Imagine this scenario; your best friend, your best friend in the whole wide world, someone you have loved and cherished for quite some time, suddenly has a massive stroke of good fortune. How would you feel? There you have both been, coping with life’s ups and downs, facing all the good things and the bad things together and…your friend lucks out. She marries one of the most attractive, genuinely decent men on the planet and, unexpectedly, gets promoted to a fantastic job which will pay her a pile of money. In the space ofna week, everything between the two of you has changed. Whereas once you were both unlucky in love and eeking out a living doing a variety of jobs that never quite delivered what they had promised, she has hit the jackpot. She is in love! Happy! Earning loads of money! And you…well, nothing much has changed for you.
So, what do you do? Do you hug her to you, delighting in her good fortune? After all, she’s your friend and she deserves it all and you are genuinely happy for her. Or do you have a surprising reaction? Maybe you feel jealous? Hurt? Wounded? Maybe you feel she might leave you, not need you any more, waltz off in to her rosy future with out so much as a backwards glance. Maybe you try to do things to sabotage her happiness, making her doubt her man, or herself.
If, like me, you have suffered from the latter then you are in a state of Frenvy. This envy that you can feel for a friend is something I know all too well about. I have had such vicious, nasty attacks of Frenvy, I’ve seriously shocked myself.
Paula and I had been friends since we were at secondary school. We clicked from the moment we saw each other and spent our teenage years experimenting with make up, gossiping, trying to snog boys, talking about trying to snog boys and going through all those rites of passage together. We tried on bras together, got our periods, ended up actually managing to snog boys, had sex for the first time. I loved Paula almost more than anyone else. Her involvement in my life was so necessary to me.
As we grew older and went off to separate universities, we still remained close. We visited each other every term. We wrote letters, made telephone calls. Eventually, we both ended up in London and shared a flat. I started my career as a journalist. Paula managed a book shop. Our twenties were spent in pretty much the same way as our teens; drinking, laughing, snogging unsuitable men, laughing some more.
Yet there was an undercurrent to our relationship. It was a given – an unspoken given – that I was the more successful of the two of us. I was the go-getter, the show pony, the one who good things happened to. In a way, I cared about it more. I took life by the horns and gave it a great big shake. Paula drifted through her life and her job, never getting stressed out but also, seemingly, having little ambition. It worked well. We complemented each other. I’d come home from the day at the office and there Paula would be having cooked some diner and with a glass of wine at the ready.
But then things changed. For a start she met lovely Stan, a jazz musician (of course I hated him at first sight! Who was this man who came and took my Paula away from me?)
Then a novel she was working on, and hadn’t breathed a word about to me, got published. But not only did it get published, it went on to do very well. I was green with envy. I told her I was happy and proud of her but, inside I was fuming. Why did SHE get to write a novel and I didn’t? Despite the fact I loved her, it seemed SO unfair.
Stan and she then decided they would move to Devon and buy a run down farm – something I said I’d always wanted to do but obviously was never actually going to achieve. He’d compose, she’d write, they’d have animals, chickens and the like and breed a family of their own.
I’ll never forget her telling me.
‘It’ll be perfect,’ she said, smiling happily.
But was I happy for her? No I was not! I was furious, angry, hurt and jealous. I felt betrayed and let down. Why had Paula been given such a good hand? Why was she so happy and successful when I wasn’t? And why has she managed to get the life I wanted? Didn’t I deserve it more than she did? On and on my horrible thoughts went.
I had dreams, murderous dreams, in which I stabbed her, or stabbed him. My feelings were so strong they frightened me. Why couldn’t I be happy for her? I should have been. But, actually, I wanted to sabotage everything, to tell her she couldn’t leave me, that her book was rubbish (it wasn’t) and that Stan was a two-timing bastard (he isn’t).
Psychotherapist Philip Hodson says, ‘it is totally to be expected. Why would you associate something as warm and loving as friendship with such a set of negative emotions, but love and hate go together. You can’t have one without the other. A friendship relationship is a love relationship. I think of it as being in a state of armed neutrality. Friends have a defence mechanism around each other because the price of getting what you want from a friend also means you are running the risk that they will assassinate you.’
He goes on to say that friends play such an important role in our lives, our feelings for them run very deep. ‘When you first meet a friend, there is a level of instant attraction about them. You feel as if you have known them all your life. They say the right words, they are like you and you identify with them. However, all sorts of jealousy issues come in to play. You want them to like you and only you. You have invested in them. No one wants someone else to come in and take over their stocks and shares.’
In my case, with Paula, I did feel jealous, particularly of Stan. He had got in the way, as I saw it. Of course I did want her to be happy, but I didn’t want to feel edged out. Philip Hodson points out that I was envious of Paula because she had a lot of be envied for. ‘She was blessed with everything all of a sudden. The fortunate woman has much to be envied for. However, you have to understand that you were responding to your fantasy of her life. In reality, she still had her problems, her ups and downs, her existential dilemmas. What she need you to do was continue to love her regardless of your envy of her.’
This, in the end, is what I did. It took a lot. My demanding behaviour upset Paula and I think she and Stan probably had many talks about how unreasonable I was being. I did behave very badly, demanding she see me over Stan and being very mealy-mouthed about the success of the book. Luckily, Paula is made of strong loyal stuff. She stuck with me, always quietly trying to reassure me that I was still her friend, still important to her. Gradually, after she and Stan moved to Devon and I went to visit them as much as I could, I realised I WAS happy for her. She’d ended up with the life she wanted. Three children down, she still has it. Going to visit her, with my own four children, and spending time with her and Stan has taught me the true meaning of friendship – I must allow her to be who she is, have the life she wants to lead. I finally understood this didn’t mean she was no longer my friend.
But Philip Hodson sounds a warning note. ‘It is best to remember that famous saying, ‘when I hear a friend is doing well, a bit of me dies.’ The best thing to do is try to accept friendships for what it is – a good, but complicated, thing.’
Ashlee Clewer, 27, a single mother from Buckinghamshire
‘The friend I really envied worked with me at a nursery school and we were really close but then, a bit out of the blue, she got engaged and then she had her fiancé, who was this really lovely guy, and then bought a beautiful house. I felt terribly envious when she bought the house. I could never have bought a house like that and I still can’t. I so wanted her life. But I was just about coping until the wedding and it was so lovely and so sumptuous that it set me off again. I watched her looking so happy, and surrounded by her parents and her sisters and it was all so perfect that I realised I was desperately envious and then I really disliked myself for feeling that way. The problem was, my friend was so nice. We all used to bitch about everyone at the nursery but she never did. I desperately wanted her life not to be so perfect but then I was happy for her as well. It was a confusing time. She and her husband had – and have – a great marriage. They went on holiday all over the place, often visiting her sister in Canada. I can’t afford to go anywhere. I would have given anything to have her life. I used to go and see her and and her all these questions about what she did and where she was going to and then torture myself about it.
But, I saw her the other day – she is still perfect but she’s put on weight and I thought ha! That’s horrible isn’t it?!’