How To Not Resent Your Friend When They’re Way Ahead Of You In Life

Photographed by Ashley Armitage.
There are lots of reasons why people relate to Kristen Wiig's character, Annie, in Bridesmaids — besides the fact that she is hysterical and awkward. Stagnating while you watch your best friend reach major life milestones is not always easy, and Annie is a prime example of what that can look like.
While some people might flourish during these times, for others, being on the sidelines can breed resentment. And for Annie, those feelings culminated in an explosion at her best friend Lillian's engagement party, where she destroyed a giant cookie. "Why can't you just be happy for me!?" Lillian screams. It's a good question with a complicated answer.
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Even if you are genuinely happy for your friends, feeling jealousy, resentment, or bitterness is also completely normal, says Andrea Bonior, PhD, clinical psychologist who specializes in friendships and relationships, and author of The Friendship Fix. "Part of how we understand ourselves is to use other people as a yardstick, and look at how they're doing relative to how we're doing — and sometimes we're not going to measure up."
These bad feelings can be alarming for some people, so you might feel guilty about not feeling completely supportive of your friend, Dr. Bonior says. Or, you might convince yourself that you would never want what your friend has in order to make yourself feel better. For example, you might think, I'm never going to become a boring married person with kids or I would never want to be so obsessed with my job like she is. "One of the natural ways to handle that knee-jerk reaction is to elevate ourselves to their level, or knock them down," she says. "It's a way of tempering their success so that it doesn't seem so attractive."
Other people, like Annie, might bring themselves down and exaggerate someone else's success, thinking, They have such a perfect life and it's not fair. "That's a really natural way of trying to level the playing field and minimize the difference between what we don't have and what the other person has," Dr. Bonior says. But the key is understanding when these feelings become a problem, and figuring out how you're going to deal.
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Being at different life stages with your friends can cause a lot of conflict, simply because people don't always feel comfortable talking about those issues when they arise, Dr. Bonior says. "I think the way that friendships go wrong in these situations is people just expect that we should find a way to keep things the same," she says. "You have to accept that can't happen." The reality is that certain changes, like having a baby or getting married, can be huge disruptors to relationships, so it's up to you and your friend to carve out new terms for your relationship.
Find ways that you can still have a connection with your friends, Dr. Bonior says. Maybe you have more of a texting relationship with your friend, and agree to text late at night to talk about your day. Or you can both watch your favorite show independently, and talk about it together. Perhaps you might drop by with a pizza when you think they need it. "It's all about changing expectations," she says. "And it's true that some friendships aren't going to last because the parameters are changed enough that there isn't a logistical fit anymore."
In truth, not all of your friendships are going to outlast all of the events that life throws at you, and that's okay. Bill Rawlins, PhD, a professor of interpersonal communication at Ohio University, who studies friendships, says there are three types of friend relationships, and knowing what they are can really help level-set what you're expecting from all the various pals in your life. You've got active friendships, the friends who you hang out with and talk to often; dormant friendships, those who you might not see all the time, but can count on; and commemorative friendships, people to whom you're no longer close, but who represent a time or place in your life.
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"These friendships are nested in how our lives are organized," Dr. Rawlins says. As life progresses, it can become harder to maintain all your friendships, but putting people in these categories can be helpful. People have an ideal image of what friendships should look like, but they forget that life happens. "We all experience moments, and every moment has all this possibility to change," he says.
If you feel like you're losing your friend, tell them. Say something like, "I have to be honest right now, I really miss you. I know you have a new baby, but I wish we could figure out a way that I could still be connected to you and we could still talk." This can be a moment of personal growth for both of you, Dr. Bonior says.
Figure out if your friend's success is touching a particular nerve in your life, and understand if there are issues that you need to address on your own, Dr. Bonior says. For example, if your friend is getting married, and you haven't had a successful date in a while, make a plan to join a dating app. Most people feel better when they have a plan, she says.
Whether you're the Annie in your friendship or the Lillian, changes in the way you relate to each other can present an opportunity for you to find some more control and autonomy in your own life, Dr. Bonior says. "If you feel like you're on a path to meeting your goals, you're less likely to be wallowing in the fact that someone else has met those goals and you haven't."