Business Time: Do You Envy Your Significant Other’s Career?
May 07, 2014
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Last week, my significant other was publicly recognized for his work as a writer / editor. I joined him at the party following the awards ceremony, and was all too happy to be pushed aside by those wanting a moment with the man of the hour. Nobody cared who I was or why I was there, and I was perfectly fine with that. I was beaming; I was proud.
As he did his thing, I focused on the David Chang-catered buffet. And while “the industry” mingled around me, I happily stuffed my face with fried chicken at an empty corner of the bar. If that sounds sad to you, that’s because you’ve never had this fried chicken.
As the celebration wore on, I started to think about Kathryn Chetkovich’s memoir, Envy. Chetkovich is a writer, but she also happens to be the girlfriend of the Jonathan Franzen, arguably the most successful American novelist of our generation. Her memoir is a painfully honest account of what it’s like to do the same type of work as your partner—but to achieve much less success and acclaim.
When I read this essay from the memoir, I was exceedingly thankful not to work in the same industry as my significant other, but I still found it to be a powerful and beautiful piece. I imagine that for some couples, it hits incredibly close to home.
I did envy his talent – the way he could go off in the morning and come home at night with five smart pages, the way he could expertly tease out a metaphor, nail a character in a sentence, and tackle geopolitics or brain chemistry without breaking a sweat. I envied the fact that in airports and restaurants, strangers – readers! – would come up to him and rave about his book; I envied his easy acceptance at magazines that had been routinely rejecting my work for years.
For all that, though, I was startled to realise that I didn’t wish I’d written his book, any more than I would have wished to wake up tomorrow looking like the beauty from a magazine cover. What I envied were what his talent and success had bestowed on him, a sense of the rightness of what he was doing. I wanted what women always want: permission. But he’d had that before this book was even written; it was, after all, the first thing I’d envied about him. It was arguably what enabled him to write the book in the first place.
What about you, readers? Have you ever felt professionally competitive with someone you love? I’d love to hear.