Surviving the Estrogen SurgePosted: August 20, 2010
She was tall, thin, toned, and drop dead gorgeous. Her hair was always perfect, her wardrobe was ripped straight from the pages of J.Crew, and her laugh lit up the room. She always had a man on her arm and a jammed social calendar, despite studying enough to routinely make the Dean’s List.
We all know a girl like that. The one we compare ourselves to when we’re not wishing we could be her. Put yourself in a dorm full of these women, and you could very well go crazy. Not only can conflicts emerge in establishing a hierarchy, but in an environment where a large number of women are in close cohabitation, a fierce and unspoken competition develops on the physical end as well.
That’s not to say dorm living is a horrible experience or unnecessary stress. Many of my strongest friendships are with women I met on my hall.
I lucked out, and I know it.
On the other hand, there were lots of not-so-fabulous times. There were lots of rumors; lots of Alpha Females with clashing opinions; and, as I already mentioned – lots of jealousy. For an extremely competitive girl caught in the middle of an eating disorder, this was not a healthy habitat. I dragged a roommate to the campus gym and gloated when I was able to run farther than she was but beat myself up when she kicked my tush at strength training. I fasted for three days when the jeans I borrowed from my neighbor were snug on me but skimmed right over her hips. I found satisfaction in my dinner plate being smaller than those of my skinny friends, and I bonded with my suitemates by swearing off this food or that because our bellies were “simply unacceptable”.
One particular young lady and I clashed very frequently. Although we were able to keep the peace in the dorm, our relationship was icy and passive-agressive as exchanged petty little jabs on a routine basis. We both were competitive and high achieving women who perceived each other as a threat and a challenge, even though in reality, there was no game being played and no winner to be crowned.
Eventually, instead of allowing myself to be miserable fighting for the top slot in a competition that existed only between the two of us, I decided to let the friendship fade out. Our relationship was toxic and I knew it; as fewer and fewer of my plans included this suitemate, I found myself far happier and less down on myself. My energy was no longer channeled into being her superior – instead, I worried only about making myself the best me I could be, regardless of how it measured up to her. As I became more and more secure in myself, her negativity lost it’s hold on me. Unfortunately, this came too late for our friendship to be salvaged.
I don’t maintain regrets; my life is my life and there’s far more to worry about than the past that ultimately ends up shaping my future. However, I do wish certain things had been done differently, especially in this area. So much energy was lost in useless pettiness over those two years. If I had the chance to go back, what would I have changed?
- I would have shrugged off the passive-aggressive comments. I clearly remember many of the things this suitemate said in reference to my body, my boyfriend (or at other times, the lack thereof), my clothing, my food choices, etc and so on. Because I was incredibly insecure and bristled easily at these jabs, she learned quickly how to push my buttons and proceeded to do so whenever she was feeling threatened.
- I would have encouraged her successes. As I think back, not once did I share in her excitement when things were going right. Conversely, when she wasn’t accepted to grad school or broke up with a boyfriend, I know I wasn’t as compassionate as a friend should be. Again, this rooted back to my own insecurities – when she was succeeding, it meant I had to double my efforts to top her, but when she was failing, my botched diet or failed quiz didn’t seem so horrific. I honestly couldn’t have expected to have a healthy friendship when I was still in such a low place that I was more focused on proving my own worth to myself than encouraging her successes.
- I would have refused to compare myself to her. Women do it all the time, often subconsciously and before we can realize it. We can do it in a manner that makes ourselves feel better and also to make ourselves feel worse – in my situation, both were involved. We were both acutely aware of where we measured up to each other – I was thinner, she was stronger; I ate less, she earned more; etc and so on. I fixated on my “losses” and gloated over the “wins”, and I’m willing to bet she did the same. What I failed to realize was that life is not a game; there is no winner. Competitiveness can be constructive to a degree, but nothing good can ever come from viewing other women as a threat. Our expectations for ourselves are high enough that the added pressure of holding ourselves to our own standards as well as someone else’s is a recipe for disaster. This only feeds into the “I’m not good enough” mentality and the havoc it wreaks.
- I would have focused more on me. As narcissistic as that sounds, it’s true. I would have been better off channeling the energy I spent worrying about her put-downs into something that made me more secure in myself, my abilities, and my worth. This actually came about when I became serious about running; I was able to surprise myself with my achievements and take pride in something constructive. As I began realizing that I was everything she made me feel like I was not, her comments lost their sting. I was able to choose to do things because they made me genuinely happy – not because they would give me bragging rights or the upper hand.
Simply put, jealousy happens. It can take root in even the most laid-back dramaphobe and infuse everyone’s life with unnecessary added stress. It requires shelving our insecurities and our egos, but we can choose not to feed into the negativity and spare ourselves a great deal of misery. When we consciously evict the resentment and jealousy that are at the root of these petty power struggles, it’s entirely possible to maintain smooth and fulfilling relationships with other women and avoid placing ourselves in a negative environment.
Have you ever caught yourself in the middle of a toxic, jealousy-driven friendship? How have you remedied the situation? In what ways have you kicked that catty brand of negativity out of your life?