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Lebensneid; Life Envy, the Coveting Conundrum, and BlogHer Unbecoming

There is this term I learned recently — lebensneid, or life envy.  It was coined — I believe — by Nietzsche (it certainly sounds like a Nietzschean word) to discuss this common human practice of wishing we had things from each other’s lives, this wanting of what we don’t have that we see other people (we believe) enjoying.  Do we want their life with our self intact, or do we want their self (which brings with it their personality, their coping mechanisms, their physical characteristics) coupled with their life?  It’s unclear.

All I know is that while this is not unique to BlogHer (come on, you see this every single day as you pass houses, children, jobs you covet in the face-to-face world), it is inevitable that if you get 5000 people together in a single New York hotel, all people who compete somewhat with one another for page views, you will find people expressing or poorly suppressing their envy of each other’s friendships or readership or awards or opportunities.

I think it’s important to separate out when talking about BlogHer what people brought there and what people found there, and I say this as someone who has been to a lot of BlogHers.  I have only good things to say about the conference itself, the people I met, the information I learned, the keynotes I heard.  BlogHer — the conference — created a lovely frame, a skeleton constructed out of panels and parties, and we as the conference goers filled in the figurative muscles and organs with what we brought with us.  I witnessed the good: extreme generosity, love, and empathy.  And I also witnessed a lot of envy.

People envied the tangible: the invites to private parties, the cool clothes that seemed effortlessly put together and worn, the swag.

My G-d, the Expo Hall, ground zero for coveting.

It wasn’t the items so much as it was what those items represented.  The Expo Hall brought out what amounts to lifestyle envy; to want the life of someone who is sought out, begged, given nice things just because.  What being courted by brands represents, how some people view it as a sign of importance.  Even if you’re not into working with brands, it is heady to be wanted; it is understandable how we want to see the worth of our lives, to have strangers want us (specifically us and not some other bloggers!) to write about their item.  Our families have to love us, but there is something special about our partners who choose us.  And that is how I think some people feel when those brands reach out (or don’t reach out).  It is nice to be the object of someone’s affection just as much as it is nice to be the object of someone’s choice., whether being chosen for a job over all other applicants or chosen to write on our blog about cleaning supplies.

People envied the intangible: accomplishments, a blogger’s style, the fact that she is always surrounded by people.  There was the life envy, wanting other people’s traffic or relationships to another blogger.  I saw people envying the ease of which other speakers spoke.  I saw people wishing they were someone else.  I listened to snippets of conversation around me as people hypothesized the readership of other people’s blogs.

Of course, no one knows the reality of someone’s traffic.  And even if we knew the number, could we really say whether their 5000 daily visitors have 10,000 eyes who care about them?  Or is the 5000 closer to maybe 2000 with 3000 coming over for a quick hit from a Google search, never to return again?  It’s possible to put too much stock in numbers.  Those subscribers, those unique visitors, it’s impossible to say who wouldn’t miss you tomorrow if you were hit by a bus and never updated your blog again, and who would sit there with their hand over their mouth for hours upon hearing the news.

Because one of those categories of people are worth feeling envious about, and the other is simply warm bodies, interchangeable with any other warm body.  It would be like caring which people walk beside you on the sidewalk not interacting with you.  I had hundreds of people around me when I walked to Starbucks on the last night, but only 4 of those people mattered to me.

But I did the worst coveting of all, the most unbecoming coveting, the most literal definition of lebensneid.  I coveted the babies that people carried into sessions, lightly kissing the top of their child’s head while they hung suspended from their mother’s chest in a Baby Bjorn.  I wanted to kiss a baby too.  I wanted to absentmindedly stand in the back of the room, swaying to keep the baby moving while I listened to someone talk about SEO.  I couldn’t stop staring at all the babies, even when people noticed me staring at their child and unconsciously turned their body as if to shield them.

I am not envious of those mother’s lives; I have no idea what goes on in their homes or relationships or if I’d want to be part of their world as a friend much less as them.  What I envy is the life they are holding, the ability to choose to create life and create it.  I am envious that if their heart starts tugging at them years down the road and they have the financial means to do so, they can create more life.

That, of course, is the problem with lebensneid.  I am making assumptions about their fertility knowing full well that people could look at me and think all went easily.  These women holding babies may have back stories that would blow my mind.  But I didn’t see that.  I just saw the milk-scented head popping out of the baby carrier and I coveted, I coveted, I coveted.

I could care less about the brands.  I am okay with my lack of style.  I am comfortable with the size of my readership.  I hold the friendships I do have close to my heart.  But my G-d, I wanted one of those babies.  I wanted to be needed by someone small.

