Thursday, 11 February 2010

Frenemy Academy

I know a very complex person. Not horrible, but not always that nice either. Apparently I’d been fortunate in getting half way through my thirties before meeting one, as friends younger than me can testify. There was me naively believing friends were adorable little treasures who always made you feel great and then WHAM - I get me a ‘frenemy’.

In case you are not as hip and street-wise as me (and I’m aware I’ve just blown my chance of being anything of the kind by using those phrases) a frenemy is someone who is by and large your friend but can’t seem to help with the jealous or bitchy put downs. They may pick up on your weaknesses, diminish your achievements or try to project personality traits and characteristics onto you to suit their agenda. My frenemy is special - she does all three.

Like I say, I’d avoided all of this hoo-hah until what appears to be quite late in life and have found myself totally unable to cope. Obviously I’ve had run ins with friends before. There have been times when I’ve felt taken for granted and had to assert myself. But these are one-offs - they leave me no less fond of the friend afterwards and can even understand their reasons.

My frenemy, however, operates by persevering with a version of me that is unrecognisable to both myself and those who know me. I’ve always been known to love clothes and fashion - she described me as ‘slobbing about’. I have more lipsticks than red blood cells - she’s never seen me wear it before in my life. I have never knowingly cracked on to someone else’s bloke - she accused me of doing so.

They are all interestingly focused in the one area; attractiveness to the opposite sex. We got on like a house on fire before she met the guy she’s with now. The moment he appeared on the scene something happened and I felt a distinct air of hostility surround us. After a while, he even started to join in with comments about my lack of a love life. But his behaviour aside, I suspect the frenemy is sadly always going to be more of a female problem than a male one. Sexual rivalry, though lost on me, is always thick in the air wherever women are present.

I truly mean it’s lost on me. My best friend is utterly gorgeous and has always been deliciously flirty with it. Yes, secretly I’d love to have her style and charm but I adore her company and there isn’t a scrap of competition between us. So in the company of the frenemy I feel out of my depth and dragged down to her level. I find I am constantly having to defend myself - which always ends up sounding like boasting - about something I couldn’t care less about.

I’m aware that this isn’t isolated behaviour - psychologists will tell you that the human mind is programmed to stereotype. We filter everything we experience and form a point of view to help us make sense of the world and our place in it. A sense of identity comes from how well strike the right balance between the two. Sometimes it misfires when individual insecurities are involved and jealousy, hatred and misdirected anger justifies some otherwise pretty shoddy behaviour. We feel bad, we panic, we shape, judge and blame others for a quick fix. Far from being uncommon, I’d say this lies behind just about all of the world’s biggest problems - past, present and future.

The frenemy blurs the line between who they are and who you are. But surely it’s better to deal with the truth than to waste your time battling to make lies true? Popular human failing or not, I’m not really inclined to sit by and watch this fictional, somewhat crap version of me get dragged out every time we meet. I want to remain friends with this woman, she has so many redeeming qualities and can be fantastic company. I have found bold, straight-forward denials to be the most effective method so far, followed by reminders that others might disagree with her - although I’m desperately trying to avoid any tit for tat style arguments!

But other than that, I’m still lost. My learning curve has a distinctly negative gradient. Any tips? Answers in a comments box please!

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