I'm young, rich and beautiful but so very unhappy

What's wrong with me? I've got everything a girl could want, and yet I'm just so miserable!

Published September 8, 2006 10:59AM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

I am in my mid-20s and I have everything a girl could want: money (I am an heiress), a prestigious, challenging and fulfilling job, a wonderful boyfriend whom I love (four years together and counting), a loving, supportive family and a wide and varied circle of friends. Oh, and I am also unequivocally beautiful. (It's not vanity; occasionally men are stunned when they see me, I can tell.)

So why do I feel listless? I am gaining weight. After four years of social smoking I have become a solid nicotine addict in the past year, needing a cigarette at the start of every day. My work is great from any rational perspective (good colleagues and bosses who validate my work), yet I find myself constantly anxious about it and am having a hard time focusing on my current tasks. I find fault constantly with my sister and other family and friends. (I don't share these hurtful negative thoughts with anyone except my mother, who lovingly reminds me that I'm not perfect, either.) In fact, sometimes the people I love most seem so flawed I wish I could erase them from my life, like on a whiteboard, and start again.

For instance, there's my boyfriend. I can't imagine going through life without him, but I am profoundly ambivalent about marriage or even engagement. I am avoiding intimacy with him; the sex has gone from good to mediocre to bad, and I fantasize constantly about other men.

I could go on like this my entire life and appear to all outside observers (including my closest friends) as a rip-roaring success. And I'm not miserable. I'm happy a lot of the time. Yet I feel something is wrong. I used to be happier. Oh, and here comes the elephant in the room. My dad died when I was quite young. After a long period of denial I saw a therapist about it several times and came to better terms with my grief and his memory. Recently, my childhood pet died, who had been a gift from my father. Did that trigger this? Maybe. But I feel the underlying problems run deeper.

So, what is the matter with me? Do I have "affluenza"? Depression? Should I break up with my boyfriend? Quit my job? Move to another city? See a shrink? I don't know.

Do you?

Successful, Sleepless and Dissatisfied

Dear Successful,

Look at how privilege takes its vengeance! It says: You should be grateful! You should be happy with glitter and show! How dare you dream of being unhappy! Look at all that has been showered on you!

Thus the voice of the unhappy heiress keeps you locked in a golden prison, a prison so beautiful you can't imagine why anyone would want to escape -- except that you're miserable there.

Look at all your father left you! And in leaving you all that, he took with him what was most dear of all. You would have preferred a living father to his dead wealth, no? He died and left you much, but in dying he denied you one thing: life as an ordinary girl. He died and left you a fabulous emptiness in which you understandably sit crying today, desolate and feeling guilty for your very desolation.

We are a privileged country. Privilege always takes its vengeance. It denies us even the satisfaction of our own unhappiness -- and thus the chance to change. You should be happy already, privilege says. Look at what you have! (And, further, in some cases, look at what you represent! Look at your duty!)

To seek happiness, we must first declare our unhappiness. And that is hard when we are apparently so lucky.

So you must escape this stifling privilege; you must escape your own imprisoning specialness. You must allow yourself, perhaps for the first time ever, to be an ordinary girl and feel the ordinary girl's ordinary unhappiness.

You have been denied this by the sad specialness hung like a diamond anchor around your neck, dragging you down in your own cold but lucky waters where you will eventually drown.

To avoid this terrible fate there is only one thing to do: Allow yourself the things that you would want if you were not the heiress of our dreams; allow yourself the cheap and tawdry things an ordinary girl might want.

Allow yourself to suffer the ordinary hungers and resentments of ordinary people. Transport yourself away from your expensive apartment and spend some time in the dirty sweltering lowlands of the heart. Spend a boring afternoon sitting on the stoop, eating ice cream in the sun and listening to the radio. Spend an afternoon with nothing whatsoever to do, no one to dazzle, no one to be dazzled by you, no dazzling of any sort taking place; create a dazzle-free zone of utter ordinariness! No expectations that you be fabulous, that you be happy, carefree and brilliant. No possibilities of excelling at anything at all. No expectations. No visitors from Montauk or Oyster Point expected. Utterly broke and no chance of making any money. Nothing to look forward to and thus nothing to fear being disappointed by. No responsibilities and no cares.

Spend some time in the slow heat of the lowlands, doing nothing but watching the sidewalk cool. Spend some time missing your father and comparing what he left you with what he took from you. Respect the difference, which is profound, which is, in a nutshell, what it means to be human. Respect the difference between what he left you and what he took from you. Mourn the thing you lost. Admit that you suffer. Allow yourself to suffer, poor little rich girl. Allow yourself the simple and inexpensive luxury that most of us take for granted.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

What? You want more?

  • Read more Cary Tennis in the Since You Asked directory.
  • See what others are saying and/or join the conversation in the Table Talk forum.
  • Ask for advice or make a comment to Cary Tennis.
  • Send a letter to Salon's editors not for publication.

  • By Cary Tennis

    MORE FROM Cary Tennis

    Related Topics ------------------------------------------

    Since You Asked