Frenemies at the Gate

I was sitting at the Starbucks on Dupont Circle sipping my usual skinny latte with no foam, and my mind drifted to the woman I had just bumped into minutes ago. We were friends (and I use that term loosely) at business school. We moved in the same social circles, got all dressed up and teetered off in our high heels to the same glam-nerd b-school parties, and had probably (if only I could remember) bonded over many a vodkatini.

Frenemies_4 But she was also that friend who would gush about how great it is to see me, and omg its been too long, and we must get together for dinner, but never ever follow up. And she once said to me “that’s strange that he won't come visit you from Philly.. like my boyfriend, who comes to see me all the way from Timbuktoo.” It may have been true, but the point is that’s a hurtful thing to say. It is totally against the Girl Code, according to which you say “why hasn’t that retard come to see you, you deserve way better than that girlfriend!”

At that moment I decided that she was so off my list. She was a total frenemy! And that got me thinking about such girls throughout my life. We've all experienced various versions of this phenomenon. That girl existed way before we first heard the term frenemy on Sex & the City.

That girl was the one who, when you were young, you envied, adored, and hated in that very special combo-way only girls can. While you harbored these very particular resentments against her you wanted to be her.  

The first time this happened it was probably on the playground or in grade school. But the time it had the most impact on you was probably in high school. She was really nice and sweet on the surface, but so fake that even my ten-year old brother could see right through her. Only, I couldn’t, and I thought she was the next best thing since sliced bread. But even I knew deep down that she said or did subtle things that made me feel bad. Like, she was a little too ready to break a shopping date with me at the slightest chance to hang out with a more popular girl. And she seemed unable to perform even the most basic steps of girl bonding rituals. A normal woman might say, "what are you talking about, you look amazing in that dress." She was more likely to say "don’t worry, not everyone looks good in tight fitting clothing." Ouch.

Later you'd encounter another version of her in college or grad school. You had grown up, you were more secure and smarter. You weren’t going to fall for this crap easily. But your frenemy was also now more sophisticated, accomplished, and competitive. The thing is by this time the lines had blurred; you had a lot in common with her. You actually enjoyed conversation with her, as well as the parties, the gossip, and the apparent intimacy created by getting the lowdown on mutual frenemies over bottles of red wine.

Yet, you couldn’t completely trust her. On occasion you hear she said this about you to that person. She still fails to demonstrate the loyalty and support you expect – and get - from a  real friend. 

A third version of that Girl is now someone in your professional life. The frenemy at work is the most dangerous. Because now money and a livelihood are involved. You probably like her at some level - and indeed need her – as a friendly ear at work. And on the surface the relationship is deceptively pleasant. But underneath it, she is jealous, competitive, female, and ferocious. And you’ve felt that blade in your back once too often and when you least expect it - she’s showed you up at important meetings or not defended you at critical times.

Why are some women like this? I suppose, in the end, we’ve just got to accept it. Some people are genetically unable to have true friends. They always have an angle and they've got to have the edge. It's better for them if people don't get too close to them. That’s why they are like that. Might as well enjoy whatever role they play in your life. As long as you understand that they do not play for your team, and don’t have any expectations that they ever will, things will be just fine.

It’s a bit like China and the US. As the prolific Stephen Colbert put it: China is our Frenemy. They're communists, but they stabilize our economy. 

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