Despite her success as a Washington-area nightclub singer, Julie Parsons sometimes feels jealous when she visits a friend on Philadelphia's Main Line.
"She's so rich, she doesn't have to work," says Parsons, 34, of University Park. "She can jog and play tennis all day and send her son to private school. I get caught up in the lust for material possessions. I feel like I'm never going to have that much money . . . I start feeling pathetic."
Upward mobility can be a downer when it arouses self-doubt and envy. A friend's success can be a chance to affirm mutual respect or it can trigger feelings of inferiority, jealousy and hostility.
A 40-year-old Washington broadcasting technician handles with care a close friend who reacted jealously to his plans to build an East Coast radio station.
"When I told him we were doing it from scratch, building the tower and everything ourselves, he just said, 'Oh.' This cold kind of response, instead of, 'Oh, gee, that's great.'
"I think he was jealous because he'd asked me what such a thing would be worth. I quickly cooled it down and now I don't talk to anybody about it."
Why do we sometimes feel bad about friends' fame or fortune? How can we handle those feelings and maintain affection? What can we do when our own glories are unsettling to friends? How can we talk with them about something that at times seems more personal than sex? How does the stress of success affect friendships?
Debi Butler, 29, of Silver Spring attributes the loss of one friendship to her concern about different financial situations.
"My husband and I had a little College Park apartment furnished with hand-me-downs," says the photographer and homemaker. "We had some nice friends who were wealthy and had us to several dinner parties. I thought we should reciprocate, but their dishes and everything were much better than ours. I couldn't entertain them at the same level so I felt shy about inviting them over."
The friendship dwindled when she failed to return their invitations. "Maybe if you're the ones with the money it's easier to be gracious and magnanimous and entertain," muses Butler. "But the whole thing seems kind of dumb now."
Does the primitive struggle for survival -- "if you kill a bear, that's one less for me" -- foster feelings of ill will toward better-off friends?
Greenbelt psychotherapist Leo Walder, of Behavior Service Consultants, says that's doubtful, since people rarely view our economy as limited.
But when you doubt your ability to succeed, he says, a friend's success can remind you of your own fears. "Jealousy involves the feeling that I can't have what you have because there's something wrong with me. Your pain can be worse if you're suppressing those feelings, and you may not even recognize you're upset."
In its healthy form, jealousy can be a recognition you don't have it all in the face of someone else who has some of it, says psychologist Barbara Engram, director of the Health Resources Center, Hood College, Frederick. Problems arise if the feeling lasts and disrupts the relationship.
"You've got to recognize," she says, "that their success is not something they do to you. It's separate from you. It doesn't prove you're not as good or less worthy. You're two separate people who choose each other because you like each other. If you can sort this out, your feelings of warmth can triumph and you can feel happy for them."
Monetary imbalances can sometimes be hard on the friends who feel perceived as the more successful.
One couple found themselves increasingly discomfited in telling a less affluent couple about any of their acquisitions, and even kept their VCR in its box for a week. When they bought a house lot, they hesitated to discuss building plans with their friends, who were almost hostile about the subject. Ultimately the friendship shattered during an argument about a wholly separate subject.
"Sometimes if we can find a reason to get angry," says Walder, "that can be a way to say goodbye."
Although psychologists may recommend confronting the subject of money directly, it can be a difficult subject to talk about because of the status attached to money in our culture.
"It's regarded as a person's measure," says Walder. "Having money says there's something good about you, you're smart, almost that you're of better character. And not having money means you're dumb."
Men, he says, may be caught in a double bind: They typically find it harder than women to admit to feelings of envy or inferiority, and yet by our cultural definitions, masculinity is enhanced by success.
It's necessary, reminds Engram, to proceed gently in voicing concern that success is straining a relationship. "People sometimes go roaring into it," she says. "Communicating involves talking with small conversations over a period of time, not all at one moment."
Friendship can also be stressed by the long hours required of a friend in the limelight. Folk and country singer Cathy Fink, 31, Takoma Park, says it's hard to be available to friends when she's on the road half the year.
"I'll come back from a three-week tour and friends are all excited about knowing how the tour went -- but I'm not the only one there. Their three weeks have been important to them, too. I want to know about what they've done. I try to keep the relationship reciprocal."
It may be easier to handle friends' glory when we see them earn it. Also, their style of expressing success can be crucial.
"I definitely think it matters to my friends that I've worked hard for my money," says David Rosenberg, 36, a co-owner of the Cedar Post clothing stores. "I feel awkward when people say things like, 'Boy, you must be rolling in money.' They haven't seen me when I was just a hippie in College Park without two nickels to rub together."
Michael Hyde, 32, a middle-income Greenbelt printer, attributes the success of his friendship with a wealthy real estate developer in part to his friend's not flaunting his success.
"I'm comfortable talking about the money thing with Mark because I know he worked for it, and he'll talk about it without shoving it at me, like saying, 'I made $300,000 on this deal here.' "
Sociologists point out that with dramatic role changes, self-concept and behavior may change. New norms may be adopted and old friends abandoned.
"A lot of sociologists see human friendships as temporary," says Prince George's Community College sociology professor Harold Guy. His colleague Ernest Green says that in terms of upward mobility, we tend to orient ourselves not toward what we are, but toward what we want to be, and probably have a tendency to cut ourselves off from the past.
Some people, however, refuse to cut themselves off from the past and try to present their success as an example to other aspirants.
Alexandria artist Hilda Thorpe, 65, says she meets regularly with artist friends not yet as successful -- in terms of recognition -- as she is.
"I feel a kind of nurturing occurs because my success has had an inspiring effect," she says. "Having had a degree of success and experience myself, I can pass on to younger friends and artists the message that they can do it, too. Just hang in there. Longevity's on their side."
But when a friendship can't survive the stresses of success, which friend will end it? It's up, says Walder, for grabs.
"The more successful person may be into upward mobility, big houses, nice clothes and want new friends who reflect their success. The one who feels inferior or jealous may end it by not calling or finding excuses for not getting together.
The hardiest friendships, says Walder, are based on openness and the ability to deal with ups and downs. In these relationships, people are able to deal with each others' failures as well as successes, and at least one of the friends has a belief that the relationship can transcend impediments.
Says Baltimore psychologist J. Kent McCrimmon: "You need to have as friends people you are able to enjoy and who are able to enjoy you. You should be able to share your success with the people who matter in your life."
On the other hand, says McCrimmon, new-found success often upsets the dynamics in relationships with family, friends and work associates. "People -- even those who are very successful themselves -- may feel threatened by your success.
"What a person sometimes must do with his success is say, 'People who are mentally healthy are enjoying my success, and those who are not, don't, and they have a problem.' "