Combating Jealousy in Friendships

Sunday, July 29, 2018

If you're not the competitive type and don't ever catch yourself envying your friends' lives and experiences, you're a better person than I am and don't need to read this post. There must be a better way to spend your time. Go do that. For the shitty people like me, read on. 
People often ask, what is the difference between envy and jealousy? A definition I have found helpful is that envy relates to something you want but do not have, whereas jealousy relates to something you have but are afraid of losing. E. PEREL
Jealousy and envy in romantic relationships are pretty well-explored and discussed. They are at once erotic and toxic, sensual in their insecurities and possessiveness. They say I want you in ways that are thrilling. Your teenage years are the volatile years, the I love you so much if you even look at her I will kill myself, the I don't want anyone looking at you the way I do. It's a weird fucking attitude to have, but a generally accepted, or at least acknowledged and deconstructed, one.

But I wish we would talk more about jealousy and envy in friendships. How we lust after our friends' brilliance, their happiness, their extraordinary successes. 

My most well-known character flaw is that I've often felt insecure next to my friends, all of whom are interesting and accomplished in their own ways. They have attended the best schools, completed prestigious academic programs, set the groundwork for lucrative and deeply satisfying careers. They are esteemed scholars and activists, engineers and musicians, medical students and analysts. If I am the average of my circles, I have accomplished more than most ever will. I am so proud to know them, to bear witness to their triumphs -- many of which do not come easily.
But it takes a confident person to stand next to these sorts of friends, and I often am not one -- at least, not in this way. When I was younger and even less of the person I am now, I was constantly paranoid that I was being compared to CL (and if you know her, she is a difficult person to compete with).
The envy never bred resentment (because I love her very, very much), but I do think it put a lot of pressure on me/us. We were applying to the same top-tier schools. We attended the same high school and took the same tests. For a while, we took the same extracurricular classes. We were (and are still) close, and I think being so alike a person makes you believe that there can only be one of you.

But part of having great friends is accepting that they might be more beautiful, have higher salaries, get engaged first (and then have more expensive weddings), have more children and sooner. Have hotter, kinder, richer husbands. The list compounds and complicates with age. Infertility. Career advancement. Unemployment. Marriage. Divorce.

And yet. None of this should diminish the joy of participating in meaningful friendships with strong, empowered people.

The perpetual envy, the silly little "what if" worrier inside of you, can be a lifelong affliction. And what a fucking miserable condition that would be. 

Uhh, so anyways. Apologies for the long-winded intro. Here are ways to cope:

1. Develop a "team" mentality. 
I recently dated a fantastic guy who broached the topic of a salary gap at one point (or maybe I did, but this is unimportant). I'd confessed that I was the competitive type, that I'd sometimes felt inferior because I was at an earlier stage of my career than he was and therefore making significantly (like, eye-bulging significantly) less money. Long story short, he reminded me that relationships were about teamwork, that a "me vs. you" mentality was destructive to any sort of committed, shared experience. I think the same can be said for platonic friendships -- not that our collective salaries should be pooled together (though given how many programming friends I have, that would be nice), but that we should be encouraged to share in each other's successes as if they were our own. Instead of "X got into University Z and I didn't," redirect this insecurity into "X worked really hard on her application before she shared it with me to review. I gave her insightful feedback, and our shared efforts made her a competitive candidate." Any genuine friend will acknowledge your part in her success, no matter how small.

2. It's not a fucking competition! Stop making it one. 
Pretty much an extension of the "team" mentality. But comparison is the thief of joy! Truly! I feel like the "social media tricks us all into aspiring for the imagined" argument is so overdone and stale, so I won't rattle on. Just keep it in mind. We are all doing the best we can with what we have. 

3. Diversify your personhood. 
If your personality and interests literally overlap with someone else's so much you genuinely feel like a lower-quality imposter, you need to adopt some new fucking hobbies. Try something new. If you've been second chair to her first chair for the past twelve years of youth orchestra, pick up fencing. Or salsa dancing. Distance gives you the space to develop into your own person, your own accomplishments on your own scale. Being great at different things is so much easier than being the best (and near-best) at the same thing. 

And finally, if your friends have never done anything worth celebrating, you need to upgrade your circle.

With great love,

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