On Not Keeping Up with the Joneses

I had a very good friend in graduate school (10 years ago!) that I lost touch with soon after grad school. When I knew her, she was heavy set and had long, curly hair and glasses. She refused to wear her hair up even in hot, sticky southern summers because she didn’t want anyone to see her neck.

I found her on Facebook a few days ago and excitedly sent her a message. I could tell from her picture it was her, but she looked so different. Her face was thin, her hair lightened and pulled up! She wasn’t wearing glasses. She looked very polished. When I showed the picture to my husband who also knew her, he wasn’t sure it was her. I had to dig up old pictures to compare to the Facebook picture. When I did that, I could really see the difference.

And that is when it happened. My husband and I started wondering what dramatic change had happened in her life. We started speculating about all sorts of things that could have happened to her in the 10 years since we have last seen one another.

And then we started looking at ourselves critically. We don’t look that good. Ten years time has aged us. (Having two kids can do that to a person.) We feel stagnant. My husband has been in grad school getting his master’s and Ph.D. for the last 7 years. We rent instead of owning a home, even though we are nearing 40. (That seems to measure certain failure to many, especially before the current economic downturn.) I am working at a job I don’t enjoy just waiting for my husband to graduate so I can be a stay at home mom.

We were previously proud of ourselves for NOT owning a home, for not taking on that financial burden when we weren’t ready for it. We do fairly well on one income, and we were also happy with that. Of course, we love our children and are grateful to have them; in fact, we would like to have one more. But one look at my friend’s picture and her new polished look made us immediately question everything we are doing.

Isn’t that the way it is? You see a friend drive up in a nice new car and you wonder how they can be doing so much better than you. You see a friend’s remodeled kitchen and you are envious and annoyed with your kitchen that previously you were satisfied with. But often what we are envious of is only a one dimensional image, like a picture.

I don’t know what happened to my friend; I hope to hear from her soon and reconnect. Meanwhile, like teachers used to say, “Keep your eyes on your own paper” we need to keep our eyes on our own life. We are working hard so that someday we will achieve the life we dream of. I hope that my friend has already achieved hers.


  1. I know just how you feel. Isn't it funny how we envy the nice material things of others but don't want the things that come with it. For instance the debt or long hours. What YOUR doing for your family is the right thing for you. You have to think about that. Right now my family is trying to pinch pennies so I can hopefully one day be a SAHM. When that day comes I'll be glad of all the things that I gave up to make it happen.

  2. Anonymous says:

    thanks… I needed the reminder today to not obsess about what others are doing.

  3. > Keep your eyes on your own paper

    Great point! I find myself making comparisons when I need to just look at my own paper.

  4. My husband and I are also nearing 40 and are still renting too. I felt such failure for several years but eventually I have found peace in knowing that we have a plan that is working for our family. It was good reading your post and feeling validated again in our decision. Thanks!

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