Do you think James Bond has any real friends?
March 13, 2012 9:00 AM   Subscribe

Do you have a friend who seems to have it all -- financial stability, always the center of attention, people jumping into bed with them at the drop of a hat, to the point that it seems just plain unfair? Do you get jealous? If so, how do you maintain the friendship? If not, why do you think you don't feel any jealousy? (Particularly interested in answers from the early-twenties age range.)

This is just for a writing project (sequel to a novel). I have a main character who, after the first book, seemingly has it all. Naturally there are huge problems beneath the surface, otherwise it'd be boring as hell. Jealousy among his friends would seem a natural route to go, but I'm just not interested in it... I'm trying to keep the reactions of his friends semi-realistic in terms of why jealousy doesn't become a huge issue.

FWIW -- this character is pointedly humble, moral, compassionate and uncomfortable with the outward image of leading a charmed life.
posted by scaryblackdeath to Human Relations (22 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I've seen a couple of examples of this, and what I think has made things work in both cases is shared interests and values.

For example, if friends meet through a shared love of snail racing, their passion for snail racing can sustain their friendship despite incredible mismatches in other areas.
posted by emilyw at 9:06 AM on March 13, 2012

I think the last line you wrote is the key -- I have friends who are beautiful and talented and doing fine financially etc., but it's almost impossible to be jealous or have bad feelings about them because they're just so freakin' nice. They are also kind of big goofballs too--one friend is like model gorgeous but she was a huge geek as a teenager so she doesn't really embody the mental attitude that comes with some people who have been beautiful their whole lives. I think jealousy is a pretty natural reaction (especially in our culture), but if you can keep the "having it all" part of their life as understated and have them be really, really nice it would be more believable.
posted by Kimberly at 9:13 AM on March 13, 2012

I have a lot of friends that have more stable careers despite making terrible choices. Their finances are in better shape than mine despite the dumb stuff they do (buying a house at the peak of the real estate bubble). They live in places they hate that I'd love to live in and I'll probably never get there. It's tough, you know? But usually, you're friends for a reason and that reason holds out.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 9:13 AM on March 13, 2012

I think people who are successful/attractive/confident tend to pal around with others who share those traits. So if James Bond does have friends, they're probably other millionaire playboy man of mystery types and not particularly threatened by his success. Alternately, he might have friends from before he was such a hot shot, in which case he probably plays down his accomplishments when he's in their company, and sticks to subjects they still have in common: sports, family, hometown.
posted by milk white peacock at 9:14 AM on March 13, 2012 [4 favorites]

This really depends highly on the individuals involved. In environments where it is taken as a given that there are some people who have some amazing amount of talent above and beyond what a "mere mortal" is capable of, jealousy doesn't rear its head as much. It's when someone's ability/accomplishments are just a notch above his social circle or when the existence of people "above and beyond" are highly unusual that jealousy can be a factor.

Two colleagues enter the same writing program, and 5 years later one of them is toiling away at his novel while working at a consulting company for television programs, while the other churns out a book that gets optioned as a screenplay and makes millions? Yes, there might be jealousy.

Two people start college, one is struggling to make it through a EE program while the other is a 16 year old prodigy who gets his PhD in math at 24? Jealousy isn't going to be part of the relationship dynamic because the second guy is clearly on "another plane of existence" from the first when it comes to their academic/career abilities, and the friendship is going to be based on other things.

At the same time, as milk white peacock says, people tend to surround themselves with others who are on the same level of attractiveness and personal accomplishment. The jealousies that exist there will be over small-bore issues (Person A got a bonus 10% bigger than Person B, etc.)
posted by deanc at 9:17 AM on March 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

I've generally accepted, as an indisputable fact of life, that everyone has a whole bunch of nasty shit to deal with, if not now, then eventually. For particularly close friends, regardless of how well things are going for them, I actually know the specific shit they are dealing with. So, prince or pauper, everyone's got a weight on them regardless of how charmed things look from the outside. Even James Bond has to constantly kill people, watch his colleagues get killed in turn, and realize that a "normal" life is a closed door to him. And if he does have real friends, who know what's really going on in his life, I'm pretty sure that very few are genuinely jealous.

