My awful sister-in-law just got pregnant and I didn't

I know life isn't fair, but save me from being consumed by resentment.

Published November 30, 2005 11:30AM (EST)

Dear Cary,

I can't stand my sister-in-law. Bad politics, doesn't listen, white bread, military, ignorant yet educated, boring boring boring.

Me no like.

And now, it looks like she's pregnant. I'm not. Very not. My husband and I have been trying for a year and a half, and next month I'll be having my first (and, I pray, only) diagnostic procedure to see why it's not working. My husband and I are really happy together; the blessing of our not getting pregnant has been more time to make a solid union. I truly believe that if we had had a baby a few years ago, we wouldn't have made it. My sister-in-law and her husband have been trying for, oh, about 20 minutes, and they are a nasty couple. They have in the not-too-distant past fought so bitterly in front of me and my husband that they left our company saying they were about to get divorced. So how come she gets to have it so easy?

I think the reason this hit me so hard is that I've been so fucking understanding about everyone else in the world who gets pregnant who either didn't mean to or didn't have to try very hard. I work in an emergency room, and we constantly see people who have too many kids, clearly don't want the kids they have, don't know how to take care of the kids they have, etc. A frequent lament among my co-workers is that "it isn't fair!" that shitty parents keep on getting more children to shittily parent while the "deserving, desiring" infertile are kept wanting. I always counter this with statements about how life isn't fair, and what happens to other people doesn't have anything to do with what happens to me, and all sorts of other evolved, progressive stuff.

Except in this case, where it does seem bitterly unfair.

Help me to regain my equilibrium.

Green Eyes

Dear Green Eyes,

If all I have to do today is help you regain your equilibrium, that does not sound like such a terribly hard thing to do. After all, you have stated the essential truths in the matter. It's not as if we have to start from scratch. It's more as if you were paddling your canoe just fine for quite some time, and then took a spill, and just need a hand getting back in the boat.

You know, I think we all go through periods where, evolved as we may be in our habits of speech and action, in our hearts we are more or less like the savage children we used to be. We may know certain things, but it doesn't change the way we feel. Even so, we can still paddle along for a time, feeling enraged and mad with jealousy but still acting as we feel we ought to, doing what's required of us, moving the boat forward, until something happens -- we get tired of paddling, or bored or restless, and we give in to an impulsive remark or gesture, and there we go into the water!

I, for one, go through this all the time.

The most powerful antidote I know for jealousy of another's good fortune is something that may have a long history but which I first came across as practiced by alcoholics trying to remove resentment from their lives. I think I've talked about this before: You pray for the person you resent to get everything they want.

Isn't that a strange idea? Yet there is some kind of twisted brilliance to it, too, isn't there? Not that I'm really sure how to explain its twisted brilliance, but it's in there.

Now, the whole notion of prayer may be a little foreign to you -- I don't know, really, whether it is or not, but it may be. And the question of what entity to direct the prayer toward may also arise. But from the standpoint of effectiveness, those questions are relatively unimportant. The important thing is that you do it and take note of the results. You might mutter something like this under your breath: "[NAME OF HIGHER POWER/GREAT SPIRIT GOES HERE], I sincerely pray that [NAME OF WRETCHED UNDESERVING RELATIVE GOES HERE] gets everything she wants in life and more, and that she becomes happy and satisfied."

A little silly, perhaps. But I am a fairly practical person. If something works to relieve pain, I am willing to overlook a great deal of silliness.

If it doesn't work, well, OK, you may have to try something else. The basic idea is to direct your attention away from your own lamentable insufficiency and need, and toward the needs and wants of others, and to try to celebrate their success.

If the prayer business does no good, perhaps you can find other ways to celebrate the good fortune of others, in order to keep your mind off your own sense of inadequacy and want. I'm sure your work in the emergency room affords you plenty of opportunities to concentrate on the well-being of others. You already spend plenty of time being a saint.

I understand that sometimes you just want what you want. I also understand that some people can just plain get your goat, and it can be hard to wish them well. Nonetheless, although this might be a silly idea, it's worked for some people. For my money, it's one way to get back in the boat.

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