We all have our own version of lebensneid; it is personal, private, uniquely informed by our life experience, by our lack of life experience.

I admitted to mine.  What do you envy?


1 jodifur { 08.08.12 at 7:51 am }

You know what is funny? I didn’t see it. Not this year. In 2009 I saw it…and it was awful. I saw babies being elbowed and people being hurt over SWAG. I didn’t see any of that this year. The worst behavior I saw this year was by the biggest name of all.

What do I envy, “perfect” children. Children who don’t get into trouble. Or at least people who don’t get phone calls from school. But I’ve written about that before.

2 JustHeather { 08.08.12 at 7:56 am }

Like you, Mel, for years I have envied other women who have the little one attached to them or in them, but right this moment I’m not doing too bad with that as I’m in a pretty excellent spot. But over the years I have envied others’ sense of fashion and style, especially at work. I’d love to dress in a more professional way (and I know it is possible, I just haven’t ever bothered enough with it) so long as I can be comfortable too.

3 EmHart { 08.08.12 at 8:09 am }

I envy people who I perceive to be going through life without really having to think about it. I have agonized over every relationship, job, decision, holiday and plan. I see people who just seem to have it all fall into their lap, they met their husband at high school, have never had their heart broken, their parents helped them get on the property ladder, they were not sure what to study but fell into a job they love, they fancy a baby and get one, poof. The fact is I know I never know the whole story and would I swap their man for mine, who I struggled to find, no way. Do I want their home or their job rather than the ones I have sweated blood for, not a chance. But the envy is for what is perceived not what is real. For that perceived ease which it all seems to happen, and their thoughtless acceptance and ungratefulness for what they have.

4 Tiara { 08.08.12 at 8:21 am }

I am ashamed to admit that I envy & covet so much which makes me more ashamed when I remind myself how much I have. It’s a shameful cycle. I think what I covet most is relationships, seeing loving couples, husbands doing sweet things for their wives, friends sharing knowing glances where words aren’t necessary…I want to know what the knowing glance means…

5 KeAnne { 08.08.12 at 9:21 am }

Lebensneid. Love that word. The Germans create some truly awesome words that manage to express the ugliness of the word’s definition through the guttural pronunciation. I have small lebensneids: confidence, popularity, dress but my true lebensneid is the same as yours. That’s the hard part about trying to step outside the ALI community and form relationships with other bloggers: the babies and as you wrote, their ability to choose life and create it. Maybe it’s heavier on my mind today because a coworker gave birth this morning. She’s blithely decided it will be her one and only. I wish I were able to make that choice instead of it being made for me.

6 Gail { 08.08.12 at 9:57 am }

I love that word! It ranks right up there with schadenfreude (taking pleasure in other people’s misery) and I think that lebensneid kind of goes hand in hand. While I covet other people’s joys I also take slight joy in seeing someone else who is struggling because I know that I’m not the only one.
Anyway, the things that I covet are the following (in no particular order):
1. Being thin or skinny without working hard or watching what you eat.
2. Knowing how to dress for any occasion and being fashionable
3. Having a nice hairstyle that doesn’t get frizzy
4. Children, especially if they are well behaved

7 a { 08.08.12 at 10:08 am }

I’m suffering from a lack of envy…a dearth of want. It’s disconcerting. I look around and I have everything. There’s nothing important that I could wish for. Certainly there are annoyances that could use improvement. But I’m resigned to the baby issue (still have the occasional pang when I see an new one), and everything else in my life is pretty good. Knocking on wood…and being very grateful. But it’s weird when you have nothing you’re working towards…

8 Jenna { 08.08.12 at 10:48 am }

Hmm. I mean, I was only in the Expo Hall twice, and briefly. I experienced none of the negatives I’ve heard about (pushing, etc). I had one odd experience in the Expo in which my experience/life-journey was devalued, but we chalked it up to stupid more than any true hatred. I had great conversations there, and not even referring to ones with brands, but with friends/bloggers as we ran into each other and hugged and talked. I didn’t stop at every booth and actively avoided ones that seemed crowded. I wasn’t there for the free stuff or the brand-blogger connection exactly. I was there to meet people, talk, share. But I won’t turn down coupons for yogurt that I already eat and love. 😉

I don’t know. Hmm.

The only thing I envy are those that don’t experience any anxiety about meeting others and talking. I occasionally got lost inside my head and had to be very coherent to get out of there, to get back to a place where I could connect and have the moments that I so treasure.