Additionally, Bad Shit can go down in the drop of a hat and then suddenly these shiny, happy people -- or someone they love -- are unemployed, or terminally ill, or single again by no choice of their own (or, even worse, by their own choice) or god-knows-what-else. From a personal standpoint, I watched my mom die and, well, just about everyone is going to have to deal with that eventually. And it sucks and no matter how awesome your life is, it's not going to suck any less because you're not broke and can get laid (albeit it could suck more.) Eventually, things get shitty for everyone, and it's hard to be jealous of that.
posted by griphus at 9:20 AM on March 13, 2012 [6 favorites]

I can only really relate this to one guy I knew in my 20s who basically had it all. I think we got on well just by him being a friendly character - he wasn't ashamed his good fortune, and he was always generous with his hospitality (but not to the point of "buying" friendship). Since he was straightforward and didn't try to make out he was better than other people, it wasn't a problem to get along with him. It probably helped that I felt my life was going mostly in the right direction at the time, so what's the point of being envious of someone else's good fortune.

So tl;dr: fortunate person shouldn't be a dick, and it will help if his friends don't feel like they are going down while he's going up.
posted by crocomancer at 9:21 AM on March 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think it's informative to flip the question and ask how some of these friendships have collapsed. When they have, it's been because the person is faking something to maintain appearances, and when it's been a tossup between Friendship and Appearances they sided with Appearances.

The reality is that everyone has their ups and downs, so if you meet a person who's like this for real, you won't necessarily be conscious of it. Whenever I've been conscious of it it's usually been because they were deliberately projecting an image.
posted by tel3path at 9:23 AM on March 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Even the rich and talented have problems. It is how they deal with success and failure that matters how people get along with them. Gracious and humble? Check. Braggart? See ya.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:23 AM on March 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

People who are jealous are generally insecure. If the person is truly 'that great', they either won't be attracting those types who feed off of feeling bad from their own insecurities OR they will be so incredible that they connect with everybody on a deep level that makes them feel as though they are all on equal ground. We all get our self esteem from different wells; perhaps your character can value the differences in his friends enough that it isn't an issue? Think Harry Potter (oh, I'm so sorry). Hermione never gets jealous of Harry because she is special in her own right--she might not be famous or lucky or wealthy, but she's brilliant and has knowledge to give her a sense of purpose. She's a mudblood, but this doesn't make her feel bad about herself. Ron gets jealous because he feels like he isn't special and doesn't understand why Harry gets everything he doesn't. Even though Ron has very little money, he still has a fabulous family and centuries of wizard history behind him. He COULD be like Hermione and value his talents, but it's really hard for him to see past his own insecurities. Ron only gets over it when he accepts that he can also offer value to the world--he might be different from Harry, but he is no less worthy.

Um, I hope you can extend this gem of knowledge to your own work. heh heh
posted by 200burritos at 9:41 AM on March 13, 2012 [5 favorites]

Do you have a friend who seems to have it all -- financial stability, always the center of attention, people jumping into bed with them at the drop of a hat, to the point that it seems just plain unfair?

Yes, and the reason I wasn't jealous was that I didn't want those things. I mean the financial stability would have been nice, but that much attention would be exhausting for me, and jumping into bed with anyone at the drop of a hat would be very unpleasant for me and not something I'd want to do. Even the financial stability, he had that because he had a job at an investment bank working insane hours, and I wasn't interested in doing anything like that at that age, to me at that time it was like selling the best years of your life never to have them back. When we were friends I was 21-22, and he was probably 23-24 or so. We stayed friends after dating for a few months; we're now in our later 20s and have just been pretty much acquaintances for a long time.
posted by cairdeas at 9:44 AM on March 13, 2012

I just spent the weekend with a friend like this and occasionally I think to myself, "man, I should really be jealous of H." But I can't, and it's kind of a foreign feeling (because I can and do get jealous of other people.) And it's not just a 'our ideal realities mis-align' thing; we're pretty similar. But she's genuine and kind and has this undercurrent of "man, life is awesome, right? This thing that we're doing right now, it's awesome." And that's really easy to pick up on, and it just draws people and good things in.

