When your friend is living the life you want

A recent German study found that a spiral of envy can develop when you see your Facebook friends excelling or enjoying life in ways you aren’t.

A recent German study found that a spiral of envy can develop when you see your Facebook friends excelling or enjoying life in ways you aren’t. Photo: Getty

I love my friend. We laugh at the same jokes, enjoy the same movies, have the same taste in clothes, we even blush over the same men.

While we’ve always enjoyed our many similarities, as life has progressed we’ve differed in many other ways. In contrast to my at times mundane existence, my friend is living out our childhood fantasies.

On a recent sunny afternoon, as I sat watching my children play, her image appeared on the screen of my phone. After a moment of hesitation I allowed it to ring out.

It wasn’t that I didn’t want to speak to her, but after a particularly difficult week of school holidays trying to successfully kid-wrangle and work, I wasn’t sure I was in the mood for hearing all about her recent overseas travels.

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My friend and I met at university. We immediately hit it off, sharing similar interests and grand plans for the future. We’d spend hours talking about all the things we would achieve and the far-off corners of the globe we would visit together.

My parents made no secret of their desire for me to marry, be financially secure and have a family of my own and while my friend took no notice of her parents’ frequent reminders it was always in the forefront of my mind.

After university, I embarked on a hospitality career and was soon working in hotel management. Around the same time my friend left on a year-long exchange program in Europe. 

My arduous work load meant there was little time for socialising, so it was somewhat against the odds that in my mid-twenties I met the man who would become my husband. While we openly discussed the idea of living and working overseas he wasn’t as keen on the idea as I was and with my sense of responsibility growing, within two years of dating we had bought our first home.

As I entered mortgage land my friend chose to spend a year living and working in New York.  This was probably the first time that I noticed a growing feeling of mild resentment. My late twenties quickly turned into my early thirties and with all the subtle – and not so subtle - pressures from family and friends, the idea of starting a family was looming. After several false starts my husband and I welcomed our first child.

I will never forget lying in the hospital bed wondering how I was going to manage with a brand new baby when my friend breezed in, laden with gifts and excited about her upcoming trip to Paris. Although we chatted easily it was becoming obvious to me that our lives had become very different. She was besotted by my new son, but as I lay there, breasts engorged and feeling as though I’d physically just been torn in two, it seemed to me that she was just as interested in discussing Europe’s unseasonably wet weather.

My initial transition into motherhood wasn’t easy. I struggled with breastfeeding, our son didn’t sleep and I found the isolation confronting. Having been very socially active, facing days where I didn’t manage to leave the house at all rendered me teary and depressed.

My friend’s temporary move back to New York didn’t help matters. With every Facebook post and email detailing her exciting existence my resentment and envy grew, until the point when I stopped corresponding. She assumed I was having difficulty adjusting to motherhood and I didn’t see any reason to tell her differently.

While I felt guilty for feeling and displaying such negative emotions, I’m far from alone.

A recent German study found that a spiral of envy can develop when you see your Facebook friends excelling or enjoying life in ways you aren’t.

The study of 600 adults revealed that for around a third of participants, using social media triggered negative emotions, like frustration. The central cause for these feelings was, overwhelmingly, envy.

Although becoming a full time mother wasn’t quite what I expected, the easier it became the more I enjoyed it. While this made me happy, the relationship between me and my friend became a little more fractured. She continued to work and travel as I studied and had a second child. While we spoke regularly, our catch-ups became rarer.  It wasn’t until the death of my mother that the importance of our relationship and what it meant to me became clear. She was there for me when I needed her the most.

We have never discussed the distance there was between us and although her sometimes glamorous adventures still leave me green with envy, we have reconnected, ensuring we see each other often.

My children adore her.  She is their exciting friend who drops by with a moment’s notice. She’s enthusiastic, intoxicating and fun. The whirlwind of her visit leaves the kids screaming for more and although she has never pushed them in the park swings or sat through tedious episodes of Hi-Five, they accept and love her for exactly who she is and it is through the eyes of my children that I have been able to really see my friend for the remarkable person that she is.

On Christmas Day my husband, our children and I crowded around the computer and Skyped with her as she lay on an Italian beach, laptop in one hand, cocktail in the other. It was afterwards, as my husband and I slowly made our way through the teetering pile of Christmas lunch dishes, that he mused jokingly that maybe my friend has the right idea.

Few will disagree that marriage, career and children can be challenging and the combined responsibility as exhausting as it is occasionally mind-numbingly dull.

It’s human nature to want you don’t have. But that night as I stood in the doorway of my children’s bedroom watching them in blissful slumber, safe and sound in their dreams, I knew there is no place on earth I’d rather be, and no other life I’d rather be living.

20 comments so far

  • As I proceed through my thirties (37 now) I have witnessed one after the other of my female friends move into the role of motherhood. And now that I see many of them a few years into it - it doesn't look all rosey to me. There seems to be a lot of stress and the woman that was there before is sometimes dissapearing under the weight of being the amazing modern mum that soceity is telling her to be. And (in my humble opinion) this super parenting is sometimes creating off-spring that often come across with the air of "I'm centre of the whole universe". I can't help but wonder will these people turn into self centered little lords and ladies.
    I wish there was more space given to the idea that not having children as a valid option in life. I don't think it should be part of some check list that must be achieved to please parents wanting grandchildren.
    Of course those who want to do it great, society would stop if we all stopped breeding. But I think it would be nice if there wasn't a weight of expectation on women to follow everyone else and have a baby.

