Illustration: Loryn Englesman

Dear Metro: "How do I control my jealousy about two of my friends becoming close?"

This week, a reader worries they won't be able to get over their jealousy about a new friendship between two people they care about.

Send your woes to: dearmetro@bauermedia.co.nz.

Dear Metro 

A long term friend of mine and a new friend of mine have become good friends. This should be a joy, two great people are friends and I'm their friend too. Yay! Yet I find myself feeling very jealous of their friendship, in a very visceral way. I don't say anything and I sit on it but I feel terrible when they talk about spending time together or when I see them getting on the way me and my long term friend used to. I don't want to be unreasonable or make people feel bad. Should I say something? Or just deal until I get over it. 

From, 

Jealous

Read last week's advice: "I can't stand the way my male workmates disrespect women in our office"

Dear Jealous,

Most pop-culture depictions of jealousy don’t particularly resonate with me, because I’m a chronically unjealous partner in romantic relationships. Before you start thinking “Wow, who is this cool chick and why is she so unlike other girls”, let me just cut in and say this appears to be because I allocate the entire sum of my jealousy to my platonic friendships. 

I have never felt so seen as I did the day I saw Bridesmaids in a Christchurch theatre. When Kristen Wiig says “Are you FUCKING kidding me” and smashes her fist through a giant cookie when Helen buys Lillian a trip to Paris…. I felt that. I also wondered why this was the first time I was seeing such a common female experience on screen. 

I will quickly say there is a difference between the regular jealousy most people feel every now and then because we’re all human, and the possessive and destructive jealousy which is used by some as a tool of abuse. I’m operating on the assumption that this is a case of the former. If you make your jealousy someone else’s problem to fix, or use it to control a partner or friend, this advice is not for you.

I believe you, Jealous, are a woman, based on your email address but also because on balance friendships between women tend to be more intense and prone to creating jealousy than friendships between men. That’s for a bunch of reasons we could unpack for days, from the fact that men by and large aren’t encouraged to bond so deeply with one another, to the competitiveness many women feel about who gets to be the star, because we’re led to believe there’s never enough room for all of us.

I remember as a teenager once running dramatically out onto a friend’s lawn, drunk and also probably high on sugar from four Smirnoff Ices, and flopping myself down under the starry sky, crying because I wasn’t getting enough attention. Two of my best friends in our social group had recently become close with one another, and I felt squeezed out. It was gut-wrenching, truly awful. As an adult I still feel that flushed-cheek, heart-racing, sick-tummy feeling of jealousy when anyone I think of as “mine” starts needing someone else like they need me, but I tend not to indulge the drama of throwing myself onto a metaphorical fainting couch any more.

The jealousy you’re feeling isn’t reasonable, but that doesn’t really matter. Beating yourself up over an emotion that’s already making you feel shitty rarely helps make the situation better. Being overly dramatic doesn’t solve things either, but that doesn’t mean you can’t bring it up at all. In fact, sitting on jealous feelings too long is likely only to make you fester until they manifest as something even more unpleasant and unfair, like anger. 

The thing about jealousy which is so awful is that if it lingers, you start to assume bad intentions on the part of the person at the root of your feelings. You haven’t said you're worried about being excluded on purpose, so it seems most likely that your friends are simply oblivious to how their new relationship makes you feel, rather than being deliberately hurtful.

What I find helpful to remember when I’m beset by jealousy is that my closest friends hold that place in my life because we care about each other a lot. Once I remind myself that my fears about being forgotten or replaced are projections from my own insecure mind, and not the result of accurately interpreting others’ behaviour, talking to that friend about how I feel becomes much easier. As long as the message is framed as being about how you feel, and not what they’ve done (making a new friend isn’t doing anything wrong and they shouldn’t feel guilty!) then the most likely outcome is going to be a positive one.

You’re not entitled to ask to be put first in someone’s life all the time, but jealousy is a very common and very human emotion, and it is ok to cop to feeling it. Tell your long term friend that while you know your emotions aren’t necessarily reasonable, it’d be great if they could make a bit of an effort in the short term to include you and spend time with you so you are reassured of the connection you have. Most people like to be reminded that others care about them, and as long as you approach things fairly that’s what you’re telling them, in your own funny way.

It’s incredible how quickly feelings of jealousy can disappear as soon as we’re assured the underlying fears, of being unwanted or unloved or not good enough, are not true.

With love,

Metro

Send your woes to: dearmetro@bauermedia.co.nz.

Read last week's advice: "I can't stand the way my male workmates disrespect women in our office"

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