A friend stood in my room and glanced around while I rummaged for something in a laundry basket. "Excuse the mess" I dutifully said.
"Actually, it makes me feel better." was her only reply.
I began to ponder that. Why do we need to see someone else's mess to feel better about our own? Is there some primal need to level the playing field to the least common laundry pile? Then I wondered if there were possibly a gender component to this particular balancing act. Do men need to see their fellow fellows be brought down to feel better? Would a man care about a mess like a woman does, or would he more likely compare the size of the brown patches in his lawn to those of his neighbors? Are we keeping down with the Jones'?
I once read that the reason that people love celebrity gossip magazines is that we love to see celebs acting human; getting a speeding ticket, eating fast food too fast, losing their tempers... and not for the reason one would think. We want to see them botch up because if they do, then they are just like us, and if they are just like us, then that means we are just like them. When they screw up, somehow we rise to attain celebrity status.
Perhaps my messy bedroom is another story. I know how my friend feels because I have felt it every time I am in a house messier than mine. Somehow we feel better about ourselves when we see that everyone around us isn't perfect. Maybe we don't want friends that are perfect, because we won't feel like we are evolved enough to hang with someone who has it all figured out when we know we are a week behind on our laundry and our kids are on day two in their tidy widies.
But maybe there is a celebrity factor after all. Maybe, when we see her overflowing trash can we are able to tell ourselves, "Well, I think she's great, even though her kitchen is a train wreck in a tunnel. And if she can still be great despite her mess, maybe I am, too." I prefer this reasoning to the simpler and more mean spirited, "I'm better than you." explanation.
So maybe when we feel that spark of self confidence drift through us at the glimpse of an unmade bed, it is a silent compliment to our friends. If I feel better when I see your mess, it just means I (wanna be) like you!