Living in Toronto, I don’t get to see my friends in BC very often. The updates I do get are largely from Facebook. Photos and camping, big houses and children. Having long distance friends means that you also often only get a phone call when big life events happen – people get married, get pregnant, get new jobs and so on. These updates are coupled with the North American infatuation with positivity. You might hear about some of the trying life moments but it’s quickly followed by “but it’s okay. Things are getting better. Onward and upwards!”
Sometimes when people present their lives in a glass half full manner it ends up just sounding like their life is not just half full but overflowing with greatness. I do this too. When someone asks me what I’ve been up to I don’t say “oh actually I’ve been wallowing in self-pity about how I don’t like my job but I’m too depressed to do anything about it” or “actually I’ve been lonely as hell and getting panic attacks, thanks for asking”. Instead I gloss over the bad and tell them how l went to a spa for my anniversary and saw Pittbull in concert. Because of the distance and our addiction to positivity, all my long distance friends’ lives seem perfect. And of course when I’m feeling shitty about my job I don’t want to call up my friend with the new awesome job to vent about it. Just like I avoid talking to my BC friends in March when they tell me about how their hiking trips and I’m stuck in a winter wonderland.
Yet, when I visit my friends I often realize that their lives are like Monets – beautiful from a distance but messier up close. The friends with kids and big houses complain about home repairs and feeling like inadequate parents. The friend with the awesome new job stresses about her student debt. These are of course, first world problems and in the long term are not actual tragedies – just everyday worries. But the friend who up close really does have it all – the house, the kids, the good job – she still worries. Her complaints are not legitimate – by any standards she has an enviable life. But the stressing and worrying and trying to juggle it all – those emotions are real.
People are much more honest in person. It’s also harder to hide shit. There’s also alcohol as a conversational lubricant. Alcohol doesn’t quite work the same way on a long-distance FaceTime chat as it does in person. Sober or not, it’s easier to draw people out in person.
The last time my most perfect-life friend called me in Toronto I didn’t call back. Dealing with fertility problems, I knew she was trying to have a child as well and suspected that much like her life, her uterus was perfect. When I visited her in person, my suspicion was confirmed. Within minutes of arriving, she told me she was expecting. I spent the next two days hanging out with her as she vented about her worries about parenthood and tried diligently to talk me out of my negative it’s never gonna happen for me mindset.
Up close, It’s a lot easier to see your friends lives for what they are – blessed but imperfect. It’s also a whole lot easier to empathize and a whole lot harder to begrudge their fortune. At the end of the day, everybody has something to be envious of something going on that warrants compassion. I’ll try to remember that the next time I FaceTime my oh so perfect friends.