Hey Jealousy: Longing for the Good Life

Our friends just bought a beach house and I am so jealous I can’t see straight. I can’t even talk about it without becoming instantly grouchy. It’s petty and unbecoming and true. Apparently, I desperately want a beach house.

This is surprising because until now, I’ve been vaguely anti-beach house. I’ve ranted about maintenance hassles and being tied down to one vacation spot. I believe beach houses drain bank accounts and trying to recoup that money by renting brings wear and tear and strangers in your bed. A beach house would mean hours of travel with our posse, and we don’t always roll conflict-free. When others refer to their shore-side homes, I’ve been quick with the side-eye. A quick trip to the beach for sand and surf? Yes. Owning a home there? Nope.

Making this conundrum more perplexing is the fact that the beach house our friends bought is a dilapidated disaster. There’s a broken washing machine in the upstairs hallway. The plaster is peeling off the walls. It’s more than one hundred years old and every system in it will have to be replaced. The next year of their life will be filled with blueprints and permits and paint cans. Anyone who’s ever watched HGTV knows their budget will be blown away by an unforeseen problem 37 minutes in, and that they won’t be able to accomplish everything they set out to do. You couldn’t pay me to manage that project.

I know I don’t want a beach house, and especially not that love shack, so I reframe. I try to focus on everything Gabe and I do have. I try to remember the concept of abundance—that if I really want a beach house, we can plan and save and buy our own run-down disaster one day. But that positive self-talk bores me, and I find myself on Zillow taking the virtual tour again.

This morning, after another late night spent online researching beach houses I don’t want to buy, I realized I am not jealous of the house at all.

I am jealous of the beginning. Monica and Ben have two young children and talk about spending Christmases and Memorial Days together with their extended families in that house. They’re carefully planning for the kids today, at six and two, and for their family ten and twenty years from now. The house is the beginning of a story, and everyone is together at the start.

I’m jealous of the tiny two-person team approach. It is just Monica and Ben deciding on the thickness of the moulding, the structure of the loan, the landscaping of the postage-stamp front yard. In our big stepfamily tribe, Gabe and I are very rarely the sole decision makers. So much of our life together is influenced by our schedule, the kids’ best interest, the other parents’ perspective. I wouldn’t change that, but I envy the simplicity of two heads bent over the blueprint.

I’m jealous of the ordinary story the beach house represents. Two people fall in love, get married, build a life, buy a beach house. It’s a straightforward, first-family narrative. There is no grief here, no loss. The beach house story has clean lines, and it’s easy to explain. The elevator speech for our family requires 32 floors. Our tangled tale twists and turns and includes an endless list of caveated characters.

I remember I made the choices that put me in the middle of this intricate life. I am grateful my life today weaves together all the people I love, past and present. I’m happy here, with my half-dozen children and chickens and RV and my perfect second choice. I wouldn’t trade this path for any other.

It’s only, sometimes? I also remember the fairy tale. I remember how much simpler things can be. I remember love and marriage and the baby carriage being the full story. I long to love my people unencumbered by starting in the middle, without by step and ex and all our other prefixes and free of the pain of old wounds. I want the promise of a beach house in a small town.

This post originally appeared on This Life in Progress. It has been reprinted with permission.

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