Illustration by Lauren Tamaki
We hate it when our friends become successful,” Morrissey sang, back in the day. I never thought I’d take emotional cues from a mopey British pop star with vertical hair. I’m a generally cheerful American woman. But when a longtime friend did become hugely successful, I was shocked at my dark, seething jealousy.
OTHER ESSAYS IN THIS SERIES:
- I Am the Spouse With a Short Fuse
- I Wrote My Closed-Off Teen a Letter and He Wrote Back
- I Was the Know-It-All in the Next Cubicle—Until I Took This Advice
- Are You There, Dad? It’s Me, the Guy Just Getting to Know You
Gayle and I came of age together as writers for teen magazines. She was hilarious and kind. She giggled to me once about chatting with a guy on the subway carrying a wombat in a box. I thought, there are two kinds of people in the world: the kind who strike up conversations
with people carrying wombats in boxes, and the kind who don’t. She and I, we were wombat people.
Years passed. I continued to write for magazines and newspapers; she became a struggling novelist. We had kids. We had writing dates and made elaborate yet cheap salads for each other. Her first novel sank without a trace; I tried to console her.
And then her second novel became a sensation. It sold millions of copies, was translated into zillions of languages, became a movie. She attended the premiere in Hollywood, wearing a glamorous low-cut black silk tux, as I watched at home, cleaning crayon off the walls.
She’d call and share stories of her life, as she always had. I told her of my writer’s block. But all the while, my envy lurked in the background like a horror-movie villain. My answers became increasingly curt, our conversation filled with awkward pauses.
I hadn’t known I was this petty. How could I not be overjoyed for her? She was my friend; she’d worked hard for her success. And I realized something else about myself, something equally unsavory: In the past, when I felt conflicted about a relationship, I’d ghosted. Rather than talking about problems like a grown-up, I’d simply disappear. I’d done it to two different boyfriends and a good friend. They’d call, likely hurt and baffled, and I’d check caller ID and ignore them. There’s a difference between being conflict-averse and being a jerk. I was the jerk.
So I womanned up and called Gayle. “I’m sorry,” I said. “I need to tell you that I feel jealous of you and I don’t want to talk to you and I hate myself for it.” She expelled a huge breath. “I didn’t want to say anything until you did! I’m so glad we’re bringing it into the open!” She encouraged me to unload all the ugly stuff I had inside me, and she listened without judgment. It felt purifying.
She’d been on the receiving end of friend breakups before, she told me, and didn’t want it to happen to us. She made me swear I’d tell her if she started acting like a jerk. (She didn’t, though she sometimes got obsessive and self-righteous—flaws she’d always had. And I told her so.) It turns out that friendship, like marriage, requires honest communication even when it’s hard. Jeez, who knew?
Wealth didn’t change her. Her money woes were lessened, true, but she still had legit anxiety about...everything else. I could reassure her. She could reassure me. It’s what friends do. As ever, Gayle’s my biggest cheerleader.
Studies have shown that people who are grateful for their friends tend to be better friends in response, creating, in the words of social psychologists, a “positive-
feedback loop.” That’s us.