Tuesday, 14 August 2007

The Life of Riley

It so often seems that other people have much better lives than yourself, that they're gliding through everything effortlessly while you're struggling against the odds and meeting one obstacle after another.

Parents think couples without children have got it easy, workers think the bosses have got it easy, and Joe and Joanna Public think celebs have got it easy.

But what do we really know about other people's lives when usually all we see is the carefully crafted facade they present to the world? People go to amazing lengths to conceal the awkward truth and pretend they're coping brilliantly with life's difficulties.

They don't reveal the panic attacks or the mortgage arrears or the husband's porn stash or the son's pyromania. They don't reveal their constant fear that their job is beyond their abilities or their social skills are lacking or they're totally incompetent parents.

What's really tragic though is when someone is so convinced that other people have far superior lifestyles they go to desperate lengths to imitate them.

Like the bank clerk who embezzles thousands of pounds to get a swish house and a flashy car, or parents who bankrupt themselves in the belief that a £20,000 wedding outdoes a £2,000 one. Or teenage girls who spend meagre wages on extortionate designer clothes to feel like jetsetting supermodels.

And even when people know full well that the imagined Life of Riley is more like Dead End Gulch, they still pursue the dream regardless. We all know by now that many supermodels are on a gruelling treadmill of dieting, purging, exercising and plastic surgery, yet there are plenty of young girls aching to be in their shoes and hating what they see as the mediocrity and pointlessness of their existing lives. The golden images have a life of their own.


  1. Hegemony plays a big role in this. We are ruled by consent through the illusion that we can have all the flash gear and perfect lives. Print and tv ads have also turned consumers into physicians so they know what drug will make it all better. I will gladly cop to having panic attacks, a nagging sense of waiting for the other shoe to drop, and anxiety about my job search.
    But that's just me.

  2. I've often played the 'would I swap my life for yours not knowing what goes on behind the scenes' game when out for a stroll or on train journeys. Just picking random people and wondering. Sometimes willing myself to do a Quantum Leap into their bodies.
    I thought this weekend, what if it's worked and I'm now in the life of the young woman who was walking her dog along the coastal path on Sunday and it's her thinking this. Maybe my soul has leapt so many times I don't know which body it's in any more!

    I also wonder whether the current levels of anxiety, dislocation and envy are related to women's emancipation? Were most Western societies set up around the model of a nuclear family in a mancentric Christian world? One which was relatively stable, if 'unjust'. Maybe we're still finding a way to redefine society and it needs to get more chaotic before it gets better or a new pattern emerges?

  3. Oh, others' lives aren't much better than mine???

  4. You are so right. I often think that actually. We are always judging people in many different ways. It's rarely correct.

  5. Medbh - good point about drugs, which are supposed to make things better but might also have unpredictable side-effects. The other shoe? That's an Canadianism I don't quite understand - like waiting for the penny to drop, or waiting for something to happen?

    Bel - just love your quirky imagination, right on my wavelength. I think nuclear families are quite a recent idea (200 years?), before that extended families and collective communities were more the norm. NFs certainly cause problems, particularly the lack of outside support in a crisis and expecting the isolated woman to cope.

    Gaye - Jenny said something similar, clearly I didn't express myself very well! I didn't mean we should lack aspirations, I only meant that sometimes we have an over-rosy ideal about certain lifestyles that may be very different from the reality.

    Con - Yes we're so ready to leap in and judge other people's lives, often without knowing the first thing about them. Particularly we like to fasten on people's weaknesses to deflect attention from our own.

  6. Forgot to mention Medbh, looked up the story behind 'Waiting for the other shoe to drop' - the drunken guy in the flat who can be heard by the flat below taking his shoes off. So horribly true for anyone who's lived in flats!!

  7. Oh Nick, no I really DID understand what you were saying, I was being sarcastic as if I was just awoken from my feeling-sorry-for-myself-and-feeling-like-everyone-is-doing-much-better-with-their-lives state of mind. It was a miss and hit attempt at humour.
    I think that it is very much the case for relationships. Most people look at other couples and wish their relationship was as easy or as carefree or as this or that like it seemed. But that's exactly the secret isn't it? Not everything is what it seems. Especially the private sufferings of partners in relationships, or deep troubles. When you see them together in public, in social gatherings you can swear they are the happiest people who ever walked on earth. 2 years later, a bitter split, and the dirty laundry spilt by either or both sides. Nope, grass is not greener. I am sure Paris Hilton feels empty and unfulfilled inside. *chuckle*

  8. Added: And Britney Spears misses her mum. (oh no I really don't follow celebrity news I swear)
    And my neighbour is cheating his wife with his secretary. (his wife thinks he works too hard)

  9. Indeed how common that is, an apparently contented couple breaking up amid bitter acrimony. How often we just take a blind leap, putting our faith in true love and hoping for the best. And how do you know your neighbour's cheating? Or are you just speculating?

  10. How do I know?
    Because I am the secretary...
    Totally joking, I made that bit up Nick!

  11. I think of waiting for the other shoe to drop as just waiting for something bad to happen.
    I'm a worrier.

  12. Oh, and enough with the fake tans like the women in the pic have. Blech.

  13. Oh absolutely. As I commented on Gaye's blog, I've never understood the attraction of either fake or natural tans. It's supposed to be healthy-looking but either you've applied some dubious chemical to yourself or you're risking skin cancer. Healthy??

  14. Hello!
    Love this post, Nick - I know so many people who are killing themselves chasing a lifestyle without any real understanding of themselves or their goals.
    My motto? The only price you should pay for something is the monetary one. If the cost includes your health, your family, your friends, you can't afford it!


  15. Thanks BB. Yes indeed there are some things you should never sacrifice. Unfortunately a lot of people realise too late they have done just that and end up thoroughly miserable and lost.