The rise of 'friendship envy’: why we get so jealous of other people’s friendship groups

Written by Alia Waheed

Does hearing people talk about big groups of friends or seeing beaming groups of ‘girl squads’ on your feed ever make you feel jealous? What is friendship envy, why do we experience it and how can we deal with it? Stylist investigates. 

Do you ever see groups of friends hanging out in a bar, or hear one of your workmates talk about going on holiday, yet again, with her best friends and feel a jab of FOMO? Do you wish you had that kind of sisterhood?

Well trust me, you’re not the only one. While friendship envy is nothing new, the pressure to be popular feels like it’s at a whole new level. To look at social media these days, female friendships feel more aspirational than romantic relationships, with girl squads seeming to be the ultimate must-have accessory thanks to celebrities like Cara Delevingne, who would rather forget their Birkin bags than their best friends at a red-carpet event.

And it’s not just celebs. Go on Instagram and it feels like we are constantly bombarded with images of glamorous groups of friends who look like they’re having the time of their lives, using hashtags like #MyFriendsAreMySuperpower.  

Girl squads appear to set some serious friendship goals, and it’s natural to feel a touch of the green-eyed monster looking at pictures of laughing female friendship groups as they flash up on our feeds, especially when your WhatsApp isn’t exactly bulging full of invitations.

Just how during the first UK lockdown it felt like everyone was baking banana bread and doing couch to 5k while you were struggling to get out of your pyjamas before lunch, post-lockdown in 2021 there’s been a pervading pressure to make up for lost time and live our lives to the fullest. But that can be hard to do when you feel like you are the only one without a team of besties by your side.

“I grew up watching shows like Sex And The City and always dreamt of having those kinds of friendships where all the personalities fit together like a jigsaw, but it just never happened for me,” Ayesha Khan, 27, from London, tells Stylist

“Although I have individual friends whom I love, I miss the idea of being part of a gang and the social life that comes with it,” says Khan. “When I see other girls hanging together or listen to my friends talk about their girl squad, I feel jealous and wish I could have that support network of friends.”

Celebrities such as Taylor Swift, who famously referred to her group of celebrity friends, including bestie Selena Gomez, as her “squad”, seem to have fuelled the concept of the girl squad in popular culture as we know it. 

Looking at pictures of groups like Swift and her friends on social media can make it feel as though who you hang around with is a reflection of yourself: having a girl squad sends out the message that you are cool, confident and popular.

“Friendship envy is what many women feel when they see a particular relationship from afar which looks great and feel envious of it because they either don’t have that relationship or don’t have one which matches what the ‘idealised’ relationship appears to be,” psychotherapist Hilda Burke tells Stylist.  

“It’s often a focus on what something appears to be. So when we observe others’ friendship groups, we’re focusing on what we’re lacking and what others appear to have in abundance,” says Burke. “Rather than addressing what we’re bringing to our friendships, we’re just craving an ‘end result’. We want the payoff, but we’re neglecting what it is we’re bringing, or not bringing, to our friendships.”

Celebrities like Taylor Swift, who famously referred to her group of celebrity friends as her “squad”, seem to have fuelled the concept of the girl squad in popular culture.

However, for some people, having a girl squad isn’t always the dream it’s made out to be. In reality, it can mean juggling and balancing different dynamics and personalities.

“There’s a pressure to have a girl squad because you don’t want to miss out on having a social life and part of that is through your girl group,” Deb Daniel, 21, tells Stylist. “I’ve been on Instagram and posted about good times, but I’m not posting about my frustration with my supposed best friends.”  

“In girl squads, with so many people, there are instances that you’ll feel excluded,” adds Daniel. “Once there was a costume event that I was excited about and my friends went as the Powerpuff Girls without telling me. I was upset but it made me realise that individual friendships can be more fulfilling than being in a squad.”

If you want to overcome friendship envy, the best way to start is by moving away from the idea that a girl squad is the ultimate, or only, model of friendship we should aim for. Instead, it’s best to work on your friendships that are already there.

“The idealisation of the ‘girl squad’ – a group of powerful, beautiful women – is seen as something to aspire to,” says Burke. “But, rather than focusing on what you don’t have, recognise what’s there in the friendships you do have and how you can make them better.”

The idea of a girl squad may sound like the ultimate friendship goal, but sometimes managing a host of different personalities can be tricky and more often than not we already have fulfilling friendships right in front of us. 

They may not look as glossy as the groups filling our Instagram feeds, but that doesn’t make them any less important. Friendships come in all shapes and sizes –and squads are just one of them. 

Images: Getty

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