Matthew Perry’s Comparative Misery

November 3, 2022

Friends star, Matthew Perry’s memoir, Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing, hit the market this week, and, like many others, I snapped up a copy, ensuring the multi-millionaire would be able to add yet another accolade to his impressive resume — best selling author.

Having watched the media coverage, which seemed to provide daily spoilers from the book, along with reaction from fans via social media (could Keanu Reeves BE a nicer guy?), I was wondering if there would be any revelations left to discover. So, I read quickly lest the $14.99 I added to Mr. Perry’s fortune be in vain.

My interest in the book was two fold, first, I’m writing a memoir of my own experience in Hollywood (which was unlike Perry’s in every conceivable aspect), and second, I’ve met the star a time or two. While I can’t boast of anything close to a friendship, I can say, I’ve seen him in action.

He’s every bit as nice and charming as he appears on screen and within the pages of his memoir. I would venture to say, he doesn’t have an enemy in the world, except himself. But, like most addicts, I am skeptical of the narrative he tries to build around himself.

A journalist recently tweeted the most successful story a writer ever creates is the story of the life he wishes he had, or words to that effect. (I’ve searched for the exact quote but can’t find it. So, I would like to credit the source and also absorb her authority for this piece, but alas…)

In the memoir, Matt claims he is now a non-smoker (he was still smoking like a chimney when I met him). And, he claims to “be there” for others. But, I know that he flaked on at least two commitments he had made to these so-called “others.” I guess recovery is a process. I don’t hold any of that against him.

But, what kinda burns my butt is something I read in the memoir:

"I have a friend who doesn't have any money, lives in a rent-controlled apartment.  Never made it as an actor, has diabetes, is constantly worried about money, doesn't work.  And I would trade places with him in a second.  In fact, I would give up all the money, all the fame, all the stuff, to live in a rent-controlled apartment--I'd trade being worried about money all the time to not have this disease, this addiction."  from Friends, Lovers and the Big Terrible Thing, by Matthew Perry.

First of all, any psychologist will tell you, comparative misery is toxic. One such psychologist puts it this way, “…whenever you compare yourself to another person, envying what they have, wishing you would be able to swap your life with theirs, what you really do is compare yourself to the fantasy of how you think it would be to walk in this person’s shoes.”

Now, fantasizing about some poor schlub living in a shitty apartment might not rise to the level of envy, generally that’s reserved for the people living on the sunny side of jealousy, but it’s still toxic.

First, looking at someone else and thinking you’re worse off, when you clearly aren’t, serves to reinforce your own overblown sense of importance. Life is rough for everyone, but through comparative misery, we can convince ourselves life is just so much worse for us. Our burden is heavier, or path is more fraught. It’s the same kind of toxic, attention seeking behavior Perry spends the first 250 pages writing about. At the end, he seems not to have learned this one important lesson.

Next, looking down on someone and thinking they have it better belittles how difficult that person’s life truly is. Other than diabetes, I could be this “friend” Perry describes in his memoir. (I’ve had my own health issues, which I won’t compare to diabetes, but will say they have come with years of suffering and have had an enormous impact on my life.)

For the purposes of this exercise, I have allowed myself the brief indulgence of fantasizing how life might be if Perry and I swapped places.

While I confess, I’m not an addict, I’ve had many such individuals in my life, including two abusive alcoholic parents. (Perry had two loving parents with two extended families of supportive siblings.) I have seen how addicts think and act, so I can relate to how Perry might feel in the throes of an addiction. Early in the book, he writes:

"When it came time to leave Switzerland, I was still on 1,800 milligrams of Oxy every single fucking day.  I was told that once back in Los Angeles I'd still be able to get that much...  [I] flew back on a private jet... [a]nd it cost me a cool $175,000 to do so.  Back in LA, I went to see my doctor.'I need eighteen hundred milligrams a day,' I said...'[O]h no,' she said... 'Here's thirty milligrams...'This would not do.  I would get incredibly sick.There was only one thing for it: that very same night, I booked another $175,000 private jet and flew right back to Switzerland."  from Friends, Lovers and the Big Terrible Thing, by Matthew Perry.

Wow! All I see in this paragraph, and throughout the book, are choices and power. Neither of which are available to people who are struggling with money issues every day. Private jets may as well be flying to the moon for people living in rent-controlled apartments (or on the street, as I once was). There, you are truly powerless. No one comes to sit by your side, or is paid to hold your hand, or gives a shit if you are suffering or in pain. They step over you and go on their way as if your life matters not one bit. Because to them, it doesn’t.

I have compassion for Perry, but he makes it difficult when he displays no such compassion for me or my struggles. It’s very likely if he’s the kind of person who is miserable living his own life, then he’s the kind of person who will be miserable living anyone else’s. Instead, he should feel grateful for the life he has (as I do), and not try to gain even more sympathy by engaging in the toxic practice of comparative misery.

And, anytime he wants to look down on my rent-controlled apartment from the 40th floor of the Century Towers, (because he literally owns the entire floor), or the deck of his Malibu mansion, or any one of the other fabulous properties he acquired from his Friends fame, and suggest a “trade,” I’m in.

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Booliban Production was founded by Elden Rhoads with the mission of empowering women who are forced deal with harassment both in the workplace and elsewhere.