When a friend becomes a frenemy

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"I thought the amount of friends I have would be expanding as I grew imgres-2older instead of dropping off," says Licensed Psychologist Dr. Jill Squyres, who's been studying friendships for  more than a decade.

And that dropping off isn't necessarily a bad thing.  Learning when to move on from friends who no longer want the best for you might be the best thing you can do for yourself.

In her role as a psychologist,  Dr. Squyres watches and listens as people deal with all sorts of issues, and she's there to coach and help them cope when friendships came to an end.  In the middle of it all, she had her own 'aha' moment.

I had a best friend, since I was 17.  There's no doubt she was high maintenance, and as we both grew older, that high maintenance behavior became worse.  One day she came to visit me at my home in San Antonio, Texas.  I asked her to come out and see my tomatoes, which were in full bloom.  'Why would I want to see your tomatoes,' she turned and said to me, 'I don't even like tomatoes.'  It was at that moment that everything crystalized for me, this person didn't need to be in my life.  I needed to break up with her.  She had become a frenemy.

Yes, frenemy is a word, defined by  Merriam Webster as "one who pretends to be a friend but is actually an enemy."

To better understand what makes friends click,  Dr. Squyres  put together a friendship survey that I took, along with more than one thousand other people. Turns out I'm pretty average,  with 3-5 close friends and several hundred Facebook friends.  And while there are many who dismiss Facebook friends as not real friends Dr. Squyres disagrees, "having moved around I have met many likeminded friends on Facebook who are there to share good news with and offer tips on how to fix my washing machine."

In the survey, after answering multiple choice questions, you're asked to define friendship.  And here are a few answers Dr. Squyres posted on her blog.

Friends are close. They know me. They understand.

I know I have a friend when I can be myself 100%.

Friends support each other in hard times and celebrate together in good times.

So, if those are qualities of friends,  how do you know when that friend becomes a frenemy?  Is there some key turning point to watch out for?

Dr. Squyres suggests three ways to deal with a frenemy:

  • Recognize who they are. "If you feel dread in the pit of your stomach and don't look forward to talking to or being with this person," says Dr. Squyres, "that's a frenemy.  You're doing all the engaging and planning, and there's no reciprocity.  There's a lack of sensitivity."
  • Protect yourself.  "Seriously, that phrase 'gird your loins,' do it," she says.  "This person doesn't need to be in your life, tearing you down and dismissing what's important to you. Your wellbeing is much more important."
  • Break up. Dr. Squyres says "when you know the friendship has ended, the intensity of that relationship will determine whether you can gradually distance yourself from that person or if you have to formally break up. With the tomato lady I mentioned earlier, I chose to make a formal break by email, because I knew she would steamroller me in a conversation.  I wrote, 'Our friendship no longer works for me, and this isn't a dialogue.  You can respond once, but our relationship is over.'  It's been five years, and we no longer communicate."

Last month, she gave a talk at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community.

As a clinical psychologist for 25 years, I've listened to many smart, interesting clients describe intense loneliness as they speak wistfully about how difficult it has become to find and maintain close friendships.One of my greatest privileges is helping people build the courage, trust, insight, and empathy needed to form the intimate emotional connections most of us crave.

How do we navigate the friend/frenemy path?  Having a few close relationships seems to be the key.

For many, their spouse or life partner is described as their best friend, and I am totally in that camp.  I also have a handful of close friends who I know are there for me through thick and thin. I reach out online to connect with people I know personally, and also with those I don't know on a personal level but am connected with because of our mutual interests.

And this frenemy thing is real.  In putting this piece together, I've realized that over the past few years friends I thought were close have dropped off. Some of these splits were mutual, and living in different parts of the country or state made it easier.  But others have been conscious decisions to move on and let go.

The latest findings in the journal of the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin shows people are actually getting less lonely. Maybe it's because we're realizing it's important to strengthen the ties with those who do have our backs, and cut the ties with those who don't.

Alex Roberts, who describes himself as a 'Student and Old Soul,' wrote a compelling piece Fewer Friends, Greater Happiness

It’s not about how many friends you have; as that number grows, so does your amount of unreliable friendships.What matters most is the number of friends you keep - a feat not easily accomplished. Therein lies, because of such difficulty, reason enough to cherish a true friendship - or two.

lois.melkonian@kdvr.com                                                               www.twitter.com/LoisMelkonian
Lois’ Living Through It blogs are posted on Mondays and Thursdays. Join her Monday mornings around 8:45am on Good Day Colorado.

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