Why Do Women Have Frenemies?

This weekend, The New York Post ran a piece by author Lucinda Rosenfeld called “Why Women Are Frenemies.” Rosenfeld has a book coming out that’s related to the topic called I’m So Happy for You: A Novel About Best Friends, and in her essay she implies that the root of most female frenemy relationships is jealousy. I like Rosenfeld’s writing — she’s best known for What She Saw — but I’m a little resistant to the notion that all women engage in these “frenemy”-type relationships, and that if they DO have them, it all comes down to being jealous. She writes:

“For girls in their early 20s, rivalries tend to revolve around beauty and the attention of men. Later, it becomes easy to measure your lot in life (against that of your best friends) by the size of your wedding ring, the square footage of your apartment, the number of zeros in your or your husband or partner’s salary, and whether or not your kids got into a gifted-and-talented program.”

Really? I don’t have any frenemies I can think of, though I do have a few friends who occasionally grate on my nerves. But anyone who would ever fall on a list of enemies — even just for an hour or a day — is not someone I think I would call a friend to begin with. To find out just how true Rosenfeld’s theory is, I asked some fellow women about their experiences with “frenemies.”

“I’ve been trying to break up with a frenemy because she’s the world’s biggest flake. She’s one of those women that always tries to find one flaw in an otherwise stunning ensemble just so she can call attention to it. I consider her an enemy for these reasons, but she also has the idea that only her time is valuable. That said, she’s also a friend because we’ve known each other for more than 10 years. When we’re together we can talk for hours about our lives or problems. Plus, we still have a lot in common.”

“I used to work at a magazine and I worked with someone I consider a frenemy. She made really friendly overtures as soon as I started working there, but her friendliness was laced with undermining comments about my career. Even though we didn’t have the same job description, it became clear she felt threatened by me and did little things to prove she had a little more power than me.

One time, an editor told me to book a conference room so I could do a phone interview for an article and this girl wouldn’t do it for me until I proved to her that I actually had permission from the editor. Another time, I lent her my digital tape recorder and she accidentally erased an interview I’d done with one of the Kennedys. Another time, she asked me to be a snitch and tell her what other co-workers gossiped about in private so she could report it to the editor-in-chief. But most annoying was how she was only one year older, but she’d give me career advice as if she had tons of wisdom, like, ‘You should do this…’ and ‘So-and-so is a good person to know.’

Still, we were friendly. We read the same magazines and books, saw the same movies, and chatted every day at work. Once we went shopping after work together, too. Nevertheless, I can still recall the sweet taste of the schadenfreude I felt when I left that magazine for a better one and she was still there!”

“In high school, I had a serious frenemy. We were best friends who hung out all the time—and I think we always were jockeying to be the superhero rather than the sidekick. We were competitive about everything from who got better grades to who could charm the guy at the 7-11 into letting us buy beer. We were also competitive about guys—we often liked the same guy and both went after him. And, I’m not proud of it, but I definitely made out with two of her boyfriends and never told her about it. Just to prove to myself that I could.

I thankfully haven’t had that relationship with anyone since, but I do currently have a best friend who I don’t introduce to guys I’m seeing, because she has this nasty way of bringing up really embarrassing/unflattering/inappropriate stories and keeps going on them, even if I try to change the subject.”

“In general, I just have women in my life that I love and love to hang out with. I’m not friends with chicks who annoy me or make me feel bad about myself. That said, I’m kind of forced friends with this one girl (she’s the girlfriend of a friend) who is condescending and fake and flirts with my boyfriend. But she also has some form of cancer, so then I think, Jesus, that must really suck, and I feel a bit bad for not liking her.”

“I had a frenemy! She was clearly in love with my boyfriend at the time, and would go out of her way to act all sweet to me in front of him, then she was super nasty when he wasn’t around. And, of course, I looked like the irrational jealous one. The whole sordid so-called friendship ended when they finally did end up sleeping together. I don’t speak to either one of them anymore.”

“There’s one woman in particular I’ve been friends with for about 6-7 years. At the beginning we were sort of in love with each other, but as time passed I realized that she’d gone through the same cycle of co-dependence with a series of people, and what started as a mutually obsessed camaraderie devolved into a highly irritating game of trying to shake her neediness off.

Over the years, this woman has been hugely supportive of me in dire circumstances, and is smart and funny and incredibly insightful, so in some ways I feel indebted to her. But that doesn’t detract from the fact that at this point, I actively dislike her for a variety of reasons, ranging from her mind-numbing loquacity to her overwrought sensitivity, passive aggressiveness, childish behavior and abhorrent table manners. I dread it every time she calls, but I continue to see her, hang out with her, talk to her on a regular basis, in part because I WANT to go back to the time when I saw only her good qualities and loved spending time with her, and partly because I’m afraid to burn any bridges she affords me. It’s just bearable enough that I don’t think it warrants ‘breaking up’ with her, but it’s almost a joke, because every time I come back from hanging out with her I find myself fuming about one thing or another, and have on more than one occasion reasoned that it’s just not worth the agitation.

I’m meeting her for drinks later tonight.”

Clearly, many of these experiences with frenemies are linked to competition or jealousy of what the other has. But one of the women whom I spoke to also had this to say, which I found rather insightful.

“I’ve had periods of contentious relations with all of my close girlfriends, and since the common denominator is me, I have to assume that I’m the primary reason why all my tight friendships have gone through rocky periods not unlike those of a volatile romance. As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to realize that sometimes you simply grow apart from people and no amount of talking it out will get you back to the place you might once have been with a friend.”

And isn’t that what comes to define a person as a frenemy? That no matter how much you want to keep them as a friend, there are things that make it impossible for you to get along?

What have your experiences been with “frenemies”?