As a part of my daily news and information gathering, I usually tune into the Today Show during the mornings. One of the less serious topics covered last week struck me as both interesting and odd: friend envy or friend-vy [Ref 1]. During the broadcast, I sent an email to my sister and asked her if she had ever dealt with friend-vy. She responded: What is that? My response: It’s when your friends are jealous or a bit envious of you or the opportunities that may cross your doorstep. She responded: No, however, I only have four friends. She then proceeded to name them in order of the strongest bond between her and them.
In our short email exchange, I shared with her that I am more guarded in using the word friend these days than I had been in the past. I know a large number of people, and I am friendly with many of them, however, I have few friends – those who have stuck with me thru good times and bad. Those that I can count on for assistance when needed, don’t have to question if they are telling me the truth, and have my back when adversity knocks at my door – and adversity has come a knocking several times over my professional career. They also have my best interests in mind, and give constructive criticism and offer helpful hints for navigating rough waters. I have also experienced friend-vy, and to be honest, have been guilty of it myself. Therefore, I was even more interested in listening to the discussion between the Today Show hosts and their guests: executive editor for Cosmopolitan Magazine, Joyce Chang, and relationship therapist, Argie Allen.
Friend-vy is actually very normal. Think back to your days in the sand box. Someone had the shiny bucket, bigger shovel, or newest toy, and someone else wanted it. As the segment opens up, one of the examples used is: “Your best friend got a promotion, or just got back from an amazing vacation. It’s normal to feel just a little jealous from time to time.” Yes, it is normal to feel a little jealous when folks are doing things that we want to do, and we can’t for one reason or another.
The next question was how do you deal with it and keep it from hurting your friendship? Once again, feeling a bit envious at times when good things are happening in the lives of others is normal. Friend-vy is defined as a double whammy of emotion. That first hit of jealousy when your friend has something that you want followed by a quick hit of guilt over how to deal with that conflicting emotion. For sure, many friendships have been tested in this way.
However, when the feelings of jealousy and envy reach a point when emotions overflow, negative words and/or actions may surface. Both guests recommended acknowledging that you’re experiencing these feelings, and figuring out what you can do to manage these emotions. If you don’t acknowledge your feelings, the negative emotions can take over, or become more dominant, and unfortunately, things can go south quickly. Being mature enough to put your feelings on the table and having a courageous conversation with your friend is a healthy response.
When I changed employers and moved to another state years ago, a co-worker in the firm that I was leaving said to me: I am so very happy for you and the new opportunity that you are embarking on! She also acknowledged in the same breath that she was insanely jealous and wished that a similar opportunity would surface for her. I thanked her for acknowledging my new opportunity because many of my co-workers and managers did not. I also thanked her for her honesty in sharing her emotions about my new assignment. We have all been here. I also hoped that the right opportunity would emerge very soon for her. Can we feel envy and happiness for the same person at the same time? You bet!
If you are having a case of friend-vy, what is most important is to acknowledge that it is what is happening or not happening with you that is the problem. Too many times, the anger is misdirected towards the person that good things are happening to. As Argie Allen so well states, “If you feel that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence, the best thing for you to do is to get out the hose or can and begin watering your grass.” Instead of being envious of what is happening in your friend’s life, take control of your feelings, your situation, talent, skills, network, etc. to create some rain on your side of the fence!
Within the past three years, two of my classmates from the Executive MBA program that we are cohorts in landed vice president positions. One was promoted within the company that he had been with for a number of years, and the other was with a new firm that wooed her away from her previous organization. I was very happy for each of them! Each is a hard worker, has the appropriate skills and knowledge, and deserving of the promotion. Did I say, “I wish that were me?” Yes, however, from a small business vantage point, I was thinking more of landing a larger contract as my come-uppance.
However, I didn’t dwell on that for more than a minute. Now that these two were in vice-president positions, I considered this value added for me because I could maximize the workings of their networks and mine. Have I always felt this good about someone else getting a promotion? No, especially if I felt it was not deserved, however, I have come to understand that this is one of those realities in life. I was and still am very happy for my two classmates, Bill and Cookie.
