Phone calls with a consistent theme happen like clockwork during the first two months of the new year. Clients want to discuss how to deal with the startling unkindness of supposed friends. This happens with such regularity that I have begun to label what I hear in these weeks as "The Envy and Jealousy Flu."
Some background: Envy and jealousy are instinctive reactions experienced by all of us. Although most use the words interchangeably, envy involves a reaction to another's achievements and good fortune, such as a coveted job, financial recognition, and the attainment of power. Jealousy involves a reaction to another's attained love and fulfillment, with a partner, a child, a parent, a sibling, a friend -- a cherished someone. People who reach maturity successfully are able to come to terms with what they have, whom they value, and who values them. In other words, they have learned to accept themselves and what they have and to make peace with dreams that may never be realized. If or when feelings of envy and jealousy pop up toward one cared about, the feelings can be put in their place; and others can be sincerely congratulated and wished well. In the words of a former client, "I am grateful for what I have, and also, I know that I can still work toward dreams. Yet, if they are not realized, I can accept my reality and feel deeply fortunate for all I do have in my life."
As the exhaustion of the holidays persists, however, and new year resolutions begin to feel like a frustrating impossibility, even the true grown ups among us can be hit, seeming out of no where, with an exceedingly draining case of "The Envy and Jealousy Flu."
"What has happened to my friendship?" asked 34-year-old Estelle, who went on to explain: "Norma has been my neighbor for three years, and I believed we had a strong friendship. She is the registrar for a playgroup I signed up for so that our 3-year-old could have a fun activity away from the new baby as I adjusted to my new responsibilities. Throughout my pregnancy, it was calming to hear how excited Norma was that our two little girls could have a shared activity. However, the day after my husband brought the baby and me home from the hospital, I got an email from Norma. In a very few curt words she said that the playgroup had been overbooked and there was no longer room for our daughter. I have not seen her since."
Nathan, another client in his mid 30s, came to our first appointment without his wife, Bonny, who was too upset to come with him. Nathan explained that Bonny's closest friend, Ruth, had given her "not a cold, but a freezing shoulder" as soon as she learned that Bonny had been selected to be a physician's assistance at a prestigious medical center. "My wife seems to be in mourning," Nathan said, "and nothing I am doing is pulling her out of it." The following week Bonny came to see, feeling far better than she had the week before, and was able to share her feelings of loss for herself.
Nadina consulted me because Mira, whom she considered to be one of her closest friends, did not let her know that while she was out of state visiting her mom the child of one of their mutual friends had died following a car accident. Not knowing of this horrid event, Nadina, who arrived home the day before, did not attend the funeral. When she asked Mira why she did not call or email her, she shrugged and walked away.
Careful discussion of the relationships each of my clients had with the friend who hurt them so badly showed that these lapses were completely out of character. I suggested that each wait for a week, request coffee with their friends and at that time tell them how upset they felt about a rupture in a very important friendship.
During each meeting there was a sincere apology and more. Each explained that the holidays had exhausted and overwhelmed them and that they were not thinking and acting clearly. Each also trusted enough to share that their exhaustion intensified bitter personal losses. Norma had been trying for over a year to become pregnant, with no success, something she had told none of her friends. Ruth, an attorney who assumed she had a secure future with her law firm, had been fired suddenly right before Christmas, as her firm found it necessary to downsize. Mira had been unable to call anyone after the horrible accident and sudden death. The day before this tragic event, she had miscarried in her third month. No one but her husband and mom had known she was pregnant.
The "envy-jealousy" flew can hit anyone at any time. However, exhaustion, coupled by dashed hopes for the new year, can bring it on suddenly. When a friend's reaction is completely out of character, allowing the tincture of time and space is an important first step. Then, an honest sharing can usually bring healing as well as an even closer and more intimate friendship.