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Caution: Frenemies can be bad for your health

July 10, 2009 | By | 9 Replies Continue Reading

In my experience, whatever the problem, giving it a name is a first step in solving it. That’s why I was pleased that Merriam-Webster included the word “fren-e-my” (plural: fren-e-mies) in the list of 100 new words it announced today that were added to the Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition.

The term frenemy, seamlessly blending the words fri(end) and enemy, refers to someone who pretends to be a friend but actually is an enemy—a proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing in the world of friendships. If you think about it, most of us have had a frenemy at one time of another, either at school, at work, or lurking in our neighborhood.

She (or he) is likely to be a friend who is filled with ambivalence and jealousy. She admires you and wants to be close but feels like she can’t hold a candle to you because (she thinks) you’re smarter, thinner, richer, or more successful. Ostensibly, she is a friend—but her covert hostility is an attempt to kick you down a notch and put you in your place. For example, she might be the master of the backhanded compliment who says something like, “You have such a pretty face. If you lost twenty pounds, you would really be attractive.”

"You know a friend is really a frenemy if she brings out the worst in you and leaves you feeling drained,” say Andrea Lavinthal and Jessica Rozler, co-authors of Friend or Frenemy?. “A sure sign you have a frenemy is when that person cancels plans with you, you’re relieved instead of disappointed."

While most research on friendship and health has focused on the positive relationship between the two, a frenemy is a potential source of irritation and stress. One study by psychologist Dr. Julianne Holt-Lunstad found that unpredictable love-hate relationships characterized by ambivalence can lead to elevations in blood pressure. In a previous study, the same researcher found that blood pressure is higher around friends for whom we have mixed feelings than it is when we’re around people whom we clearly dislike.

The term frenemy has been around for a while, reportedly coined by a sister of author and journalist Jessica Mitford in 1977, and popularized more than twenty years later on the third season of Sex and the City. But like “staycation, “earmark” and “physiatry” it was never legitimized by an entry in the dictionary. Now that it has been, assess that friendship that has always made you feel queasy and uncomfortable and give it a name. Then you’ll realize it’s time to let go or to find a way to fix it.

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Comments (9)

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  1. Unknown says:

    I have a friend who always thinks he is better than me. He jokes around too hard and hurts me (accident or no accident) He always sabotages my brothers efforts in Minecraft (a fun game) and sometimes leaving me feel useless I confronted him on the phone and denied most cases. I believe he is lying in most cases. I know for a fact that he’s been dealing with family problems, so I know I’m telling the true. He just can’t accept it. I sometimes feel excluded, too (friend and brother)

  2. Anonymous says:

    I agree with all of the frenemy comments except that anyone who is nice right away wants something. Alot of people want to be nice, really…. it’s just the frenemy types are nice at first also. But I think I know what you are trying to say…

  3. Anonymous says:

    It seems that frenemies are the same as emotional vampires, charismatic and draw you into their web and suck the emotional energy out of you, and pretending to like you at the same time, they are scary to deal with because they can seem so “nice” at first, but then the mean comments and put downs come along a little later on, slowly but surely. If you are friends with one of these who behaves this way for years, it can lead to mental and physical illness and is difficult to see what is going on until you are out of the relationship for a time because they can be so seemingly nice at times. From having friends or frenemies emotional vampires like this in my life I find that I have a lot of time trusting people especially those who are too nice too fast – that is a sign that they want something and are going to be taking their fee later on.

  4. Anonymous says:

    i have this friend we grew up together. now she just lies to my face when i ask her to hang out. she never texts me back or if i call she wont answer until i run into her somewhere and i ask her why she didnt text or call me back she just makes up some excuse that is an obvious lie. everytime we do hang out she just tries to boss me around to the piont where i just want to leave. when im really upset about things shes never there for me but then expects me to be there for her ..i feel like i do evrything for her and she is not willing to do anything for me. i dont want to loose her but i dont think i can be around her anymore..should i keep tryin or give u its causing me so much stress.

  5. Anonymous says:

    i have a friend who i cry over everyday because we grew up together and now she dosent txt me or call anymore or ignores my phone calls or messages. when i see her in public somewhere i confront her and she just comes back with off the wall stories and a promise to get back to me to hang out but then never does. she makes me feel bad about myself like i did something wrong but i know i dont. im always there for her though when she needs me but she is never there for me. everytime we do talk for a breif second i feel like im annoying her. what should i do keep trying or give up and move on? im getting so stressed over this friendship.

  6. Irene says:

    Sounds like at least you need a vacation from her to see if your hives go away!

    Best,
    Irene

  7. Anonymous says:

    I have a “friend” who has turned very toxic and it’s definitely affecting my health. Lately, I’ve been getting hives on my arms or legs whenever I talk to her. I also feel muscle tension and an increased heart rate (anxiety). I feel that my body is sending out these signals that this person is not good for me. I think I’d better listen.

  8. EJ says:

    As a person who had to overcome a learning disability as a kid, I have been vulnerable to toxic friends for years. It is only after the last two that i have finally broken the cycle. I would rather have a few good friends who I can trust rather than “fun, charismatic” ladies who burn me. One of them badmouthed me with a local publication that initially took an interest in me. However, it turned out she had a previous relationship with that editor, so there was nothing I could do.

    The other, however, was somebody who seemed to be my equal. My “real” friends warned me about her, but I did not listen because I was impressed with her persona and charisma. Things were great for the first year, but then she started upstaging me at every event we attended together. She even had the nerve to claim she was the editor of a publication I was actually the editor at (I brought her on board as a writer because I felt sorry for her on a couple of occasions when her life seemed to take a turn for the worst), and downgraded me to her assistant, even though it was the other way around. Since then, she has poached a number of publicists and editors who now will not work with me–even with my generally excellent track record. On other occasions, she poaches the other writers, so they fall in love with her and ignore to me and give me the “stink face” you see on middle school students.

    Of course, there are several loyal editors who have told me directly she had tried to persuade them to knock me out of the loop and hire her for writing gigs instead. She is also indirectly responsible for a nasty thing being written about me on a tabloid web site that will never go away (I was trying to negotiate something for her with a publicist, who turned on me and then “placed” this horrible story about me).

    Everything is water under the bridge, and I have to accept responsibility that I let her sabotage my good name as a writer. However, I would appreciate advice from other women, on what to tell colleagues, fellow writers and publicists that may get them interested in working with me again or to actually take a chance and get to know me instead of going on the frenemy’s word and just writing me off.

    Thanks for your help!

  9. Anonymous says:

    hi, such a good and catchy article u’ve made dear…i love it! :) can i share to my friends, well my intention beside sharing the information that i’ve got from u’re source hopefully helpfull..thanks a lot dear..:)

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