We envy only those whom we feel ourselves to be like—we envy only members of our reference group. There are few successes more unendurable than those of our ostensible equals.”
Status Anxiety by Alain de Botton
Once, I had pooh-poohed the idea that female friendships are tricky. What’s so difficult about maintaining friendships with another fellow female when we share the supposed love of shopping, beauty products, and girly-time gossip? These purported common interests, whether indoctrinated by the media and advertising or enacted in real life, are meant to bring women closer together, not apart.
The less than idyllic world of sisterhood with hands adjoined came crashing down when I was the last to realise on different occasions that it is the ‘Very Good Friend’ who had always expressed admiration and envy with equal measure who was conspiring to end our friendship, whether it was through spreading unsavoury rumours about me, attempting to remove me from campus accommodation based on fabricated records of my behaviour, or accused me of simply being a terrible friend. The root cause of the sour demise of these friendships was later identified as jealousy. Apparently the things I had, the way I looked, and the way I was as a person quite generally sparked a uniquely female envy.
Well, never mind the fact that I have always struggled to make friends and be ‘like everyone else’. Like many people, I had plenty of self-esteem issues; my big untameable hair, a temperamental complexion, and awkward social graces. No, jealousy and envy chose to ignore these characteristics I thought were unenviable. In the end, I can only put it down to the negative personal issues these former friends had.
But to be fair, we all feel envy about the successes and luck of others from time to time. What I don’t understand is when envy conspires to poison friendships. These sad experiences left an indelible impact on how I form friendships with women. It’s a pity that there are 1001 ideas and more on how to deal with a jealous partner or how to mend a romantic relationship, but seldom do I find advice for dealing with jealous friends.
I understand where you’re coming from. Phyllis Chesler wrote a very good book called “Woman’s Inhumanity to Woman” and points out that just as men have oppressed women, women have oppressed women as well. The latter is done through gossip, shunning, and other subtle but lethal social tricks. Chesler links such behaviour to patriarchy: women are conditioned to envy and be suspicious of other women, and since society generally favours men, women must compete hard. The book ends with great advice on how to dismantle woman-against-woman oppression, such as acknowledging that differences are okay, problems need to be vented out and left it at that, etc etc. Do check out the book.
Sounds like a book I will definitely check out!! Thanks, Moo!