Spotting your frenemy and how to deal with one

By Beth Cooper Howell

Is your friend a little off? Do they laugh when you fall or talk behind your back? They might be a frenemy. Here’s how to spot one and what to do

By Beth Cooper Howell |

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You ace a challenging maths test and can’t wait to tell your BFF the good news. She’ll be happy for you, right?

Well … yes and no. When you text her, she sends back a smiley emoji with an odd message: “Haha, great job. Your brother must be proud of himself for helping you cheat.”

You’re totally confused – is she teasing, or being serious? Should you be offended, or learn to take a joke?

Friend of foe?

A “frenemy” is someone who pretends to be your friend, but is actually an enemy. This person doesn’t have your best interests at heart, but does a nice job of hiding it.

Urban Dictionary describes frenemies as enemies disguised as friends. A crazy contradiction, but that’s exactly why they’re such smooth operators.

Business leader and consultant Michael Nichols explains that frenemies are very supportive and shower you with compliments; but their ulterior motive is to compete with or humiliate you.

Why would anyone want to be friends with a frenemy? Surely you can work out who has your back, and who doesn’t?

It’s not that simple. Frenemies are smart – but once you’re onto them, they’re easy to spot and boot out.

Flag that frenemy!

They’ll morph from stranger to soul sister within days. Frenemies want to bond quickly and will be all over you like a happy puppy.

“Frenemies often crave intimacy and want to be your ‘bestie’ five minutes after you meet,” says Nichols.

Real friends, on the other hand, take their time getting to know each other – and they don’t demand details or every intimate secret.

Too much, too soon. After the small talk, a frenemy goes into great detail about their life and expects you to do the same. She also might offer to do your homework, water your plants, and help your mum with dinner…all in the same day.

Problem is, this closer-than-close relationship turns sour if you don’t play along, or won’t return the favour.

She may play the sympathy card (“Look how much I do for you, but you’re too selfish to spend weekends with me/loan me HK$100/dump your other BFF for me”), or she might turn nasty overnight (“Fine, don’t bother to call me back EVER again!”).

Real friends understand when you’re busy and don’t expect you to drop everything

for them all the time. A frenemy’s most disturbing trait is her ability to smile while she stabs you in the
back. The type who pretends that her insults and criticisms are just “jokes”, leaving you looking like an idiot if you call her behaviour out in public.

Real friends may tease you, but respect you and know when to stop.

A frenemy will tag your weak spots and zoom in on your bad hair days. Instead of being sympathetic and supportive, they’ll slyly encourage you to feel worse.

A real friend would say, “I’m sorry you’re hurting. Here’s a hug and let’s go for coffee, okay?”, while a frenemy delights in you being down, making you feel a million times worse (“You must hate feeling like this. I’m glad I’m not you right now!”).

Go with your gut. Sometimes, says Nichols, you just have a “nagging feeling” that a friendship is “off”. Trust your first instinct and observe your “friend” carefully.

Outwit and outsmart

Some frenemies are easy to dump, while others stick around, causing chaos in your social life. Here’s what to do. Cut communication – reply to fewer texts and unfollow her on social media.

Be calm and collected if things turn nasty. Do not rise to the bait.

If she confronts you, have a diplomatic reply ready. Tell her that you don’t seem to get on as well as before and that taking a break would be positive.

If she bullies or harasses you, keep screenshots or copies of everything. You can also make a note of anything she’s said about your other friends.

Lastly, be a good friend to your other friends – show them that you’re kind and decent (and not the crazy person your frenemy tries to paint you as).

Remember to talk to an adult if your frenemy is interfering in your personal life, causing problems at school, or threatens you.

Edited by Andrew McNicol

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