When friend-vy takes a turn south, it is time to open one’s eyes and determine if the situation is bordering on frenemies, and whether or not this relationship can be saved. The urban dictionary provides a good definition of frenemy [Ref 2]: Someone who is both friend and enemy, a relationship that is both mutually beneficial or dependent while being competitive, fraught with risk and mistrust. The term frenemy appears to have been popularized on the television series, Sex and the City, however, several resources cite its use as early as 1977 [Ref 2].
Why is it important for us to understand friend-vy and frenemies? Those who are having a case of friend-vy or a full-blown frenemy can become a part of the world of BAITERs, Haters and Social Climbers and other toxic people that we are seeking to avoid.
Let’s remember that many friendships or frenships are developed as a result of working alongside a person that you share goals and interests with. We already know from the info above that friendships can be strained by personal and/or professional jealousies.
A frenemy is often a difficult relationship to navigate because they share in or can be a part of something you value. They may know the same people you know. They may work in the same industry. This makes it difficult to ignore them entirely, and it often invites comparisons. Who has a more senior position? Who earns more money? Who drives a better car? Who has a better house? The comparisons can go on and on forever if you allow it.
One thing that you must do is take the focus off of competing with this person. It is not necessary. The next thing to analyze is whether this individual is a good critic of you. We all need good friends in our lives that can provide constructive criticism to help us improve some of our weak spots, or gain new skills to progress forward. It should not matter if these good friends are younger or older, have a title or position, or earn more money than we do. Dobransky provides a great definition of someone that we should want as a critic who can add value to our present condition [Ref 3]:
1. First, they are concerned about you enough to want details, and to speak in those details. They have the ability to pay attention to the world around them. They don’t make flippant, sloppy, or thoughtless comments about you or in conversation with you. They are “present.” They are self-aware, and observant.
2. They are competent to have an opinion on you, your life, and your actions. They aren’t ill-informed about who you are, the issues at hand, and have some knowledge and experience with both….in other words, they know what they are talking about.
3. And finally, they are constructive – positive and encouraging, not negative and destructive. They offer solutions and thoughtful suggestions, not merely a period at the end of a negative sentence… In other words, the critic addresses the data – information about you and the friendship from a place of mature intellect.
The magic words here are concerned, competent, and constructive. As Debronsky goes on to explain, destructive criticism is negative, opinion-based, and may even then be contaminated with a troubled personal history that has nothing to do with you.
Keeping the above in mind, Debronsky now defines the difference between friends, enemies, bullies, and frenemies:
- Friends are both constructive critics with the competence, concern and knowledge and experience to comment on you, as well as being a clear advocate.
- Enemies are destructive critics (or incompetent ones) as well as being non-advocates.
- Bullies are enemies who have already gotten “under your skin” – your boundary – and even as you delete them you feel the pain inflicted emotionally.
- Frenemies can lead to any of the above three, and that is why they are to be given the most attention. Be careful as you move forward to observe if they are truly someone that you want to know, even with their flaws.
In closing, life is challenging. My conversation with many people in STEM, business, and other careers show that mastering their profession often proves less challenging than the people and the politics that comes with the work place. Throughout your career you will meet all kinds of people – some who are truly blessings and some you will run from like the plague. Competition can be a good thing, however, it takes a downward turn when one lives their life to undermine or spite others.
One of those sayings that you have heard at least once is: People come into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. Many of those people will wear the hats of friends, enemies, bullies, and frenemies. Isn’t it a good thing to know which one you are dealing with?
Everyone will not turn out to be a life-time friend. However, cherish those who are! They are as rare as diamonds.
- Friend Envy, The Today Show, June 3, 2013 broadcast, www.today.com
- Definition of frenemy, www.urbandictionary.com
- How to Spot Friends, Enemies, Frenemies and Bullies, Paul Dobransky, MD in the Urban Scientist, March 31, 2010, http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-urban-scientist/201003/how-spot-friends-enemies-frenemies-and-bullies