And yeah, to echo Kimberly, this woman was also pretty awkward and unusual-looking as a teenager, so she doesn't have the baggage of growing up in that particular bubble.
posted by punchtothehead at 9:50 AM on March 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

I have, and have had in the past, a few friends like this. (I don't mean to imply with that sentence that I've gotten rid of those past ones because of it!) There are several reasons why I've never really been jealous.

1. They're my friends, so I'm happy for them. If I had similar good fortune, they'd be happy for me. Simplistic but true.

2. They might have all these amazing advantages but being close to them I've realized they have hardships too. Sometimes the problems are unrelated (random health issues, etc), but sometimes they're directly caused by or linked to the successes (mo money mo problems.)

3. They may have these gifts but be pretty bad at managing them. I've had a few friends who could probably get a man while locked in a nunnery, yet the men they actually picked were almost always bad news. Even though I might have been be jealous of their ability to attract men, it's not like it got them anywhere. I'd have literally run down the street in fear if some of their boyfriends had pursued me.

4. It's (generally) a big world, and possible for them to have their stuff and me to have mine too. I may not have the stuff now, I may not have it ever. But there is no law that prevents both my friend and I from being successful. It helps, of course, if you don't want exactly the same job/partner/etc as your friend. Luckily I never have.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 9:58 AM on March 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have not had such friends. They always end up being human in the end.

Also, you're describing envy, not jealousy, which is fear of losing something you already have, not desire for something someone else has but you don't.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:01 AM on March 13, 2012 [6 favorites]

To give the nerdiest possible answer to this: James Bond does have a friend! One! And it's someone he has collaborated with (Felix Leiter), so they have a sense of shared goals and have also been through difficult (dramatic! life threatening!) challenges together. Importantly, they aren't in competition (because they work for different organizations-- Leiter is American), but they have shared the kind of experience colleagues might. So they understand the workings of each other's daily lives and the challenges therein, but aren't necessarily jealous of each other. Leiter isn't depicted as similarly handsome and charming, but is a jovial, happily-married foil to Bond's serious ladykiller.

That, at least, is how Ian Fleming dealt with this particular writing problem. Now if you really want to turn to Fleming for emotional realism is another question, but I think some of these things do translate. When these successful people allow you to do a favor for them, that produces a certain kind of intimacy and friendship that can transcend the jealousy-- they need you!
posted by dizziest at 10:02 AM on March 13, 2012 [2 favorites]

When hanging out with friends most people don't focus on things that make one person particularly fabulous except for brief periods of time.

Most of us have different goals in life. I have a friend whose career allows her to travel to fabulous places. I get excited for her when she's packing up for one fabulous trip or another, but I don't *want* to travel all the time. So while I'm sometimes in awe I'm not jealous because I don't really want what she has. I have different goals. Maybe I can play the zither, and she can't.

I have another friend who is much better off than I am but it's something we rarely talk about and I forget about it most of the time. She has the same human worries and fears and joys that I do, and those are the things our friendship is about.

I think it's a mistake to treat your main character as if he has it all and can kick back and relax and not worry - even if he is humble about it. He may have acquired X or Y, but it's human to crave more and it's human to still suffer setbacks, to not get the man/woman you want even if there are plenty you can sleep with, to still be hurt or confused over things that happened 2 minutes ago or 5 years ago, to not quite be satisfied with 10 pairs of shoes and start to wondering how you can manage to get 20. And sometimes you have a year or two of incredible luck with love or money and then suddenly it's gone and you have to cope with that.
posted by bunderful at 11:08 AM on March 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

And the friend I have who can jump into bed with just about anyone is mostly worried about whether the guy she *really* likes is going to call, or whether a relationship is actually going to work out despite his love of pastries and her hatred of carbs, or whatever.

