Envy is a powerful emotion.
We’d all like to think that we’re immune to it. But when we see someone who can do something that we think we can’t—something that we’d give anything to be able to do—the pilot light flares, and the old, familiar fires of the green-eyed monster begin to burn within our hearts.
“I brought cupcakes!” Emily announced beamingly as she arrived for the party.
“Thanks so much for coming!” I said while hugging her. “You can put the basket in the dining room; that’s where we’re keeping the food.”
Only one basket of cupcakes doesn’t sound like much, but—trust me—it would mysteriously turn out to be enough. Whenever Emily brought food to one of my parties, her particular loaves-and-fishes style of catering would somehow ensure that everybody got at least one of what she provided. And always with just few enough leftovers that it would make sense for me to keep them to “enjoy” later.
Not that they’re aren’t delicious. On the contrary, Emily is the best cook—well, the best baker, I suppose—that I’ve ever met. But enjoyment is as much a mental process as it is a physical one, and sweets never tasted quite as sweet when I knew that they were baked with love in Emily’s oven.
I could hear the squeals of delight from the other party guests as they registered Emily’s entrance into the living room.
“Emily!” one friend cried with delight.
“How have you been? It’s been ages.” another said.
Others were making less comprehensible sounds of greeting.
Sycophants, all of them.
They know that she’s better than them, and they’re somehow OK with that. As long as they get to reap the benefits—in the form of cookies, cupcakes, and other sundry delights—their inferiority seems to be an ignorable problem.
I decided to step outside. The fresh air would clear my mind. With Emily around, the house was a dangerous place for me to be right now anyway.
This one-way rivalry made me sick, but nothing I’d tried had been able to stop it. The pure revulsion that came over me whenever I thought of Emily was a feeling that I longed to be rid of… Unfortunately, not as much as I longed to be rid of her. The forces were only semi-opposed, so they often worked together toward ends that were embarrassing in retrospect.
Once, I’d lied to her. There was a party being held by a mutual friend. The invitation said that bringing desserts was optional, but we all know that optional is only a politeness word in that situation. Emily phoned to ask if I was bringing anything; I told her “no,” of course.
And it felt great.
There’s a psychological concept to credit for that. It’s called negative quality nostalgia. There’s a positive feeling people get from knowing that others are in similar trouble to themselves. Sometimes it’s called “same boat syndrome.” It is often exploited by people in rivalries to feel as though they’re gaining an advantage over the other. That’s what was going on here; I was transforming negative quality nostalgia into schadenfreude. By telling Emily that I wasn’t bringing anything, I’d cause her not to bring anything. Then, when I arrived with my food, I could be the one accepting compliments instead.
She still somehow showed up with a basket of cookies.
But the party was only two hours later. You can’t make that many cookies in only two hours; it’s impossible.
So there’s only one conclusion.
She’s a witch.
And witches, I thought as I flipped the electric ignitor arming switch, have to burn.