I have a couple of mom friends who are perfect (at least in my head). They are thin and pretty. They have glamorous jobs making piles of money, husbands who worship them, close families and gorgeous, talented children. These women get to travel and stay in fancy hotels without their children, and because they can afford babysitters and spa treatments, they never look frazzled and frayed at the edges.
Their grey roots never show and they don’t know the pain of hiding their cracked, calloused heels in beat-up Keds because they skip around all summer in (expensive) bejeweled flip-flops enjoying their fresh pedis.
I used to really envy them.
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It started with Facebook. As I struggled to get my daughter to sleep each night, I’d scroll through my newsfeed and find that again, my perfect friends were on vacations that, for me, would be once in a lifetime. On these dream trips, my friends would pose on tropical beaches or poolside at four-star hotels, and they’d be wearing string bikinis looking as if they’d never given birth, and I’d think, “Jeez, I didn’t even look like that when I was 16!”
Then they’d make comments about Skyping with the kids who were, of course, having an amazing time at Grandma and Grandpa’s house while Mom and Dad frolicked around the world (and actually got to sleep in) like they did when they were still dating, and it would make me want to attack them with a hatchet.
Slowly, my envy consumed me until I became bitter and began to resent my friends.
I couldn’t resist making snarky comments on their photos. In person, I was sarcastic. I withheld compliments and became critical of everyone, especially myself.
Why did I have to have parents who couldn’t babysit?
How come we weren’t millionaires?
Why couldn't I lose weight and look like that in a two-piece?
Why was I such a loser that I didn’t have a six-figure job?
The more I let these thoughts intrude, the more they took over my life.
Pretty soon, I didn’t even recognize myself. Women I’d once loved to spend time with, I now hated. It was almost like I enjoyed hating them, like being mean to them leveled the field. Being nasty didn’t make me feel better and when my anger finally boiled over and I publicly lashed out at a friend for leaving her daughter for yet another whirlwind, adult vacation, she told me off for being judgmental and unfriended me permanently.
Getting dumped was embarrassing, but I deserved it. This was my rock-bottom. Being called out on my envy became the wake-up call that I needed in order to change.
“Friendvy” can sneak up on you before you realize it, but the good news is that it can be overcome.
When we desperately want what someone else has, it is always about us and never truly about them. We cannot control the luck of others or the fairness of life, but we can control our own reactions and we can examine our lives to find a solution and feel fulfilled.
My envy was low self-esteem in action. When I saw my friends “having it all,” I took it as a chance to celebrate my own inadequacy. To get over that feeling, I had to figure out what was actually lacking in my life.
The root cause of my envy was surprisingly simple: I needed a break.
I was bored and burnt out from parenting. I’d been stuck in my house for too long with a sick kid. That’s why I became enraged when I saw my friends vacationing alone.
Finally, I spoke up and asked for help, which I hadn’t done before. I told my husband and my friends that I really, really needed a break, and while a Hawaiian vacation was out of the question, we found realistic solutions. For instance, some of my “perfect” friends were more than willing to babysit. One even shared her nanny with me for free so I could write at her house during the afternoon.
I was angry at myself for the way I looked and because my career had stalled, so instead of looking longingly at my friends who were fit and rich, I decided again to turn my focus inward and work on those parts of my life that maybe I’d neglected. When I did that, I was too busy to worry about anyone else. I didn’t level the field by snapping at my successful friends. I did it by creating my own achievements that I could be proud of.
Instead of bringing them down, I brought myself up.
Often when I lamented the apparent unfairness of life, people would tell me to remember that everyone struggles with something. While this might be true, this advice was only a little helpful. When we say this, we’re seeking to bond with others through shared suffering.
Friendships built on common pain aren’t as strong as friendships based on mutual support and celebration. I don’t want to feel better about my hardships knowing that people I like are suffering with something, too.
I had to realize that there is enough success and beauty to go around.
No one stole my bikini bod or the European vacation that was rightfully mine, but I was acting like they had. Just because my friend made a half a million dollars doesn’t mean that I can never be wealthy. Miracle windfalls can happen, right?
A friend’s beauty doesn’t mean that I’m ugly. We can all be beautiful and we can all experience abundance, as long as we realize that abundance is relative. I have lots of truly awesome things in my life that make me lucky too, and when I change my perspective to focus on those things, it’s like all the bad stuff disappears because it’s shoved into the background, where it belongs.
Envy is one of the hardest emotions to deal with. Unfortunately, life really can be unfair sometimes.
Case in point, I was born with a slow metabolism and there’s little I can do about it. Sometimes it seems like everyone else got all the luck, but when we can shift our focus, work on ourselves, count our own blessings, and fill our own lack by asking for help, we can banish envy and experience the fulfillment of true friendship.