They’re the ones who want to be your bridesmaid, then hint that your wedding dress is too tight, your ears are too big or you’re looking too old and need a facial or Botox. They tell everyone your secrets and try to undermine you at every opportunity whil
It seems frenemies are particularly common in expat circles.
Emmy was excitedly planning her wedding in Dubai. All her friends were looking forward to her big day and loved being part of the preparations, chatting about her ivory lace dress, her beautiful flowers, the reception for 90 guests and her honeymoon in the Maldives.
But one friend – Judy – seemed more interested than the others. At first, she went over every detail of the wedding, making some brilliant suggestions, and even sorting out how Emmy’s divorced parents could both be at the ceremony. But every now and then, something she did or said left Emmy feeling uncomfortable, undermined or depressed.
“We’d been friends for about 10 years,” says Emmy, a 37-year-old accountant who married in March 2012. “We got on so well that I thought we were best friends. At first, during the wedding preparations, she was really sweet and she became my first port of call with any new idea. But she got sneaky. She’d hint that she thought brides over 30 were too old for a meringue dress and flowers – I was 35. She tried to persuade me not to wear my hair up, and then started talking about people whose ears stuck out. She turned it around and pretended I was the one who was so bothered about my ears that she gave me details of a cosmetic surgeon who might be able to operate and pin my ears back before my wedding!
“As the day got nearer, she suggested different facials for tired skin, or she would text me after a night out, when I’d been feeling perfectly all right, and ask: ‘Are you feeling better? You weren’t looking well last night’. I started getting insecure about how I looked and after a while, I came away quite depressed after seeing her. I became obsessed that I was an older bride and after the wedding, I saw less and less of her.”
What Emmy didn’t realise was that Judy wasn’t a friend. She was a frenemy – someone who
Frenemies plant seeds of doubt in your mind, then sit back and enjoy watching them grow
masquerades as a friend but is actually quite negative. Frenemies are sneaky by nature and pretend to have your best interests at heart, but they will try to emotionally wound you whenever they get the chance.
They plant seeds of doubt in your mind, then sit back and enjoy watching them grow. If you’re happily married and your husband works shifts, they will ask where your husband is so often that even you will start to doubt he’s really at the office. Then, in the next breath, they will tell you a story about another friend who found out her husband was having an affair while he was supposed to be working for a promotion. But because they’re so subtle and seem so caring, you take on board what they say.
According to Dubai life coach Adam Zargar, women have more frenemies than men, and they’re particularly rife in expat communities like Dubai.
“I think frenemies are all over the world, but there seem to be more in heavily expat, transient and opulent countries,” says Adam, Head of Empowerment Coaching for 2blimitless (www.2blimitless.com). “These frenemies tend to congregate in coffee mornings and mothers’ circles. They’re usually in cliques and behave like teenagers in the way they interact and bitch about people.
“They’re nice to your face, then they tell your friends what you have said. They give up your secrets or they criticise you or your ideas. They do this to make themselves more interesting, get promotion, or get closer to the people they are chatting to. They are devious and will do most of their work behind your back, when at the same time they are all sweetness and light to your face.
“Men may find frenemies in the world of business. They may have a colleague who says one thing to their face and another to their boss. They may praise you for a piece of work, then go behind your back and take credit for it, or they listen to your ideas, then steal them and slyly pretend it was their idea all along.
“Socially, a frenemy will try to steal the limelight. At a party they may wear a revealing dress to upstage the hostess. At a wedding they might make a speech about their best friend, the bride, and her groom, but their underlying message is how wonderful they themselves are.”
According to UK author Annie Ashdown, a frenemy is a jealous, toxic
friend, and she urges us to question why we spend time with them.
“If they subtly put you down, and are not there to celebrate all the good things happening for you, then why are you friends with them?” asks Annie, author of Doormat Nor Diva Be – How to win back control of your life and
relationships (Infinite Ideas). “They’re the ones who encourage you to eat sugar when you’re on a diet or convince you to have another cigarette when you’re trying to give up smoking. A frenemy never jumps up and down when you get a pay rise or lose weight or get a new job or a new partner.”
But why would a so-called friend behave like this – surely our friends should be our champions and be happy for us?
Adam Zargar believes they’re basically jealous and insecure. “They want whatever you’ve got. They want your ring, your car, your child, your husband, your looks or your business and it eats away at them. Sometimes they can’t help it and they don’t realise they’re doing it. They live in a ‘never satisfied’ and ‘I want more’ world. These people will never be happy until they are secure and happy within themselves.
“Time is the best way of rooting these people out. You’ll eventually realise they’re not the great friends they purport to be. I also recommend using my emotional friendship bank. Take a piece of paper and list your friends. Then make a list of all the times they’ve left you feeling good and been there for you, and note down how they do this. This information is the deposit in your emotional bank.
“Now, in another column, make a list of the times when they have let you down or made you feel sad or inadequate. Like any bank, a good friend should leave you with credit. If you’re not in credit, spend less time with them. Work out how much time to spend with certain friends based on the way they make you feel.”
So what can we do if we realise a friend is actually a frenemy and they’re sapping our confidence and dragging us down? We’ve often been friends with our frenemies for years. Having been through good times and bad, through marriages, divorces, children, bereavements and jobs, it’s often hard to move them from speed dial, and sever links with them.
Annie Ashdown says we have two choices – we either move away from them, or we have a very honest conversation with them.
“You may lose this person or you may renegotiate the friendship, but honesty is always the best way forward,” says Annie. “Before confronting anyone, always take three deep breaths from your diaphragm. Remember 38 per cent of our message comes from our tone of voice. Breathing relaxes the muscles around our jaw, which normally tend to tighten. Always speak slowly – talking too fast can come across as controlling or aggressive.
“Then tell your frenemy you felt really upset when they criticised your ears, or you felt disrespected when they went behind your back at work. When they say something snidey, tell them you feel it’s unloving to make a remark like that.
“People can argue with facts but they can’t argue with feelings so express how you feel. Your confidence will rise and you will leave a space for real friends to enter your life.
“Frenemies often exaggerate issues and dramatise the obstacles they’re facing because they like attention, so they make their situation far worse than it actually is. When they do this, don’t engage in the drama. Just say: ‘Sorry to hear you’re having challenges’. Without encouragement, they often become more positive.
“Don’t take their words personally and remember their opinions are just that – opinions, not facts, so don’t make everything they say about you. Reduce contact if you need to, or keep the conversation short when you meet. Beware of flattery – frenemies often use compliments to manipulate you. Before you know it, they have you in their claws and they’re back in your life.”
‘Stop being Mr Nice Guy or Girl. Once we have boundaries, we’re not an easy target for frenemies’
And finally, urges Annie, stop being Mr Nice Guy or Girl. Once we have boundaries, we’re not an easy target for frenemies.
“Don’t let people take advantage of your kind nature,” she advises. “Say no now and then.
“Don’t always be the one to drive on nights out or don’t do the shopping for your in-laws all the time. People will respect you far more if you’re not so nice and 100 per cent willing.
“Negative people like frenemies gravitate towards people who are big-hearted, compassionate and easygoing. They sniff out people who have vulnerable hotspots and don’t speak up. They rarely hang around with those who are confident and have firm positive boundaries.”