Living

How To Talk To Someone When Their Life Is Awesome—And Yours Is Not

We talk a lot about how to be there for someone when things are hard. But it's equally important to show up properly to the precious stretches of ease in people's lives, too.

An illustration of two women sitting n opposite sides of a huge gulf

(Illustration: iStock)

“I’m so sorry,” the nurse sighed. “Again.”

I lean my head against an indifferent concrete wall in the stairwell at work, my go-to spot for privacy when the fertility clinic’s number lights up my call display. This purgatory between Level 2 and 3, baby and no baby.

I prepare my face for the return to my desk. This marks my fourth failed cycle of fertility treatments, maybe my fifth. I’m tired, I feel my period looming, and all I want is to go home to the quiet, a place I don’t have to pretend, watch every Maria Bamford stand-up special for the 37th time and melt into my sadness.

So perhaps not a great moment to get an email from my younger sister announcing she’s pregnant after exactly 42 seconds of trying. This is the first baby in our family. This is a big deal.

Yes, I burst into tears. The blurry confusion at why I was being punished. The pre-emptive exhaustion at the glee that will be required over the next nine months, all while dragging myself through Failed Cycle 12 or 13 or 491.

But then: a breath.

And in that breath, a clear and simple question: Who do you want to be right now? Also: Years from now, who do you want her to remember?

We talk a lot about how to be there for someone when things are hard. But it’s equally important to show up properly and bear witness to the precious and fleeting stretches of ease and beauty in people’s lives, too.

A thriving person has different emotional needs than a grieving person, but they burn just as bright and they’re just as real: namely, that their people gather in genuine curiosity, closeness and celebration to help give shape to the story of their life—specifically, the parts they will remember most vividly and lovingly when all the other details have dripped down the wall. Most of us don’t graduate university in an empty auditorium or get married in a silent room; we need our people, gathered in a loving fortress around the moment, sealing it off and protecting it. Meeting a joyful person where they are is still a call to step up, just in a different way.

But that’s a painful call to answer when you’re sinking in a black lake of envy and resentment. Here are some small meditations that have helped me reimagine and reframe those moments of uncomfortable imbalance in my relationships.

Separate the stories

Nothing is actually being taken from you.

This liberating realization helped me step into the version of myself I wanted my newly pregnant sister to be around. Had the universe created her pregnancy specifically to remind me that this arena of my life wasn’t going well? No: Her pregnancy had no bearing on how my story was going to unfold. It’s not like she snatched up the last pregnancy on the shelf and now it was going to be harder for me to find one. This was a coincidence. Nothing more.

You are in your own story, in your own time. You’re not the protagonist of anyone else’s plotline. You’re just hanging out in the audience, eating a medically concerning number of M&Ms. Observe what’s happening, let it float by. You get to sit back and watch their movie while yours is still in production.

How will you reminisce on this moment after your misery lifts?

I’d imagine it was 2025 and I was finally living a peaceful and contented life. I’d envision my sister having coffee with friends, recounting her first pregnancy. How would she describe my reaction, my presence, the kind of support I provided? Had I made her beautiful news feel even more hopeful and expansive? Or had I been a sudden snag in the story?

Chances are, it won’t be long before your person is having an awful time and things are going great for you. It’s humbling and hard to look back and realize that you could only celebrate, support and inhabit happiness when it was your own.

What self-care strategies can you implement to help you show up for this person?

Yes, you’ll go out into the world, celebrate promotions when you’ve just been fired and weddings when you’re newly separated. But then you get to retreat into a calming oasis you’ve designed, where the only priority is tending to your wounded heart.

In my case, I started a Rage Journal. I wrote down everything that felt hard, unfair, exhausting, infuriating. It was where I responded to people who incessantly asked when I was going to have kids or what I was waiting for. It became a small nightly ritual that helped me release the tension in my body and made me feel better equipped to stay calm and steady out in the real world.

As well, instead of waiting weeks for library holds, I bought new books and read what I wanted when I wanted (some of them in hardcover, I know). A little instant gratification felt so good when the rest of my life was anything but.

Self care is different for everyone. You might appoint an I Will Be Aggressively Texting You From The Bathroom of the Baby Shower Friend, or order a month of ready-made freezer meals. Whatever makes your day feel a little bit lighter.

Boundaries are also self-care strategies: it’s okay to turn off your phone at nine p.m. to create a calming transition into sleep, free from sudden “Which of these 53 identical veils do you like best???” texts.

Choose a tiny corner of the person’s joy that you connect with

During fertility treatment, I couldn’t comfortably plan my sister’s baby shower, and go shopping with her for onesies, and weigh in on her list of baby names—it was too much, and my sister was thankfully very mindful about giving me the stillness and space to volunteer rather than assigning me tasks. But as my nephew took shape in the ultrasounds, I found genuine excitement in imagining who he was, and I felt moved to write him a personalized baby book. I found a quiet way I could contribute authentically to the moment. You don’t have to personally take on the entire constellation of the person’s awesome life. You can find a small, safe piece that works for you.

Can your relationship hold two things at once?

What would happen if you invited the thriving person into the honesty and complexity of the moment? My sister intuitively understood that her great news had some jagged edges for me—and we talked openly about it. We focused on her baby and made room for my despair. We laughed at the weird and tangled mess.

Stay open to surprise

If I’d had a crystal ball the day of my sister’s pregnancy announcement, I would have seen that six months into her pregnancy, I’d unexpectedly be pregnant myself. Had I known that, I would have doubled down on my efforts not to eclipse her big moment. It was a reminder that everyone’s story is fluid, constantly in motion, and it won’t be long before the next major plot twist. If it’s not All About You right now, it likely will be soon. All the more reason to show up fully and thoughtfully for those short-lived moments when it’s all about someone you love.

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