The Problem with Comparisons










Comparisons are something that everyone uses to understand things. In fact, we’re taught to use them from a very young age. Who ever learned to understand the word “big” without also understanding “small” or “little”? Comparisons, on their own, aren’t anything problematic. After all, that’s how humans understand the world. 

The problem comes in when we start assigning value judgments to those comparisons. And in society, that’s something that inevitably happens as we grow up and spend our lives steeped in our culture. A little girl who has only just learned the words “tall” and “short” has no strong associations with either one. They simply are what they are. But give it another fifteen years and you may catch her saying, “I can’t date him. He’s shorter than me!” And likewise, when she turns him down and goes to the dance with a different young man, the poor boy is likely to be left thinking, “He’s taller than me. I never stood a chance.”


“Look how much shinier that guy’s skin is than mine. Damn him.”

Any time someone we know makes a choice that somehow involves us, it’s awfully hard not to take it personally. Apply that to a romantic context, and the stories we tell ourselves about it just get that much stronger. Why wasn’t I good enough? What’s wrong with me? What does that other person have that I don’t? What did I do wrong? People drive themselves up the wall with these kinds of questions, and maybe even sometimes they manage to pinpoint the reasons they were turned down. But that doesn’t mean it’s a flaw. Society imparts a frustrating lesson that whenever we get rejected, it means there’s something wrong with us. But the truth is that for every person who isn’t into some quality you happen to possess (barring some that most people can generally agree are bad–like being a serial murderer) there probably is someone who is. So who’s to say whether one or the other is better? It may be that the person who did the rejecting doesn’t even think it’s a bad thing; it’s just not for them, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Rejection aside, comparisons come up in all sorts of other ways. When you start dating a new person, it’s awfully hard to stop comparing them to whatever relationships you had before. Or when you find out your ex decided to do something with their new partner that they never wanted to do with you, you can’t help but wonder why. What’s different about that other person, you wonder? What makes them so much better? Oftentimes, the truth in these cases is that one has absolutely nothing to do with the other. There’s nothing inherently better about my new date; I just have a better idea of what’s right for me. There’s nothing inherently better about that person my ex is dating now; my ex just changed their opinion about that activity.

Comparing is something we all do, and it’s awfully hard not to take it personally. We’re trained to make those judgments and turn each comparison we make into a case of right or wrong. But what we’re really doing is taking away our ability to just simply be. When we look for what’s better and what’s worse, in a lot of cases, we end up blocking out what is. I am who I am. You are who you are. And the relationship that exists between the two of us it is whatever it is. 

And that’s beautiful.