9 Shelli { 08.08.12 at 11:22 am }

Ok, I am fessing up too. That is still the single reason I can’t move myself to attend a conference like this one. I have baby envy something bad, and I do tend to back away from instances that may ignite the flame.

Taking it one step further, it is also a contributing factor to my decrease in blogging on my personal site. I see myself as one foot in and one foot out of motherhood. Like I am not a “real mom” with just one. I know that sounds utterly ridiculous, but I carry this with me every moment, and boy, have I limited myself because of it.

10 Ana { 08.08.12 at 12:30 pm }

Uncanny, I was just thinking about this…about noticing what I covet in others’ lives & how I could use that knowledge to work on changing my life right now. I’ve been feeling isolated lately, and I’m coveting people’s close friendships, particularly neighborhood friends & a feeling of community. (but also, always, babies).

11 Sharon { 08.08.12 at 12:54 pm }

Despite being happier than I’d ever hoped to be with my life as it currently is, there are still two things I envy: people who can conceive easily and naturally (read: on their timetable and FOR FREE), and people who can maintain a normal weight with minimal effort.

Oh yeah, and I still occasionally wish I could drive a BMW sedan. (I could’ve by now, if I hadn’t spent $30K on fertility treatments. But it is what it is: money well spent.)

12 loribeth { 08.08.12 at 2:17 pm }

My green-eyed monster has been pretty good lately when it comes to babies. Yes, I wish I’d had one and I do still feel a pang, but I know it’s not to be, so I try not to dwell on it.

I still get kind of jealous sometimes when I see other people’s big, beautifully decorated houses. I don’t envy them their mortgage or heating bills, and I know most of them have way more house than dh & I could ever use, and I do love my cozy (albeit somewhat cluttered) little house — but I still sometimes wish we had a little more room. And a decorating scheme that came magically together.

Right now, I think my biggest source of envy is my friends who are retired. Especially those who retired early. Right now, they are enjoying travel, their gardens, their hobbies, mostly doing what they want when they want it, without the daily pressure of working and commuting. I still have a few years to go (with fingers crossed that our investments hold out in this roller coaster economy…).

13 Cristy { 08.08.12 at 2:18 pm }

This post got to me. Mainly because I strongly envy new mothers or those who are pregnant. To be able to have one’s body actually do what it’s designed to do. And to simply be able to hold your child, not having to worry that they could be taken away from you or that there are hurdles to overcome during their life. I want that. I want it with my whole being.

You bring up a good point, though. The grass isn’t always greener on the other side. That not all pregnancies are happy events. And while that can be maddening to think about while in the middle of treatment, it’s also sobering too. Now, if I can just remember that during some of my darker days . . . .

14 serenity { 08.08.12 at 2:55 pm }

Right now, my lebensneid is focused on the one part of my life I feel like I can control: running. I am acutely jealous of the women who run faster, more effortlessly than me. Including a really good friend, who ran with me last week to keep me company on an absolutely awful long run (asthma attack). I was faster than she was in May and lost it all when I took June and July off to cycle.

It’s really hard right now, because I want my runs to be a salve for the fact that I’m not pregnant. Except it’s hard because I’m just getting back into it and it’s an emotional minefield because often during my run I think “this shouldn’t be me right now. I should be home, resting, because I’m pregnant.”

*sigh* I’m working through it. And at least it’s helping me get faster?


15 Mud Hut Mama { 08.08.12 at 3:05 pm }

I’m so sorry you are feeling this. Most of my envies are fleeting things that I can easily push to some dark corner of my mind when I focus on the good – but not baby envy – there is no place to tuck that away.

I envy people who exude confidence because I tend to feel indecisive. I also envy people who say what they feel without worrying too much about how it will be received. My fear of offending or being rejected can keep me from being open about my feelings. I envy my best friends who live near one another because at best I see them once a year for a day or two. Their closeness and inside jokes remind me that there are so many aspects of their lives that I’m no longer a part of.

16 Lori Lavender Luz { 08.08.12 at 3:07 pm }

Superhero t-shirts procured from the JCP boys section — a lack of style? I was envying THAT.

I feel badly that I wasn’t tuned into your lebensneid. But duh, I can certainly see how seeing mothers and babies would trigger the covet response. I could have burped up on you or something, had I known (too much making light?).

In the past I have coveted the invitations, the Being Someone, the voice, the traffic, the ability to keep heels on all day. But this year, I seemed to have all that I really needed. Except a killer opening line for our session.

