Envy and friendships

A piece of sculpture on a wall. There is a man's face. It is covered partly with leaves and acorn.
A photograph of a sculpture we own. To me, this piece evokes a sense of peace and empathy.

I was grappling with what a very close friend said about me to another friend, when this piece of writing came to me.

It is a piece by Jean Garnett, titled There I almost am. On envy and twinship. The article which is published in The Yale Review, is a searingly honest piece of writing by Garnett in which she introspects and confronts her own sense of envy – most of which is directed towards her twin (sister). In a detailed manner, she writes about her feelings, dissecting them, and quotes Aristotle among many other philosophers – all of whom, had something to say on why people experience envy.

A paragraph from her piece reads:

“Aristotle put it like this: “We envy those who are near us in time, place, age, or reputation…those whose possession of or success in a thing is a reproach to us: these are our neighbors and equals; for it is clear that it is our own fault we have missed the good thing in question.” Missed is the knife-­twisting word here, so much of envy having to do with the feeling of a near miss, an almost.”

When I read the piece, I wondered to myself – did my two decade-long friend said what she said or deeper still, thinks what she thinks about me and my spouse, from a place of envy?

Here’s a little background. She said to a common friend, a friend who is very close to me that (something on the lines of) : “Prerna’s husband cooks and buys her flowers and in contrast you know what our Prerna is like. She is this dash-dash-dash.”

This ‘dash-dash-dash’ was left open ended. My friend (the one who who had to hear this) said that she felt very uncomfortable, she did not know whether she was expected to say something, pitch in in this assessment of me and my relationship or it was a sort of a testing-the-waters kind of a thing/an exercise of sorts. Perhaps the two-decade-old friend wanted to find out what our common friend’s thoughts were on this matter.

The common friend said that she did not like the statement or what it may have implied as also the position she was put in.

For her and for me, the statement implied that somehow the husband was a better person in the relationship, and that I seemed to be bringing less on the table or that I was unworthy of what I had.

The friend and I pondered why she said that. Or why would she say it to a common friend? Did she want it to reach me?

We came to the assumption that perhaps she may be a little envious, feeling left out. She has dealt with many challenges in her life and has been through many life changing losses. In her struggles and in her loss, we understand her. We recognise what she has been through and we acknowledge it as well. We shared with each other how she had helped us both in the past, and how I had been there for her too. That the giving and taking may not have been of an equal kind but I had tried to be a good friend to her, and had always treated her with love and affection.

Why would she then say something like that? Was it envy, was something else that we did not understand?

We thought it was envy, and it was a complex and layered thing that went back to her experiences in life. This was just an assumption. And we could be completely wrong about it. But if it was envy, I have made my peace with it.

We all experience envy in various forms at various stages in our lives. And I am not going to crucify anybody over it. I know I experience envy too.

If she genuinely thought that the husband was a better person in the marriage, I wish she had said that to me, instead of saying it behind me. She has a right to her opinion, but as a friend, I would have expected her to be honest, to see value in me, to offer me criticism – but one that was given to me in the right manner, moment and time. I believe our closest friends should be our biggest cheerleaders and our conscience keepers. That they should see value in us even in moments when we don’t see it ourselves but also never shy away from holding the mirror to us.

But again, things happen. And in any relationship, we need to consciously ‘unsee’ some things. Not because we are foolish or do not see it, but because we choose to place our friendship above those things.

I wondered if I should write about this. I do not mean to get back at her by my writing. The reason I write about most things, experiences and events is because it is via my writing that I make sense of the world around me, what is happening to me. Writing helps me process my thoughts, feelings and biases.

And so I chose to write about this.

On that note, another essay that a friend shared with me has also resonated. In the essay titled Fatternity — tales from a weighty universe, she writes about overriding other people’s opinions of herself and learning how to take ownership of her sensibilities surrounding weight.

She said something very beautiful when we were chatting and that is, “Prerna, we are all evolving.”

And here’s to that. Kindness, and understanding. Empathy and evolving. Friendships that cross a decade and more. And to women learning to value other women.

3 thoughts on “Envy and friendships

  1. If we feel envious of someone, we’re probably only seeing what’s on the surface.

    It might seem like a person has easily acquired success, love, and quite frankly, happiness, while we struggle to achieve any one of those things. However, it’s important to remember that life is a journey.

    If a person has success, there is a journey that led up to it. If a person has love, there is a journey that led up to it. These things don’t happen overnight. They take time. And you have to give yourself time to achieve them, too.

    Liked by 1 person

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