So while I may envy her a little, her life comes with its own set of problems that I have no desire to take on.
posted by bunderful at 11:30 AM on March 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

Most of the people who I've known -- especially the center of attention/bed anyone they like at the drop of a hat -- can do that not (just) because of their looks or station in life but because they have the type of charisma that makes you like them immediately AND (this part is important) they make you feel like the feeling is mutual, that you are just as wonderful as everyone else thinks they are. So of course you're going to want to be friends with someone who makes you feel that way and be perfectly content with their success.

I guess what I'm saying is that successful sexual conquesting (for lack of a better term) and friend-making aren't really that different if you go about it the right way. It's all about trying to have a relationship that both of you feel good about, where you both get what you want, and where nobody feels bad. It would make perfect sense that one who is successful at one would be good at both.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 11:46 AM on March 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: For most of my life I have both been this person to others and had others be this person to me. There's a great quote I read recently that explains why it's not generally a big issue, something about comparing your own behind-the-scenes to everyone else's highlight reels. Meaning, I know that Little Miss Seemingly-Perfect probably has a lot of crap going on I don't know about, just as I know that my life looks like a dream come true on paper but the people who are jealous wouldn't be if they knew some of the crap I actually have to deal with. So it's all a matter or remembering that everyone's human and fighting their own battles.
posted by rhiannonstone at 1:13 PM on March 13, 2012 [4 favorites]

Sure, I get jealous of my friends who have it "easy" compared to what I've got to work with. But then I reason out that jealousy and realize that it always, always comes from a place of insecurity about my own accomplishments/allure/whatever, and work on that instead of resenting my friend for anything. I can also correct my thinking by realizing that holding on to resentment inevitably starts showing up in my behavior, and when my bitterness starts showing up in my behavior toward my friend, I run the risk of losing a great friend.
posted by houndsoflove at 3:09 PM on March 13, 2012

My dad made quite a bit of money when I was growing up. He and my mom built their "dream house" and we moved into it when I was in 8th grade. It was fairly large and nice, but not ridiculous. Probably $300,000.

A few years later - the summer after 12th grade - I was at a church camp and one of the other parents there (a parent of a teen who was a chaperone) suddenly went off, lecturing my dad. He said, basically, "You have such a nice house and nice cars that I can't feel comfortable coming over to your house. If you host a devotional there then the whole time I feel out of place, like you're holding your success over my head. I'd much rather go to someone's house that is normal and lived-in instead of a mansion that looks like a museum, like I shouldn't be sitting on the couch because it is so expensive. I know that it's MY problem, MY pride in the way, but that doesn't change the fact that I don't want to go to your house."

So he basically said that my dad's financial success was driving an unintentional wedge between my dad and less-wealthy church members. That even though my dad wasn't doing anything wrong, just the fact that he was successful was enough to make people uncomfortable.

For the record, I never heard this from anyone else. And my dad's the most generous man I know, always giving his last bit of cash to help anyone in need.
posted by tacodave at 4:04 PM on March 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I had a friend in mid to late 20s who had an amazing job. He also had strangers, strange women, who worked in modeling, tell him he could be a model. He wasn't hurting for money at any point. Hell, he even had an awesome car. I wasn't jealous because he was a good friend, and he was very loyal and understated person. I won't say he was overly modest because he was very aware of how lucky he was, and he was naturally competitive and didn't beat around the bush. He was also very competitive in the practice of being a friend. The conflict for him was mostly internal, he worked really hard and set enormously high standards for himself. Also his good looks were a pretty big irony because he didn't have much of a libido. Cool story huh? Man all my posts on MeFi are when I'm super tired...
posted by sharkbot1957 at 5:50 PM on March 13, 2012

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