17 Justine { 08.08.12 at 3:47 pm }

Interesting. Jjiraffe will tell you that I was envying the same thing. I kept thinking that this was silly of me because we are done building our family, and you never know how those other little ones arrived — I suspect that there were some infertiles among the mothers — but I wanted them nonetheless, in a deep, longing kind of way. It took me by surprise, because I haven’t felt that way in a while.

The other thing I envied there was good writing. At Voices of the Year, for example. Not followers, not stuff, but people who have become really good at their craft, so good that it has become their full time job, so good that they are able to support themselves on it. (I got the rejection letter from my latest job application on Friday morning, one that I’d really thought I had in the bag, so that envy was perhaps more pronounced than usual, even if it was not entirely rational. Sigh.)

18 magpie { 08.08.12 at 4:54 pm }

i’m a little envious of people who don’t have to go to work every day. i had a fantasy a few years ago of taking a sabbatical, and then life got in the way and now my husband is the stay-at-home parent. oh well. it’s a tiny envy.

19 Sharron { 08.08.12 at 4:59 pm }

People with single minded determination and published authors.

Everything else comes and goes.

20 sushigirl { 08.08.12 at 5:54 pm }

Every time I read the word “Lebensneid”, my mind rearranges it into lesbiannet or lesbianneed.

I still get that little stab of envy when someone mentions they have four children or has a second child that’s perfectly timed, or generally has things very easy on the conception front.

Less importantly, my brain is always fried at the moment, and I envy people who are more together. Even although my baby isn’t bad at sleeping!

21 Mim { 08.08.12 at 5:58 pm }

Mothers. Plain and simple. And I would give anything and everything to be one.

22 jjiraffe { 08.08.12 at 6:01 pm }

I did notice Justine eyeing the babies. What she didn’t know was I was eyeing them too, but I was trying real hard to put up a wall. It didn’t work completely. I pretty much know for me that path is not going to happen. It makes me sad, but I’m trying to focus on the now.

But, yeah. That’s my envy too.

23 Chickenpig { 08.08.12 at 7:40 pm }

I’m with you. We went to the aquarium on Monday, and there was a woman ahead of us waiting for the 4d theater experience holding a newborn. I wanted to be holding that baby so much it hurt.

24 Corey Feldman { 08.08.12 at 7:51 pm }

Mine is the same as yours, not through fertility but through my wife’s choice. Makes my heart hurt every time I see, hold a new born. Especially a new born girl.

25 Rachel { 08.08.12 at 8:49 pm }

I envy the little babies too. I have baby fever right now. But what I envy most in people is those people who have biological children, that they can look at their child and to see how genetics has combined their genes with their spouse’s genes to create a new, unique creature.

I am often really glad that I have no expectations for H based on genetics and that it is really easy for him to be himself because he doesn’t share our genes and therefore we don’t project our strengths, weaknesses and interests onto him. However, I will forever mourn our genetic child, the child that never was.

So when I see people discuss who their children look like, I get a little sad. I am envious of those who can look at old photos of family and answer that question.

26 Mali { 08.08.12 at 8:50 pm }

I love new words – lebensneid. I don’t think I envy babies anymore – so that wouldn’t bother me. If it had been a bunch of women with beautiful 12 year old daughters, that might sting.

What I envy now though is:
Women who (seemingly) effortlessly stay slim
Confident people – those who can put themselves out there without fear, brushing off rejection or disagreement
People who seem to have endless energy. I’d love love love to have that.

27 Mali { 08.08.12 at 9:01 pm }

I should say – I don’t envy women with babies anymore. I envy babies – they sleep all day, are fed on demand, constantly bathed in love. What a life!

28 Laurie { 08.08.12 at 10:15 pm }

Great post. It brought tears to my eyes. Thank you.

29 Kasey { 08.08.12 at 10:49 pm }

First, it was really really great to meet you in person. That was one of my BlogHer highlights.
I envy the people with the clean house who cook dinner and it seems like they have it all together. And I often wish for that extra room. We only have 3 and the things I could do if I only had one more room.
In other news, at my table at Pathfinder day, 6 of 8 dealt with IF, we were not all ALI bloggers. Blew my mind that that was our common ground.

30 St. E { 08.09.12 at 1:13 am }

Every once in a while, someone introduces to me a thing or a word that I love too deeply, and hence remember the introducer for that.

One such word I got was ‘Saudade’ from a Portuguese fellow. I was introduced to Pink Floyd by someone and for all the things I remember that person for, PF will be one of the most important.

And you just gave me a word again, that I love just as deeply as Saudade. I love ‘lebensneid’…what a word!

