Wishing Well for Your Friends
What We Want
Why do we get so prickly? Because the things we envy most are the things we see -- for better or for worse -- as sources of our self-worth. "When my best friend got engaged, it was hard for me to be happy for her without thinking: "What does her fiance see in her that my boyfriend doesn't see in me?" says Petra, 36, of Brookline, Massachusetts.
Is it also in our chromosomes? Yes and no. "Women aren't necessarily more jealous creatures -- it's just that being jealous makes us feel bad," says B.J. Gallagher, author of Everything I Need To Know I Learned From Other Women (Conari Press, 2002). "Men are more openly competitive. We're competitive but we're taught that it's not nice. That's why the feeling can go underground and get ugly."
So when you feel those pangs, face them and work through them to keep them from creeping in between you and your friend. "If you don't acknowledge and deal with it, unchecked envy can really hurt," says Margaret Gibbs, PhD, professor of psychology at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Teaneck, New Jersey. What's the harm? People whom Dr. Sapadin has surveyed say that two of the most important elements of friendship are intimacy and support. But when envy rears its green-eyed head, you offer neither; you might see or talk to your friend less, and you might put down the pom-poms when you do. "I was so not the friend I wanted to be when a dear galpal had her baby, because I wanted one so badly, too," says Libby, 41, of Pittsburgh. "I'd have felt okay about keeping a little distance, but I still wish I'd been less 'too busy' to bond with her kid and be part of something so important to her."
But keeping the green meanies in check isn't only about being the best friend you can -- it's also about doing what's best for you. Says Sapadin: "Don't play the zero-sum game with her successes. Instead of thinking 'If she gets more of something, I get less,' you could think, 'If more good things happen to my friend, more good things happen to me!'" Her new boyfriend could introduce you to his friends; she may have good advice for you on how to land a killer promotion. After all, says Sapadin, "friends help out friends. When she's in a good position to do that, so much the better for you!"