How to tell a friend from a frenemy

What makes a true friend?

One of my Facebook friends recently friended one of my real-life friends. My real life friend said, “You were the only friend we had in common, but I still wasn’t sure if I should accept the friend request.”

I replied, “Oh, don’t assume a Facebook friend of mine is a friend of yours. Remember: on Facebook, Eddie Murphy is my friend.”

It’s true. I’ve friended a number of celebrities on Facebook, just to see if they would accept my gesture of friendship. They all did. That doesn’t mean these celebrities are my true friends, though. In fact, I’m not really friends with many of the more than 300 people who have friended me on Facebook. This is not to say that I don’t like them or that I no longer wish to have them as friends on Facebook.

It just means this: my definition of “friend” is a little different than Facebook’s definition of friend. My definition has evolved over many years, years filled with numerous friendship breakups and disappointments. My definition was particularly fine-tuned during my quarter life crisis in my 20s and my post-partum depression in my mid 30s—both times when I found myself nearly friendless.

To me, a friend is more than someone I know. It’s more than someone I do things with. It’s more than someone who hangs out with me. It’s more than someone who went to school with me or who has lived with me. (Note: most people who have lived with me don’t consider me a friend. I’ve learned from many years of trial and error that I don’t make the best of roommates. In my perfect world, my husband would be my next door neighbor. We’d still be married, but we’d live next door from one another and would rarely sleep together in the same bed. This, however, is a topic for another day.)

The characteristics of a true friend

My true friends are people who know that I am a type A workaholic and who find this endearing. They know I tend to dream big, take on too much, and occasionally suffer the consequences in the form of burn out. When I’m sick, tired, and in need of a self-esteem transplant, they rarely say, “I told you this would happen. I told you that you were working too hard. See where this led you?”

No, they don’t say this, even though they might think it. Instead they give me the self-esteem transplant I need by reminding me of all I’ve accomplished and all that I will accomplish soon—once I allow myself to just take a few days off already.

These are people who know that I think parenting is quite boring and who do not judge me because of it. They are intrigued that I’m willing to tell just about anyone about my sex life, but they are not appalled.

They are capable of giving me an honest assessment of any given situation, but they know me well enough to not offer that honest assessment until I ask for it.

In three words: They get me. In seven more words: they love the woman that they get.

Who is a frenemy and why?

Frenemies (a combination of the words “friend” + “enemy”) are a different story. Despite the term, frenemies are not necessarily bad people. Most are capable of being wonderful friends, just not with you. A frenemy is someone you hang out with—either by choice (because you mistake the person as a friend) or by accident (you work with them, they hang out with your other friends, and so on).

Someone is your frenemy if:

  • You feel tense when you think about the person.
  • You can’t relax when this person is around.
  • You have a hard time being yourself around this person.
  • You don’t enjoy this person’s company.
  • You are in dire need of a self-esteem transplant whenever you see this person.

It doesn’t matter why these things are true. It’s possible that this person is competitive with you. Maybe he’s always trying to get in the last word and one-upping your every story. Or perhaps your frenemy is a gossipy backbiter who will make fun of you as soon as you leave the room. She could also be one of those controlling types, the type of person who is always spouting off unsolicited advice. Perhaps this person is negative or sarcastic or any number of other characteristics that you worry might be contagious.

Yet, it’s just as possible that this person is perfectly nice and wonderful. You may be at a complete loss when you try to figure out why this person rubs you the wrong way. Her very presence may make you feel uncomfortable, but she’s not doing it on purpose! In fact, she may think you are the cat’s meow and desperately want to be your friend.

It doesn’t matter why someone is a frenemy. It just doesn’t. You can spend your time second-guessing yourself and feeling bad about your odd dislike of this person, or you can just do what I do. Trust your instincts. If you chronically feel badly whenever you are around this person, she’s not a friend. She’s a frenemy.

Friends don’t let friends hang out with frenemies

You do not have to pretend to be friends with your frenemies! This lesson took me a long time to learn. For years I hung out with people who did not make me feel good about myself. Then, one day, I asked myself, “If I was on my deathbed, would I want these people to visit me?”

The answer, of course, was no. During my last moments of life, I want to feel good. I want to be able to say whatever I want and be whoever I want. I want to be able to play my 80s rock and pop music and not worry about what the people around me think. I want to wear my fleece. I want to be able to crack my most off color, so-not-politically correct jokes.

I want to be me, and I want to feel the love in the room because I am being me.

It would be a small gathering, but I’m okay with that because everyone at this gathering would be my true friend.

Here’s the thing: you never know when you are going to die. I like to think I will have some warning, but who knows? I might be out at a gathering, have an aneurysm burst, and, just like that, my final moments will be upon me. Do I really want to be with a frenemy in that moment? No, of course not.

Refusing to hang with your frenemies does not make you a snob. It does not make you mean. It makes you you—the very you that your true friends love, honor and respect. Most important, it makes you happy.

How do you define a frenemy? How do you define a true friend? Do you hang out with your frenemies? Leave a comment.

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