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.
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.