From Grazia, 26th May 2008, by Charlotte Ward:
If I’m honest – and, on this subject, it’s hard to be – I was experiencing a stab of friend envy. Why wasn’t I getting married? Would my boyfriend propose one day? And, maybe more importantly, how was all this “good news” going to change my relationship with these two friends?
As always, I hated myself for feeling that twinge of mean, because admitting you’re not over the proverbial moon when brilliant things happen to your best friends is a bit like saying you didn’t cry at Beaches, or that someone’s newborn is quite ugly, actually.
Friend envy isn’t new – we’ve been dealing with it in one form or another since we were kids – but the politics of how we treat it in our thirties are complex. For many of us, friends are the new family, so conflicts become so much more intense. And when they flare up, the feelings you have inevitably take you back to the playground.
In my twenties, I turned my green-eyed moments into a wake-up call – if a friend’s achievement shone a spotlight on my own insecurities, then I needed to pull myself up by the bootstraps and make changes to my life. When a journalist friend of mine, Jenny, got a dream job on a national paper while I was bored in my regional role, it made me apply for jobs in London. When one of my closest friends (and wobbly tum body-double), Laura, dropped a dress size (unveiling a stomach that would have made Liz Hurley cry) two weeks before we went on holiday to Ibiza it made me join a gym. And when my best friend Claire got married, just as I realised the guy I was with wasn’t The One, I found the courage to split up with Mr Wrong. But then, in each of those circumstances, it was clear what I needed to do to “catch up”, to stay in the gang.
In your thirties, the stakes are higher and life doesn’t always go your way. Jealousy can work the other way – ripping through a friendship, causing chaos and destruction. When children come into the equation, things can get especially prickly.
The adage is ancient, but it still resonates: “You can’t choose your family, but you can choose your friends”, and maybe that’s why feeling jealousy makes us so uncomfortable. You pick your friends from the many women you meet. You tell them everything. You let your guard down faster than you would with a man. You think that they will be there forever – they won’t care if you get middle-age spread, they won’t cheat on you with their secretary, or leave you with the kids. Revealing so much to them makes you closer, but more vulnerable, too. So when something goes wrong and they suddenly become someone you envy as opposed to a mirror to your life, it’s natural to feel a little strange. But is it beause you genuinely want their life? Or is it simply because you’re terrified that with each new move they make – whether it’s the ring/mortgage/baby/promotion – they are moving further away from you?
There’s always a yin to the yang, and while one aspect of a friend’s life may seem desirable, they could be battling against other less perfect things, too – so you should always take time to listen and support them. […] One distant day in the future, I’ll catch up […] in the life stakes – I’ve realised it’s not a race. If envy does make an unexpected visit, I’m going to swallow down the lump in my throat and discard it from my mind. After all, as one friend says, “It’s the thoughts we act on, and not the ones we don’t, that make us who we are.”