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Is Your Friend Really a “Frenemy”?

In the worlds of dating, personal success and self-esteem, our close friends are our bedrock. They give us a foundation of acceptance and advice, a solid base from which we can build ourselves into the people we want to become. But if we choose our friends poorly, their bad intentions can nibble away at our self-esteem like termites on a floorboard. Look around you – is that friend who’s hanging out at your house using you emotionally to make herself feel better? Is she a true friend or a “frenemy”?

Is she Complimenting you or Keeping you in your Place?

The hard thing about spotting frenemies is that they usually don’t intend to hurt you. They just want to boost their own egos and feel superior. And the best way to do that is to make someone else, namely you, toe the line just behind where they want to be standing. A frenemy, therefore, uses compliments that have a demeaning subtext. Be wary if your friend gives you backhanded compliments like these:

“Those boots look pretty good for someone with your build.”

“He seems much better than the guys you normally attract.”

“If I were you, I’d be very happy to get flowers!”

These so-called compliments are a frenemy’s way of letting you know that she has lower standards for you than she has for herself. And that can be worse for your self-esteem than any putdown from a known enemy.

A frenemy will make constant suggestions that seem helpful, but she really only makes them to buttress her sense of self-superiority. When it comes to clothes, she may suggest that you wear something, and then smirk and say that she’d never wear something like that herself. When it comes to dating, a frenemy may constantly encourage you to date guys or gals who are really wrong for you or whom you may not even find attractive or interesting. Your frenemy may hint that the person you have the hots for would never stoop to dating someone like you. Whatever they say, frenemies tend to talk to you in ways that chip away at your self-esteem.

Is She Helping You Edit Your Best Self or Rewriting Your Best Traits?

Now, not all criticisms are bad. One of the great things about friends is that we can reveal ourselves to them, warts and all, and expect some positive feedback.

Sure, sometimes our little quirks may annoy our friends to death, and vice versa! But friends accept us for who we are and try to help us anyway. If we ride in the rodeo, they’ll tell us which lariat works best with our silver spurs. If we play Dungeons and Dragons, they always want us to roll a 12 on our 12-sided die, even if they tell us not to talk about elves so much in public. They care about us and want us to make a great first (and second impression) on the people we’re dating, while still making sure we’re true to our wonderful, lovable selves.

A frenemy, on the other hand, might see a success in your personal life as an affront to her. If she chooses not to go bicycling with you, and you wind up meeting a great guy who’s into 10-speeds and actually looks good in bike shorts, in her mind, that means he’s a loser. She’ll probably let you know in no uncertain terms how ridiculous she finds your new beau and your biking hobby, in general, all the while trying to drag you to her favorite activities and negating what you want to do. Her words are coming from a place of jealousy and self-doubt. Your successes seem to prove that she’s not really a step ahead of you and that she doesn’t really have all the answers. To correct this, she’ll try to get you feeling bad about yourself so that she can corral you back into line behind her.

So watch out if you find your friend attacking you for the things you love about yourself the most. A friend who tells you which Foghat T-shirt looks the least geeky is a true friend, but the friend who tells you that your taste in shirts and bands is passé may be trying to put you down to bolster her own self-worth. And that’s not a friend you can count on.

What You Say About Her Says It All

Unfortunately, the friend vs. frenemy debate is not a hard-and-fast comparison. Most of our friends are going to have cranky days once in a while. But most of the time, we should find their imperfections endearing. The fact that Danny always spills his drink everywhere and Suzy sings R.E.M. songs at her desk may annoy us. But even when we complain, we’ve got big grins on our faces.

Not so with frenemies. If you feel devastated after a phone call with her, that’s a bad sign. If you’re talking with other friends and find yourself constantly complaining about the way a certain friend talks to you,” or worse, constantly asking your other friends for reassurance about doubts in your mind planted by that friend, then you may be in a toxic relationship that is holding you back from being at your best.

Next time your friend calls to come over or do something with you, after you hang up the phone, think about what you’d say if you had people over to talk with. Is your impulse to cheer that your friend is going to spend time with you? Or do you want to open the window and scream, “Why does Lucinda talk to me like that?” Know the signs and make sure that you don’t let yourself get bogged down by spies in the house of friendship.

Are some of your friends “frenemies”? Are there other things friends can do besides the ones listed here to wind up in your frenemy zone? And are those friendships salvageable? Let us know your thoughts and experiences from your own friendships.