Do You Have a Frenemy? 7 Classic Signs

February 27, 2013

A frenemy is someone who pretends to be a friend but is actually a rival. Nearly everyone has one or two somewhere in their life.

goldfish cat fishbowl

Frenemies are often helpful and complimentary, even to excess. But deep down they harbor a second motive, which is to compete with or humiliate their “friend.”

I encountered my first frenemy, though I didn’t know the term—or how to handle it—early in my pastoral career.

A man began attending church and appeared to be the ideal leader. He was highly committed, had a wealth of talent, and was eager to be my right hand assistant in a key area of ministry. We also seemed to hit it off personally, and it seemed like a great relationship.

After a while I noticed that our interactions were a bit one-sided. While he often asked about my spirituality, he always moved the conversation away from his own inner life. He knew all the challenges in my family and vocation and often dwelled on them in conversation.

I began to feel that he was more interested in reminding me of my difficulties than in celebrating my victories. It was becoming a toxic relationship, and I eventually ended the association.

Unidentified, a frenemy can become something of a relational vampire, draining energy by inciting drama, undermining, or passive-aggressive behavior.

So how do you know if you have a frenemy? Here are 7 indicators of frenemy action.

1. Instant Attention

Frenemies often crave intimacy in relationships and want to be your bestie five minutes after you meet. They ask for a lunch date, friend you on Facebook, and start texting all in the same day.

Friends understand that building a relationship takes time.

Frenemies want to be too close too soon.

2. Over Sharing

Frenemies will tell you their life’s story, including highly personal details, over your first coffee. They will volunteer to pick up your kids at school, help with your big project, or take the check every time you go for lunch.

In the back of your mind, you realize there is an imbalance in the relationship – and you’re right. The frenemy will expect that attention to be repaid, with interest.

Friends keep some things about their personal life private and allow you to do the same. Frenemies thrive on relational entanglement.

3. Criticism Given as Humor

Frenemies love the put down, usually given in front of others. When challenged, they generally claim it was intended to be lighthearted, opening the door for a second slam. “Gee, I was only kidding. Some people just can’t take a joke.”

Frenemies love sarcasm, and they are masters of the “Who, me?” expression.

Friends may engage in good-natured ribbing, but they respect your feelings. Frenemies use humor as a cover for dealing body blows.

4. Left-Handed Compliments

Frenemies are effusive with praise at the beginning of the relationship but begin to mix it with mild criticism and, eventually, insults. Don’t mistake this for the constructive critique of a mentor.

Frenemies say things like “That’s not bad writing, especially for a person with your education,” and “Well look who’s on time for a meeting. Seriously, I’m glad you could make it.”

Friends dish out unqualified praise and offer criticism gently, privately, and rarely. Frenemies often mix the two.

5. Digging Up Dirt

Frenemies feed on negative information and always dig for more. If you say you’re feeling a bit down, they’ll want to know why. Was it a fight with your spouse? Are you depressed? Tomorrow, they’ll press further. “How’s it going with your sister, still not speaking?”

At first it will feel good to have someone who remembers what’s happening in your life and seems to care. In time, you’ll notice that this is a purely negative exercise and every conversation becomes an interrogation. Worse, this behavior will be spiritualized with statements like, “I just want to know how to pray for you.”

Friends show concern about your personal problems but allow you a measure of privacy. Frenemies look for the sore spot in your life put their finger on it every time.

6. That Nagging Feeling

If you have the persistent feeling that someone in your relational web cannot be trusted or has an ulterior motive in seeking your friendship, pay attention – you’re probably right.

Friends disarm your fears over time by proving themselves trustworthy. [Tweet That!]

Frenemies produce a feeling of apprehension.

7. Sabotage

A frenemy’s goal is not to help you succeed but to ensure that you fail, or at least feel miserable in your success. This will eventually take the form of passive-aggressive resistance or outright sabotage.

The frenemy shows up five minutes late on your big day, signaling to the team that their agenda is more important. The frenemy will ask you to clarify an embarrassing misstatement in public rather than in private, saying that they “just want to be sure we’re all hearing the same thing.”

Friends care about you and help you succeed. Frenemies care about themselves and feel best when you are at your worst.

I am convinced that frenemies are often unaware of their true motive, which may be fueled by feelings of jealousy, inferiority, or resentment. Even so, it is best to identify these destructive relationships and deal with them quickly.

How have frenemy relationships affected your life?

Lawrence W. Wilson


I blog about Christian faith and ministry. I've also written a few books including The Long Road Home and Why Me? Straight Talk about Suffering.