On New Year’s Day I woke up hungover in a friend’s flat and reflexively opened Instagram. My best friend’s smile beamed through the screen, framed by the flickering lights of Shibuya crossing, the iconic intersection in Tokyo, where she was holidaying for a month. "2022 in trips," her caption read, the following frames picturing glistening waves flowing through Venice’s canals, a Majorcan wedding, a tangerine sunset in Croatia, Machu Picchu. I was annoyed: my Sunday scaries were now exacerbated by a pang of guilt. I was happy for her, I just wished she hadn’t put her jet-set lifestyle on display for everyone to see. Suddenly I felt another pang of guilt: was I a bad friend?
Dr Badeea Qureshi, a Lancashire-born, Seattle-based psychiatrist and podcaster, says it’s common to feel envy in close relationships "because that's where you have the most exposure". Although envy is often something that we deny ourselves, "it’s actually quite valuable if we take a closer look at it".
@miriam_tinny Feel like this is really not something we discuss often #friendships #friends #jealousy #relationships ♬ original sound - Miriam
Miriam Tinberg, a 30-year-old content creator known for dissecting thought-provoking articles on TikTok, recently spoke about how she and a close friend openly discuss their envy of each other, and how it has transformed their relationship. "Instead of keeping it inside and letting resentment bubble, we just say: 'I’m honestly kind of triggered by what you’re doing or saying.'"
Miriam grew up in a stable household with a sibling and loving parents, later settling in Los Angeles with a partner and a nine-to-five in tech. Her friend is an only child who was raised in two different countries, experiencing a parenting dynamic where "she was often lost, confused and gaslit". A "self-proclaimed multi-hyphenate", her job as an entertainer on a cruise ship has allowed her to travel the world, a tradeoff that came at the expense of the kind of stability Miriam has enjoyed. "We’ve always had such divergent lives and it's led to a ton of rich conversation, but it's also led to a lot of tension." The fact that we’re living in an economically anxious moment when, for many young people, the prospect of homeownership is diminishing and financial security feels increasingly out of reach, certainly doesn’t help, either.
The truth is, in talking about our envy, we weren't trying to change each other's realities, and it didn't mean that we hated our lives or each other.
"As people, we’re drawn to benchmarking ourselves against our peers, against our siblings, against our friends," explains Hilda Burke, a London-based psychotherapist, couples counsellor and author of The Phone Addiction Workbook.
The idea of the grass being greener on the other side has been around for generations but in today’s society it plays out in much more complex ways. On the one hand, our lives can take us in seemingly countless directions, but this paradox of choice can also lead to an increased fear of missing out. "With the advent of social media, it's a whole other level of exposure to people that on a subconscious level we're competing with, or we’re comparing ourselves to, and it’s not a level playing field," says Burke. This can become particularly tricky in long-distance friendships, when we’re not in frequent communication with each other.
Ola, 30, says she became increasingly disconnected from a friend during the pandemic. "At the time I was dealing with depression and I felt so jealous that she seemed to be out there being her best self, and I wasn’t anywhere near there." Meanwhile, her friend felt envious of her "because she saw how raw I was and open with my social media posts and in my relationships, and that was something she wanted for herself".
Twenty-five year old Asiyah experienced envy during a discussion with a friend about romantic partnerships and the differences in her relationships with men compared to those of her friend. Asiyah wants to have a family but felt that her relationships with men had been unfulfilling and was struggling to feel like she could have an equal relationship with a partner. "I messaged [my friend] and I was like, 'I'm jealous of the fact that you have great relationships with men.'"
To Asiyah’s surpise, her friend, with whom she shares an interest in "exploring consciousness", did not react defensively to this confession. Instead, she implored Asiyah to visualise what it would feel like to be in a happy, loving relationship. "'It doesn't matter if you're not a wife currently, but just explore how that would feel,' she told me. I started doing that and it opened up a whole new world."
Dr Qureshi recommends her clients use shadow work therapy to express emotions they have been avoiding. This practice was popularised by Carl Jung and helps people to confront the feelings they have been holding back. "When you are able to repair a rupture inside of a relationship, it often leads to increased connectedness," she explains.
I called my best friend the other day, when she was coming back from a weekend getaway to Milan. When I told her how envious I had felt of her travels, she admitted she had suffered cramps throughout the trip and couldn’t wait to be back home. She was determined to stay put for the time being and focus on resting. I made a pact with myself not to get buried in worries about my career and to enjoy life a little more.
For Miriam, Ola and Asiyah, opening up to their friends worked too. "Jealousy and envy are seen as these relationship-breakers," says Miriam. "The truth is, in talking about our envy, we weren't trying to change each other's realities, and it didn't mean that we hated our lives or each other." Instead, it deepened their friendship. Miriam and her friend’s conversations about their financial disparities have opened up an avenue where they are able to give each other advice on how they can grow their net worth, while Ola tells me that she and her friend are "the closest we have ever been. Even though we disagree a lot, we learned how to communicate and how to give each other space when needed."