m just trying to have faith that it won’t drown me when it does.
And that next time, I’ll be able to avoid the damn comparison all together.
Edited to add: I got a few concerned phone calls from back home this morning that made it clear that this post wasn’t as straight forward as I thought it was. I want to clarify a point – my in-laws and I are good. I’m not upset at my sister-in-law and nothing has happened recently with Jared’s family to prompt this post. Or with Jared and I. I wrote about something I struggled with in the past because it’s similar to what I’m struggling with now, but with different relationships.
No one is getting divorced or having a family feud. Honest.