Best Friends Forever? Not so fast.
The term ‘frenemy’ is not new. Frenemies have been described in political and social spheres for years where relationships became rocky among political figures, competing companies, or even entire countries. [Bush & McCain. Samsung & Apple. The U.S. & Saudi Arabia have all been given the title.]
A change came in the late 2000’s when the word was attributed to the Regina George’s of the world. [Frenemy: someone who is as much a friend as an enemy.] This term can be applied to men as much as women (go ahead and tell us you don’t hold a grudge against who won Fantasy Football last season guys); however, frenemies are the spotlight of the Mean Girl culture where female on female aggression is studied. Authors DiMarco, Owens, and more have explored how to deal with drama in these relationships… but how can we tell if a friendship is turning from Tina & Amy to Taylor & Katy?
Let’s discuss the 5 signs your BFF is more frenemy than friend.
1. She acts differently in private vs. in public.
She loves to talk to you over mani-pedis or during Netflix binges at home, but ditches you if a boy comes along at the bar. She calls you by your nickname and you share inside jokes in private, but she seems annoyed with your silly insiders when out with others. One of the signs that your friendship is headed for trouble is if she acts differently in private than when you are both out in public. Social scientist William K. Rawlins explains in his book The Compass of Friendship, that how we act across a range of social relationships affects our friendship. In other words, if she’s ignoring you when others are around but acts like your best friend in private, your friendship is headed towards conflict. And she just might be more frenemy than friend.
2. She’s friends with you for the perks.
Does she really care for you as a friend? Or is she just using you to get closer to your older brother or to get your help in calculus? Does she enjoy spending time with you? Or is she hoping you can introduce her to your guy friends or work contacts? Rawlins explains this friendship tension as the struggle between affection and instrumentality. Friendship should focus on affection and warmth rather than rewards. Friendship based only on instrumental goals (think HBO GO passwords or same shoe size) can be impersonal, but a friendship with no benefits at all might not be rewarding to the individuals. If the majority of your conversations/activities revolve around her achieving superficial goals, then your friend might actually be a frenemy.
3. She doesn’t respect your space.
Does she make one of your hobbies her thing? Did your new idea somehow turn into a group project? Did she invite herself/get angry when you grabbed dinner with your work friends? If she is constantly piggybacking off your ideas or overstepping her bounds, she cares less about maintaining the friendship and more about attention.
One of the biggest conflicts that can arise in a friendship is the need to have both freedom and independence. Rawlins explains that friends need to have both activities of individualism as well as participating in accomplishing their identities together. This means you want freedom to do things alone, but you also want to have help and support from your BFFs. You want time to yourself to learn and practice the piano, but you also want support from your friends at the recital. This tension is common in all relationships, but the need for space can cause friction in friendships if your BFF does not understand your need for individual hobbies or alone time.
4. She is quick to pass judgement or criticize and does not accept who you truly are.
Your friend finds a way to subtly insult your wardrobe during the pregame. She asks what you see in the boy you are dating and continues to explain his ‘flaws’ without hearing your side. She does not understand why you don’t just dye your hair already or why you like reading HP fan fiction (it’s a thing people). Tension can arise in a friendship if your BFF judges you instead of accepting you for who you truly are. Rawlins explains one of the difficulties in this tension is that we tend to judge others with our best friends. (Don’t play innocent, we’ve all shared screen shots of someone’s embarrassing FB post). Collectively judging others may make your BFF think it is OK to make judgments about you as well. Rawlins explains all judgments in a friendship are not necessarily bad, especially when similarities are affirmed or when advice is genuine and displays closeness between two people. However, true friendship means accepting the other friend, even in the areas you see “flaws” in. If your BFF constantly gives negative criticism and does not accept you fully, your friendship may be headed towards disaster.
5. She refuses to open up as much as you do.
You tell her that you think your boss is hot/ when you lost your virginity/that you slept with your ex’s best friend/that you own the 50ShadesofGrey audio book/that you know every word to Frozen/that you’re deathly afraid of pickles… but you know little to nothing about her emotions and experiences. Conflict can occur in any relationship if our self-disclosure is not equal. If we tell something very personal to someone, we expect him or her to be just as open with us in return. Females bond more through emotional talk, where males tend to become close over shared activities [think: girls talking over wine at dinner vs. guys going to a basketball game together]. This explains how disclosing private/emotional information is essential to maintain a female friendship. Both males and females claim self-disclosure is essential to friendship satisfaction, making the balanced exchange of self-disclosure important. If you spill your life story but your BFF provides little to no information in return, she holds the power in the friendship. If she refuses to open up to you, she may not be in this friendship for the right reasons.
Of course, revealing private information is a double-edged sword. Rawlins explains expressiveness and protectiveness as the struggle friends feel between being candid and open versus being responsibly discreet. Sharing too much private detail can expose your friendship to criticism or rejection. If she tells you she is contemplating committing a crime or sleeping with a married man, your friendship could be affected where you may feel awkward with her statements or responsible to help her in these difficult times. This over-share of information may place a burden on your once simple friendship. Close relationships require self-disclosure of private information, especially in female friendships… but only to a certain extent.
Friendships are never easy and knowing the first signs of conflict can be a great indicator that trouble is ahead. If she acts one way in public and another in private; is only friends with you for the perks; or refuses to open up, trouble could be brewing. If she values attention over giving you space or places judgment over acceptance, she might be a frenemy and not a friend. If these signs sound familiar, prepare yourself for a potential girl fight.
 Carney, J. (2008). Frenemies: The McCain-Bush Dance. Time. com, 16.; Gupta, P., Kim, M., & Levine, D. (2013). Insight: Apple and Samsung, Frenemies for Life.; Levine, S. (2011). Frenemies forever: How Washington stopped worrying and learned to love Saudi Arabia, again. Foreign Policy, 184, 31-33.
 DiMarco, H. (2010). Frenemies: What to Do when Friends Turn Mean. Revell.; Owens, L. L. (2010). Frenemies: Dealing with Friend Drama. ABDO Publishing Company.
 Rawlins, W. K. (2009). The compass of friendship, narratives, identities, and dialogues. (pp. 1-43). Sage Publications, Inc.
 Guerrero, L. K., Andersen, P. A., & Afifi, W. A. (2013). Close encounters: Communication in relationships. Sage Publications.
 Jones, D. C. (1991). Friendship satisfaction and gender: An examination of sex differences in contributors to friendship satisfaction. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 8(2), 167-185.