Other people’s children
If you thought you were immune to ‘lifestyle envy’, or lenvy, the past summer should have put paid to that delusion. There was that family holiday with the Whatsits and their charming children, who all sail, including the six-year-old; and your neighbours’ closed-up house (they’re at their place in Mozambique) – and right now it doesn’t feel like the lenvy is under control. Once your antennae are pricked, anything can trigger a full-blown attack of the lenvies: a small child answering the door, freshly scrubbed and ready for bed (Other People’s Children Envy); a homegrown tomato in a salad (Garden Envy); a brushed-steel worktop (Kitchen Envy).
You would hope that Lifestyle Envy was peculiar to a few sad individuals, but it has a habit of starting with something small and innocuous (let’s get a coffee-maker like the Gibsons!), and then snowballing to the point where you are looking up properties on Gumtree in their village in the Klein Karoo. It all seems possible.
Five years ago, lenvy was containable and predictable. Every so often you hung out with people who had more money and better taste than you, and afterwards you would drive home in silence. But that basic, manageable, They Have Better Stuff Than Us Envy has been swept away by the sheer variety of lifestyle options. These days it’s quite common to covet other people’s lifestyles, even if they are completely unrealistic and even if, given the option, we probably wouldn’t trade. It’s a sort of fantasy release, with a base note of competitive self-torture. Here are some of the thoughts you have when in the presence of other people’s Lenvyprovoking children: why won’t ours try the calamari/join in the game of volleyball/talk to the adults in a sunny, engaging manner? How come their eight-year-old can make a sandwich and ours can’t identify the bread knife? They’re so polite! Or are they a bit fake? At least ours aren’t fake. This is typical Other People’s Children Envy, with a strong undercurrent of Other People’s Parenting Styles Envy and a bit of Other People’s Partner Envy.