Dear Gentle Butch,
A few years ago, my husband and I introduced two of our best friends (a couple) to another pair of our best friends (our cousins). All of these friends are about ten years younger than us, and run in somewhat different circles.
Now, these two couples we love often hang out together without us, post fun photos on social media of adventures we weren’t invited to join, and sometimes even of family events they were invited to but we were not.
We want to be mature and grounded, gratified at the joy they bring each other, happy our loved ones have more love in their lives. Instead, we are ridiculously jealous and hurt over this, wondering if we are unlikable or less fun or just too old to be cool, and we feel childish, sullen, petty, and very immature for feeling this way.
(Note: Neither couple is intentionally rubbing it in our faces, we always hear about this through another person, such as another mutual friend at a gathering.)
Why can’t we be happy for the joy new friendships brought our friends? How can we get over our insecure jealousy and get into a healthy headspace on this?
So, let me sum this up: you introduced some of your favorite people in the world to each other. They now spend more time with each other than they do with you, and don’t invite you along on their adventures. People are holding family events and inviting your cousins but not you.
And you get to see it all on social media, or hear about it from friends because they aren’t telling you about their get-togethers.
And you dare to have hurt feelings about this.
Yep. You sure are a couple of childish, sullen, petty, and very immature people. Also old, uncool, unlikeable, and no fun. CLEARLY.
Everything you are describing here is objectively painful, and feeling jealous, left out, and hurt are the feelings that are natural to feel in this situation. Do you think that grownups can’t have feelings? You’re an adult, not the Buddha.
Don’t pressure yourself to be all good and giving about this, because OWTCH.
I’m guessing that these feelings and lack of benevolent joy are so incredibly intense because this is triggering childhood misery.
That’s why you are using all of this ‘child’ language to yell at yourselves.
We all have intense and painful memories of feeling left out — everyone, at some point in their lives. These might even be some of your earliest memories. And when you are being left out (and you are most definitely being left out), our bodies remember what it felt like — and push us right back to that childhood place in our lizard-brains: the amygdala. The amygdala is the part of the brain that connects you to your past by aligning current happenings to old memories. It’s also the part that offers us fear, anger— and the fight, flight, or freeze reflexes. Right back there? That’s our REAL gut.
And the jealousy and hurt feelings you feel in that gut are so powerful you’re shocked by yourselves, because they come from way deep down inside.
But there is a reason, and it is not your fault. This does not mean you are bad people. This means you are people with feelings and pasts and stuff.
So, please. Allow yourselves to feel these deep, connected-to-childhood feelings, and stop calling yourselves names. Take some time with it.
I mean it– remembering and talking about the specific memories these emotions tie back to can help them to have less power over you.
When you’re done, if you still like your friends (and I hope you do; their crime seems to be thoughtlessness rather than malice), turn the script around: include THEM in YOUR plans.
Take a deep breath, or seven, and invite them to dinner.