Do You Have a Frenemy?
Do You Have a Frenemy?
By Harriet Bruns
The Names have been Changed to Protect My Petty Friends
I had a “friend” named Lisa. We lived right down the street from each other and met at a mutual neighbor’s summertime party. The fact that Lisa and I lived in the same neighborhood was only one of many, many reasons that we started a friendship. We also liked wine—okay, loved wine. And we liked to go out to dinner with our husbands, and we walked our dogs at about the same time each night, and we were at about the same level in our careers, and our children both went to the same elementary school and played soccer, and we liked to shop at the same stores … you get it, we had a lot of superficial things in common.
Okay, so here is my point—a lot of superficial things in common does not a lifelong friendship make. Don’t get me wrong, they absolutely CAN make for the beginning of a lifelong friendship, but “lots and lots” of superficial-ness doesn’t guarantee anything. Keep this in mind as I continue my story.
As normally happens when you hit it off with someone new, you get a bit excited that you might have a new friend. We humans seem to like anything that is new, and we also like friends—so while we also like our old friends, having a new friend is kind of a special thing—it is new, it is novel, and we are attracted to it and give it lots more attention than we would if said thing (or friend) were a bit older, less new. The shininess is still there, nothing is yet scratched or dinged or tarnished, and admit it, we all like shiny.
On the surface, Lisa was a great gal: funny, smart, interesting, and attractive. When I offered to host a last-minute slumber party, she offered to help. When I mentioned we were looking for a new accountant, she provided a number. And when I needed a new dress for my nieces’ wedding, she met me at the mall and proceeded to pull garments more appropriate for a Las Vegas weekend saying, “Thank goodness I’m here or you’d buy something “matronly” again.” (Ouch!)
And the Truth and Claws Come Out in the Friendship
The term frenemy has come into vogue in the last year or so, and is typically defined as someone you enjoy spending time with, or get some enjoyment from, but whom you can’t completely trust. Seems the identification of a frenemy always comes as a bit of a surprise, and always with a sharp knife in the back. Things are rolling smoothly in terms of the budding friendship, when wham-o, the game begins.
The first instance might be a slight insult, disguised as a helpful truth, unveiled by a well-meaning friend, “Gosh your new hairstyle is cute; really helps to slim down those cheeks of yours.” As the friendship intensifies and you begin to share more intimate and personal information about yourself, the frenemy often turns these confidences into weapons, “A new couch? That’s great, but when are you going to replace that embarrassing carpet?”
Admittedly, these examples might be a bit extreme, but the point is made. A frenemy, who most likely has the intention of spending time with you and sharing true camaraderie (for she genuinely enjoys your company), just doesn’t want anything for you that she herself doesn’t already have. You get a new job—terrific, but she has the better office. You book a fantastic vacation—fine, but she’s heard that your hotel “got poor reviews online.”
Thank Goodness for the Support of, err, Friends
The experts, (and yes, there are self-proclaimed experts on “frenemies”) say that this situation most often occurs when someone is not feeling super confident in themselves. Perhaps she didn’t get enough love from her parents, perhaps she isn’t getting any love from her husband, obviously, she isn’t giving herself enough love. Whatever the case, she’s decided that a good way to pull herself “up” is by putting you “down.”
While we wouldn’t necessarily choose to have these people in our lives, a fact of life is that we don’t always get to choose all the people with whom we come in contact, and sometimes we come in very close or very frequent contact with people whom don’t have our best interests at heart.
- The sister-in-law or a girlfriend of a family member—you love your brother so you’ve got to put up with her, but my goodness those back-handed compliments and snide remarks are hard to put up with.
- A friend of a friend—this one happens a lot. You strike up a friendship with a great gal, but are subjected to her other friend, who isn’t exactly thrilled to have a third at the lunch table.
- The co-worker—by virtue of the fact that you are on the same team at work, you have to spend time together. It is a constant struggle between doing a great job and always watching for the cleaver she keeps in her desk drawer.
Making Friendship Lemonade (or Just Ordering Something Else)
You have two choices when dealing with a frenemy: confront and attempt to squash the poor behavior (ie, show her that you aren’t playing anymore), or simply move on to new and better friendships.
Bullies, and that is what a frenemy really is after all, look for those whom they believe can be easily intimidated or manipulated. When you show a bully that you are not good prey for them, they either leave of their own accord or they change their ways. How to do this … just call them out on their actions. When the snide remark comes out, tell the frenemy how the remark is taken, and ask her to explain the comment (Wow, that seems a bit harsh, what exactly are you saying?) Intimidators don’t expect to be called out and will be tripped up when faced with this challenge.
Insecurity is at the crux for all frenemy relationships. My theory is that frenemies choose their targets because they have some trait or talent that the frenemy desires but can’t conceive for themselves—a solid and loving marriage, and strong work ethic and reputation, or a warm and compassionate heart that pulls people into them. Instead of looking to the other as a mentor for obtaining these desirable traits, the frenemy attempts to demean their friend in other regards.
Insecurity—what a terrible, awful thing it is, and unlike a pimple or wart that we can simply eradicate with a good drugstore cream, insecurity can’t be undone very easily.
Friends are there to pump you up, to enjoy life with, to share and comfort. Friends do not belittle, demean, or compete with each other. So if the bully can’t be tamed, then my advice is to walk away, to minimize contact, and to sympathize (which I know is difficult).
For me personally, while I still walk my dog each evening, I’ve decided that I enjoy walking without Lisa and her “helpful comments”. She and I were simply not a good friendship fit. But I do wonder how others have handled similar situations and hope that you’ll provide your own experience and advice.