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Andrea D'Aquino
Andrea D'Aquino

I Admit It. I'm Jealous Of My Friends

When my inner-green-eyed monster rears its ugly head.

I promise I was a supportive pro when my friend Stephanie landed a cool advertising job straight out of college. After she met a tall guy with the ideal combination of hair and charisma, I put on a genuine smile and walked down the aisle at her black-tie wedding. I squealed with delight at the pregnancy announcement. Ditto the second pregnancy announcement. Then came the text message, so casually delivered that she may as well have told me she was running five minutes late for a coffee date: “Guess what? I just accepted a new job. So excited. Great people and I’m getting a $15k raise. Yay!”

!@$L!$$K@$^*!!!!.

Look, I’m grateful to be able to pay my own rent. But I’m a New York City-based journalist without a full-time gig or steady paycheck. Buying the organic strawberries for an extra $1.65 at my local Trader Joe’s is considered a splurge. I shop on eBay to snare discounted jeans and sneakers, and monitor my bank account balance as if it’s a weather forecast.

Meanwhile, Stephanie was already printing money in her fancy career and now she was going to earn a significant bump in salary?! Gimme. A. Break. I tossed the phone on my couch totally dejected before composing myself and then writing the requisite “OMG, congrats! So thrilled for you!!!” response.

As much as I’m loathe to admit it, my inner-green-eyed monster often rears its ugly head. A former coworker’s vacation pics on Instagram can set me off — as does every darn article in The New York Times’ Modern Love feature. (My insta-reaction: Why can’t I write or experience that?) But those are ephemeral examples. When this emotion seeps into my beloved friendships, it’s difficult to know exactly how to handle it. I want to be empathetic and happy for their personal and professional triumphs, but I feel inadequate in the process.

Turns out this brand of envy is perfectly natural … and rampant. “It’s absolutely human to feel jealous of your friends,” says Marisa Franco, a psychologist and author of Platonic: How the Science of Attachment Can Help You Make — and Keep — Friends. “It’s just a sign that they have something you might want. And your brain is oriented in thinking that if they have more of that one thing, you’re going to have less of it. And it’s easy to evaluate your whole life based on that one thing.”

Of course, a common sentiment is not necessarily a healthy one. But! It’s perfectly possible to manage your jealousy and let the friendship flourish. Here are four tried-and-true strategies.  

Acknowledge the issue

Truth: The first step is admitting to yourself that you have a problem — and reminding yourself there’s no shame in it. “Think of it as a form of self-enlightenment,” says Franco. “What does this jealousy reveal to you about what you have and don’t have?” Embracing the issue is also important because an overwhelming sense of negativity can manifest in the form of self-protective defense mechanisms. Soon, you may be inclined to withdraw from the relationship to avoid feeling small — or, ugh, passive-aggressively cut the friend down to size. “When you put them down and minimize their accomplishments, you feel a little bit a better about yourself,” she says. “This is ultimately very harmful.”

Know that wins aren’t finite

Think of the concept of success as an industrial-size pie: There are enough delicious slices to go around for everybody. You too! Until then, feel free to steal a bite from your friend and feed off the sugar rush. (OK, I’m polishing off the last dessert metaphor now.) “When you get close to a person, you share a certain level of intimacy because you’re wrapped up in each other’s feelings,” Franco says. “So, their accomplishments become your accomplishments and their failures become your failures. Live vicariously.” In other words, let’s say you’re struggling with fertility and your bestie has just told you that she’s expecting. Again. Take it as pure good news: “You have to reframe the jealousy as ‘Now I’ll have access to a baby, and it brings me closer to what I want.’ ”    

Recognize other emotions

Just because you’re resentful that your friend has finally found true love while your marriage has been in a long-term rut doesn’t mean you can’t cheerfully shop for wedding dresses with her. “Both reactions can happen at the same time,” Franco says. She suggests expressing all this excitement in the most authentic manner possible, as “being happy for your friends’ successes can be very satisfying — you want to root for them.” That said, being upfront about your mixed emotions can go a long way as well. With vulnerability and humility, “you can tell her something like, ‘I love you and I want to be happy for you but I’m struggling right now because this part of my life isn’t going well.” Text, phone, dinner, whatever. Any form of communication works as long as the message is sent with the best of intentions.

Remember: The grass isn’t greener on the other side

It’s a cliché for a reason. Sure, your friend seems to be living the domestic dream (complete with the adorable photos to prove it). But nobody has it all and simply basks in bliss 24/7. Not Oprah, not your favorite Peloton instructor, and certainly not your friend. Even though my pal Stephanie can afford to raid the shoe department at Saks Fifth Avenue, I know that she primarily funnels her money to her kids’ education — and that expense won’t let up for decades. Where’s the fun in that? Besides, as Franco notes, “Wherever you are in your life, it’s helpful to remember that you certainly have something that your friend wants too.” In those reflective moments, don’t be smug; be grateful.  

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