Here’s a friendship cunundrum: While your BFFs are supposed to be the people you root for and help succeed, one of the most common sources of platonic breakups is jealousy. She lands a promotion or gets into a great school, or maybe she gets engaged or pregnant or meets the perfect guy, and instead of being genuinely happy for her, you’re about 80% happy and 20% jealous. And as things keep going her way, the jealousy festers and the 80/20 split is suddenly closer to 50/50.
This type of frenvy (different than the envy that arises when you see your BFF growing close to other friends) is present in many female friendships, according to social psychologists. And my question is, why?
The more I try to uncover the root of this particular relationship plague, the more I think it’s not that complicated. Yes, we love our friends, but when someone achieves something we want for ourselves—a raise, a gorgeous new sweater, a 10-pound weight loss—jealous feelings emerge. And when it comes to close friends, I propose that two factors contribute to our jealousy:
1) The In-Your-Face factor: If you hear through the grapevine that an acquaintance got a fat raise, you may have a momentary flash of envy, but it dissipates quickly. You hardly see her, so you don’t think much about it. But if your BFF is suddenly bumped up a tax bracket, you’re probably confronted with this new reality pretty often. The more she (inadvertently or not) calls your attention to her new income, the more jealous—and perhaps bitter—you become.
2) The It-Could-Have-Been-Me factor: You might dream of winning a Golden Globe one day, but you probably aren’t legitimately jealous of Natalie Portman because it doesn’t really feel like the statuette could have been yours. When it comes to close friends, we know their shortcomings. If something great happens to them, it’s easy to question how they got so “lucky,” as friends don’t seem as untouchable as Natalie Portman. If your BFF, with all her quirks, can find a man/job/little black dress on sale in the perfect size, then why can’t you?
I was thinking about this in the first place because a dear friend of mine was featured on the front page of yesterday’s New York Times Business Section! I am incredibly proud of him, as this is someone I’ve been friends with since I was an 18-year-old freshman roaming the dorm hallways looking for a late-night snack ten years ago. And now he’s being featured in the Sunday New York Times. I mean, really. Amazing. (Check out the article and then check out his dating website, Ignighter.com.)
In this case, I can say with 100 percent honesty that I am ecstatic and not jealous. It got me thinking: Why are we jealous of friends sometimes and not others? (In this instance: 1) This friendship goes so far back that I want nothing but success for him, but also 2) I am not an entrepreneur so being in the business section of any paper isn’t a dream of mine.)
I anticipate there are people out there who will say a true friend should never be jealous of her BFF. And maybe it’s true, but it’s not reality. Jealousy exists, unfortunately. The question is: When does it start to erode a relationship?
Why do you think friends often grow so jealous of each other? How do you suggest they keep the green-eyed monster at bay? And, in your own life, has frenvy ever been the culprit in a falling out?