You’ve heard the word before: “frenemy.” Not quite a friend, but not someone you have open conflict with, either. This isn’t a trusted pal with whom you sometimes have disagreements. Having a frenemy-type relationship can appear a few different ways:
- You both actively seethe, equally hating each other. But you mask your disdain with smiles and continue to go through the motions of friendship. There may be attractive benefits to play-acting this friendship, such as keeping the peace in a larger social group or having a backup “friend” you can turn to when you’re lonely.
- You don’t like this person, but he or she doesn’t know it. Again, there may be benefits to keeping up the appearance of friendliness. Or you may feel so guilty about not liking someone that you are working hard to convince yourself that you actually enjoy the friendship. Or you might feel afraid of creating distance because you believe it would be wrong to hurt the other person.
- You are not aware of overall bad feelings toward your friend, but you have noticed that each time you spend time around him or her, you are left feeling angry, sad, anxious, or bad about yourself.
If any of these are familiar and you find that you are increasingly agitated by one or more of your friendships, it might help to do some reflecting on how you would like to engage with frenemies in the future.
Questions to Ask Yourself
An important part of self-reflection is asking yourself questions to gain clarity about what you think and feel. When considering frenemies, start by asking:
What keeps me connected to this relationship?
There are a lot of reasons we may find ourselves holding on to another person. Proximity and convenience can tie us to our next-door neighbors and our child’s best friend’s parents. Growing up together, belonging to a larger friend group, surviving difficult times together, and being related to each other are other reasons that keep people sticking with relationships that are otherwise unfulfilling. Think about what is drawing you to this relationship, including anything positive that comes from staying connected.
Being intentional about how you invest your time and effort makes room in your life for healthy, satisfying relationships.
What is this person evoking in me? A memory? Is he or she a reminder of another person in my life with whom I’ve had a bad relationship?
It’s possible that your feelings might not be connected to how the other person is actually behaving. If so, this doesn’t mean that you need to ignore your feelings because they’re unfair to the other person. It is an important thing for you to note about why it may be difficult for you to spend time with him or her.
What is this relationship costing me?
A frustrating relationship may have a lot of costs. There may be tangible costs, such as when a frenemy is demanding financial support. Or there may be costs that are harder to measure: the emotional toll of painful interactions, or the energy spent recovering from time together.
What to Do Next
If you come to realize that your friend is more like a frenemy, the next thing to consider is what you would like to happen for the future of your relationship. Weighing all that you now know about the role this person is playing in your life, and what is driving your reactions to him or her, ask yourself the following questions:
How close would you like this bond to be?
Would greater distance, perhaps spending less time together, feel more comfortable?
Is it time to completely end it—to follow through with a friendship breakup?
Would you like to rehabilitate the friendship, and if so, can your friend tolerate a vulnerable conversation about how you’ve been feeling?
Engaging in this self-reflection will give you the chance to choose how you want to relate in these complicated relationships. Hopefully, this will reduce the chance that you’ll impulsively or passive-aggressively react in ways that can bring about unappealing consequences. Being intentional about how you invest your time and effort makes room in your life for healthy, satisfying relationships.
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