F is for Frenemy

Photo by Stuart Miles, freedigitalphotos.net

Photo by Stuart Miles, freedigitalphotos.net

A friendship, too, is a kind of romance-complete with possessiveness, jealousy and mistrust. -Nick Laird

While sifting your friends from your foes should be straightforward, it’s not always obvious who’s got your back, and who’s getting ready to stab a knife in it.

Friends are supposed to bring out the best in you, even when you’re at your worst, which is why it’s so disturbing when someone you thought was your friend turns out to be a frenemy. Whether you’re dramatically dumped, or you simply discover that she’s just not that into you, you never forget your first frenemy.

“Sometimes people bring out the worst in each other,” I tried to explain to my young friend, who had recently been excluded from the cool kids group at lunch. The poor girl was in tears, and I certainly couldn’t blame her. All summer long she had played with Queen Bee, a neighbor, and returned to fifth grade thinking they were the best of buds. But as soon as school started, poor Wannabe was ostracized in favor of Queen Bee’s more popular minions.

“It’s like all of our summer fun never happened,” Wannabe wailed. “We hung out at the water park, the beach, went to the movies, had tons of sleepovers. I can’t believe she doesn’t want to sit with me at lunch!”

Hearing this sad story brought me right back to my own fourth grade summer and the back-to-school diss from my own generation’s Queen Bee. Quite frankly, I’m still devastated and I want my yellow ski jacket and my puka shell necklace back.

“Will it be any comfort for you to know that she’s going to end up divorced, raising three kids from three different fathers?” I offered.

Wannabe looked at me blankly. “She was mean to me yesterday at school, but then after school she came over to play like nothing had happened.”

Oh dear.

“Then today, she spread out her lunch box and said there was no room for me at their table,” sobbed Wannabe. “I can’t believe it.”

Unfortunately, I can. You just found yourself your first frenemy.

It’s hard enough for an adult to understand the wicked combination of arrogance and insecurity that creates cliques, let alone explain them to a child who has just had her heart broken.

Times may change but mean girls are eternal.

I took a deep breath.

How could I explain to Wannabe that even the best of friendships can be odd, complicated and messy? Every relationship has an ever-shifting balance of power. There are some people, like Queen Bee, who thrive on other people’s neediness or weaknesses. She bosses her little bees around and they’re too spineless to stand up to her.

Wannabe might have been sad, but she wasn’t spineless.

How could I help her understand that there’s this whole social convention when a romantic relationship breaks up, but there’s no parallel convention for friendships, even though the breakup of a friendship can be more shocking and more devastating?

“Does any of this make sense?” I asked, and again I got a blank stare from under her tears.

I took another stab. “If someone doesn’t treat you like a friend, all the time, no matter who else is around or who else is watching, then they’re probably not really your friend,” I explained.

Finally a flicker of recognition in her sad, sweet eyes.

“They are what we call a frenemy, someone who is both a friend and an enemy, which is no way to be a friend.”

“Like a bad friend,” said Wannabe. “A bend. Or a frad.”

I almost yelled at her that the word was frenemy, not bend, and that she should grow up already because my word was better than hers-seriously, bend? Frad? What are you, a ten-year-old?-but then that might not have been the friendliest thing to do.

“Exactly. Someone who will continue to bring you down and make you sad until you stick up for yourself, at which point you’ll probably have a fight and won’t be friends anymore anyway.”

“That doesn’t sound like someone I want to be friends with in the first place,” she said.

“That’s right,” I said. “It’ll get better, I promise. That’s your first lesson of the school year. You’ll have lots of good and true friends. Now give me your lunch money.”

When Leslie’s not offering sage advice to anyone who will listen, she can be reached at Leslie@LeslieDinaberg.com. For more columns visit www.LeslieDinaberg.com. Originally published in the Santa Barbara Daily Sound on November 11, 2011.

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