Dear Sugar Radio is a weekly podcast from member station WBUR. Hosts Steve Almond and Cheryl Strayed offer "radical empathy" and advice on everything from relationships and parenthood to dealing with drug problems or anxiety.
In the second of a series on friendships, the Sugars think about jealousy. How do you stop feeling jealous of friends who may be having more professional or personal success than you are having? Then, they hear from a listener who wonders if she's being excluded from a gathering of her friends on purpose, or if it's an oversight.
My issue is jealousy. I'm jealous of my friends — almost all of them. Sometimes it's professional jealousy — I resent friends for their accomplishments, the recognition they receive for their work. Sometimes it's personal. I'm jealous of friends who spend time together when I can't, and then I layer on feeling bad about feeling jealous.
I'm not dumb. I know life isn't as sunny as we all present it to be; it isn't all awards and happy things. I know that friend who just got recognition for their efforts has been working their butt off for years. I know the friend who presents herself as near-perfect is up at night worrying about her kids and finances. I'm not naive, but I still feel jealous. What the hell? It feels complicated and messy and also, frankly, it feels like a waste of energy. But I keep going there. How do I deal with these feelings? How do I stop them?
Steve Almond: Jealousy is self-doubt disguised in other people's clothes. I absolutely recognize the feelings you're talking about. I'm jealous all the time. I'm jealous much more often than people would expect. I'm plagued by jealousy, and I think the key to this is not to try to ignore those feelings, not to try to pretend they don't exist. You're not going to do that.
You need to figure out why it is you can't esteem who you are and what you do, and a big part of that is probably self-forgiveness. Every time somebody does something you haven't managed to do yet — whether it's find happiness in a relationship, your creative work, your professional life — it's not an indictment of you. It reflects well on them. You need to think, "What can I do and what have I done, and how can I be a little bit more forgiving?"
Cheryl Strayed: I become mindful when I feel jealous of somebody, and I have trained my mind to interfere with that thought. Let's say Steve wins some big award, and I want that award too. I'm happy for Steve, but also jealous. What I would do in this scenario is tell myself, "That bit of jealousy, let's just put that aside. Let's remember what's really true and valuable — that I'm happy for my friend and that my day will come."
I've been a member of a women's book club for six years. I've provided meals for these women during times of trouble, and they've done the same for me. We've shared lots of secrets, struggles and also enjoyed discussing a ton of books. They've all attended many of my parties.
At a recent meeting, we discussed getting together weekly for coffee now that our kids are in school. I later learned that the group had been meeting without me for some time. I was the only one who had been left out. I learned this because I was included in a group text, and I could tell by the way they were talking that they had a regular meeting time and place. Either they all are oblivious to my presence on the chain, or they're ignoring it, hoping I won't show up. I honestly can't tell which one is more likely.
I'm usually someone who likes to clear the air, but maybe I should remain silent and act like nothing happened at our next meeting. Or should I bow out? No one has asked why I've missed all these get-togethers, so I'm thinking they must not be my friends after all. Or perhaps that's a ridiculous leap?
Odd Woman Out
Steve: My immediate impulse is to say you are party to this really cruel exclusion that we would say is endemic of certain kinds of loose-knit friendship groups, where you can get away with this kind of stuff in a way you can't in family relationships or others. It's genuinely unclear to me if these women are being really cruel or whether it's more informal. One thing you might try doing is sending a note saying, "What's going on? I'm confused." If there isn't a good explanation, I think their actions speak for themselves.
Cheryl: We finally disagree! Odd Woman Out, I do think you're making a ridiculous leap. I think you're taking this personally. I think these women like you and care about you. They're in a book club with you. At a recent meeting, they discussed meeting weekly for coffee, which also included you. And even though you've discovered that they were meeting before, you don't really know the nature of how that came together.
I know that feeling of being left out because I also have a lovely circle of women friends. There are times we're all on the same text and we all decide to get together. But other times little branches of us break off because, sometimes, it's nice to get together with one or two people instead of six or eight people. There is often this sense of, "Oh, we didn't invite so and so," or, "They all got together and did this thing, but why didn't they ask me?"
What I've learned is, this is really silliness. We all love each other. Nobody was sitting there plotting to keep you away. Trust me. Not everyone can be invited all the time. Just be happy you have this lovely circle of women who make meals for each other in times of trouble. Laugh it off, join the group. You're going to realize you're a member of that tribe.
You can get more advice from the Sugars each week on Dear Sugar Radio from WBUR. Listen to the full episode to hear more answers to questions about friendships, including how to end a friendship and how to help a friend in an abusive relationship.
Have a question for the Sugars? Email email@example.com and it may be answered on a future episode.