    Commenter
    2shoes
    Date and time
    April 05, 2013, 10:58AM
    • I agree, I'm happy for my friends but I feel isolated and 'unseen' a lot of the time because I'm a single woman without children. Motherhood is marvellous and to be a good mother is sometimes a hard and thankless job but it's not the ONLY valid choice for a woman.

      Commenter
      Anita
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      April 05, 2013, 12:20PM
    • Have never agreed with a comment more!!

      Plus, we live in an over populated world! If fewer people decided to breed.... perhaps we'd be better off!

      Commenter
      ash
      Location
      Perth
      Date and time
      April 05, 2013, 12:58PM
    • I agree with this. Motherhood is ONE option. It's not THE option. I love Zadie Smith's take on parenting, essentially that it strips an awful lot of pleasure out of your life but replaces it with peaks of joy. I found motherhood brutal, obliterating, nothing like the sales brochure. I struggled with a newborn. I'm type A and I just found the relentless pressure to be vigilant and selfless and invisible to be gut churning. You cannot ever be 100% good at mothering. That's the nature of choice, right. Well, the stakes have never been so high and I've never been so highly scrutinised. This isn't the corporate management gig I was doing before upon which most people couldn't really have an opinion. Everyone is not only opinionated about parenting, they are expert and for some bizzare reason they are invested in your choices. And it's all down to you. The safety and future of this vulnerable human you love like you never knew you could.

      Who would choose this?

      Now that I have a gorgeous, hilarious, developing toddler, who really is the light of my life I feel that it's all been worth it but I hardly blame anyone for choosing differently and it doesn't mean that when my girlfriends go overseas for a holiday together and I'm at home attached to a breast pump I don't feel envious. I chose this but you don't get sprinkled with magic fairy dust at the completion of gestation which shuts off every emotion you ever had before.

      I find the silence around the true cost of parenthood telling. It's like we're all afraid to be honest lest other people make different choices and make us question our own.

      Commenter
      Stacey
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      April 05, 2013, 1:10PM
    • A good quote I heard goes something like "raising children in a nuclear family is like two (or one) person doing the job of a tribe. It resonated with me, because I think long ago in our background the job of rasing children was shared. I think this is better for the community and better for the children, they are exposed to many varied view points and can take something from whom ever they choose.
      Unlikely we will find a way back to that system, unless we continue to head on in our consumerism and eventually realise that taking too much from a finite world doesn't work and mother nature sends us back to that point.
      But right now we seem (to me) trapped in our own little bubble worlds, no wonder some mums go a bit nuts trapped in their own little world without assistance.

      Commenter
      2shoes
      Date and time
      April 05, 2013, 1:54PM
    • To me the definition of intolerance is being "unable" to relate to people because they have not made the same choices as you. At the ancient age of 29 I am *gasp* completely single, having left my last relationship so I could stay in the city where I'm able to pursue a "career" in music. I've noticed that a lot of my old friends who stayed in our hometown of Canberra and married the boys they've been with since they were 21 have started to treat me as an Ailen because I am brave enough to follow my heart. Trust me, women who take the path I have have a much harder time from everyone, why add yourself to the list of people who disapprove of their "selfish" ways?
      Interestingly I am the only one from that group of girls who makes the time for our friend who had children very young.
      I think it's about compassion, or a lack of.

      Commenter
      Jenny
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      April 05, 2013, 8:17PM
  • I came a cross a rather good bit of advice a while ago: If you're going to be jealous of what somebody else has, you have to be jealous of *everything* they have.

    Ie. if you're going to covet somebody's fabulous career and jetsetting lifestyle, you have be willing to accept the rest of their life along with all the good things. Like all the time they don't spend with their family, or their personal insecurities or medical problems or whatever.

    I'm not trying to imply that everybody who succeeds in life is secretly miserable, but we all have our baggage, and have had to make sacrifices to get the things in life that we want.

    Anyway, I try to remember that when I feel envious of my friends.

    </rambling monologue>

    Commenter
    Sweet Sister Morphine
    Date and time
    April 05, 2013, 11:02AM
    • Not rambling! "If you're going to be jealous of what somebody else has, you have to be jealous of *everything* they have." is quite insightful. I tell friends all the time that facebook is a fantasy. Nobody talks about their loneliness or isolation or grief on facebook. Social media is the highlights reel of a persons life and comparing your everyday existence to the cream of someone else's is a hiding to nothing.

      Commenter
      Stacey
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      April 05, 2013, 12:57PM
    • True. You tend to block people that maon and complain about their lives on Facebook anyway. Ain't nobody got time for dat!

      Commenter
      Reverse Concave Spoon
      Date and time
      April 05, 2013, 2:36PM
    • Your XML is incorrectly formed

      Commenter
      shoop
      Date and time
      April 12, 2013, 12:41AM

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