I had a friend once upon a time. When I met her, she had a couple of strong business endeavors going on. I looked up to her. In my mind, she was a force. And I supported her businesses. Whenever I could, I bought items from her. I recommended her work to other people. I commissioned gifts from her for people in my life — and paid full price for it. Never needling her for a discount “just because we’re friends.” (Something I’ve seen happen to other artists way too often.)
I was proud of her. Happy for her.
She’s not the only friend I’ve had like that. But I think about her sometimes.
Because when I started to break through as a writer, she was horrible to me. Specifically because I was doing well with it. I didn’t expect her to actively support me — a lot of my friends don’t, and that’s fine (I only want people who actually enjoy my work to support me, whether they know me or not).
But I guess I never expected she’d be actively hostile. A lot of it happened directly to my face. But I also got reports from mutual friends about additional activity that was happening behind my back.
And it hurt. Because I had been so happy for her when things were going well in her life, but when something finally went well for me, it seemed to hurt her.
And it was extra puzzling when it happened because her life was going pretty well. Things were still going strong for her professionally.
I stuck it out. I kept the friendship going, well after the hurtful behavior began. Figured maybe she was just going through something — and that I should be patient while she worked it out. That I should try to not take how she was acting towards me so personally.
And then one day I woke up, and she’d quit the friendship. She didn’t want to be friends with me anymore.
You Can’t Force People to Be Happy for You By Being Happy for Them
You may very well find that a friend you supported when they’re on top acts bitter and petty when you finally have good fortune yourself — even when it doesn’t hamper them in the slightest (and could actually help them if they collaborated with you).
What’s the lesson here? Well, I’ve combed my mind for early warning signs. But there were none. I had no idea that she’d react that way. Indeed, the mutual friends who saw how she reacted were shocked by it.
I think that sometimes it just happens. It’s not about preventing this from happening beforehand but accepting it gracefully if and when it does. Anyway, it was one of the hardest lessons I ever had to learn: You can’t force people to be happy for you by being happy for them.
Perhaps you can make it more likely, by fostering an environment where mutually supportive friendship is possible.
But you can’t force it. You just can’t force people to be happy for you.
Not everyone will be.