I have pretty shallow and inpermanent envy of families around me that have grown-up children. When I sit on my balcony for the morning tea, I see several women out on their walks, while their kids are at home, doing their routine independent of constant adult supervision. Currently, that is the one bit I want in my life.

31 Mina { 08.09.12 at 3:30 am }

I have been reading but did not comment in a month or so.
I do so now.
I think if we were all in a room, I would be the object of many looks in which Lebensneid was gleaming. I have that four weeks baby that makes people look my way as they did when I was in the last weeks of pregnancy. And I do see those looks, even though most times I am living in a bubble of newborn smell, toddler constant inventions, sleep quest. I know perfectly well how lucky I am, and this is why I try to not have any Lebensneid. And I don’t, truth be told.
But I do wonder how it is for other people to have families near by. To get along with them. To count on them for support and help. I wonder how it feels to have a relationship with your mother. A real relationship, not the one I have with my mum, in which I feel like she’s my estranged step daughter. How does it feel to be able to talk to your mum when you need to, to receive meaningful advice all throughout your life, especially during those dreadful teenage years? How does it feel to have someone close to you (other than your husband) whom you can trust your children with to go to a doctor’s appointment? Or to go have a haircut? Or just to have a nap when you feel like throwing up because of the lack of sleep?
See, I have a perfect husband and two gorgeous boys, but it is just the four of us. We cannot ask anyone for help, because there is no one near. And thank god they are far away, because they are so incompetent and unreliable, I would not trust them with a stuffed monkey anyway, but explaining WHY they are not asked to help would have been even more of a burden. If something happens to one or both of us, I have no idea what would happen to my children. And this is my biggest fear.
So I try not to think about this while I throw up because I am that tired. And then splash some cold water on my face and go wrap my new baby to my chest and push my toddlet on his tricycle to go buy some bread and wieners (the height of cooking I am able of today).
Yes, I know how lucky I am to have this life. But there is always a price to pay. And we are not the ones who choose the price, most of times it is enforced on us and we just have to pay. I just wish you weren’t in those shoes where you have to wait and suffer to get a baby (if you do get it). It is very, very unfair. You learn to cope with anything in life, but some lessons are just too hard and unfair.
So there. I’ve got my husband and children which is the prize (not price) for not having the parents or in-laws the majority has (and I am being polite and euphemistic here, because it is better than being caustic and truthful).
I do not want to sound defensive, because I am not defending anything. I am just pointing out, with too many words, that there is always a price attached.

32 Pale { 08.10.12 at 11:45 am }

Leibensneid. It’s a little bit Dr. Seuss-ey, isn’t it? Both phonemically and conceptually.

You question stung my eyes a little bit. I can’t answer it here.

This is a really interesting topic.

33 Cherish { 08.10.12 at 8:26 pm }

I envy women with husbands who step up. Who do whatever it takes to stay employed to support their families. Who willingly do the yard work. Who help with their wife’s chores when she’s sick or overwhelmed.

34 Seriously?! { 08.12.12 at 1:59 pm }

I love your honesty here, Mel. But I especially appreciate your ability to KNOW that a backstory may in fact exist. Certainly our own stories have helped us open our eyes to knowing that things aren’t always what they seem.

And while I currently, finally, have that head bobbing in the B.jorn, that little head to kiss and touch whenever I want, I also know that this is, and may very well be, the ONLY head I get to caress.

So I guess, part of me, while still knee deep in early motherhood, is mourning the fact that there will not be more little heads in my future. When at the beach, watching families play together with little ones…this is what I covet: a playmate…another little head.


It’s a bitter-sweet journey indeed.

35 Valery Valentina { 08.13.12 at 9:59 am }

It was always my secret dream.
And then, after four years of IF, I was expecting twins, saw the two heartbeats. And the next scan only one.
Seeing double strollers hurts the most now…

36 Bea { 08.13.12 at 10:00 am }

Ah, not a good feeling. Great news that it was a good blogher. But coveting babies is not a good place to be in. Doesn’t feel very comforting.

What do I envy? At the moment, I envy the ability of others to get things done. Not just in an organisational sense, but also in the sense of being able to get others on board.

Tips there would be great. I can’t offer anything you don’t already know in return when it comes to babies, though.


37 Mommy-At-Last { 08.14.12 at 3:36 am }

Yup I am envious of the babies too. Which really is ridiculous seeing as my twins are just 9 months old. But I feel that this is it. I will never get to be pregnant again, I will never get to have a tiny babe at my breast again. Which is also ridiculous, if we could face the IVFs and spend the money and make the choice we could try again. But I covet those babies so much.

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