A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

7 Signs Your Friend Is Actually a Frenemy

Friends are supposed to build you up, not knock you down. These red flags will help you spot the so-called pals that could be more toxic than true.

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iStock/Steve Debenport

She always adds a “but…”

She compliments your new car, freshly painted bedroom, and adorable rescue puppy, and then routinely follows up with a caveat that brings it down a notch: “But, you should have gotten a sunroof,” “But green is the Zen color for bedrooms,” or “What about all that shedding?” “Criticism is a slow but steady poison for any close relationship,” says Jared DeFife, PhD, a psychologist based on Atlanta, Georgia. “But so is bending yourself out of shape trying to constantly win the approval of others.” If your frenemy frequently offers these mixed compliments, you can try to address the problem, but she may not be able to fix it. “You might need to set some boundaries and share your good news with friends who will amplify your joy instead of smothering it under a wet blanket of constant criticism,” DeFife says.

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She never calls or invites you out

Remember when you were younger and you’d talk to your friends on the phone for hours? Texting and social media have made staying in touch a no-brainer, but it has also contributed to estranged relationships. “My feeling is that although we text nearly every day, I need that personal contact with people I care about,” says Irene S. Levine, PhD, author of Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup with Your Best Friend. “To me, it says, ‘You’re important enough that I want to make time for you.’” If your friend can’t figure out how to reach out over the phone or in person for months at a stretch, she may just be a frenemy who doesn’t care enough. “If she has time for Botox appointments, she should have time for brunch,” Levine says. Check out these clues that your friend may be a narcissist.

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She undercuts your work

Do you have a bestie in the next cubicle? Most of us do. However, pay attention to how she or he is benefiting from—or sabotaging—your career. If she’s “adapting” your pitches, noting out loud that you were late again, or offering to help you with your workload (even though you got it under control), she may be secretly out to get you. “Frenemies in the workplace can be especially toxic. Women often get close to their colleagues without realizing that at times performance issues, competition for promotions, or other business factors will impact their friendships,” says Nancy A. Shenker, author of Don’t Hook Up With the Dude in the Next Cube: 200+ Career Secrets for 20-Somethings. Friendship does have its place in the office: Women who form personal bonds may actually work better together according to some studies, but it can be disastrous, too. “Establishing boundaries upfront is key,” Shenker says. “Business is business.”

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iStock/Petar Chernaev

She flirts with your ex

Flirting or suddenly issuing social invitations to your ex without you is a frenemy red flag. “Nip this in the bud and tell your friend exactly what’s bothering you, what you want to change, and how you want it to change,” advises April Mansini, relationship and etiquette expert. If a divorce is involved, it’s important not to assume your friend understands the emotions at play, and therefore may welcome this newsflash and communication as part of the friendship learning curve. However, there’s always Girl Code to fall back on: Don’t date a friend’s ex. “If your friend is trying to hurt you intentionally, after you’ve expressed why the playdates with your ex bother you, move on,” Mansini says. Look out for these 9 signs that you’re being emotionally abused.

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She doesn’t give you credit

It’s easy for working mom friends to assume that stay-at-home moms just “play all day.” This could be a sign of jealousy, actually. “Your friend might be overwhelmed, frazzled, and unhappy, actually,” says Leah Klungness, PhD, a psychologist and parenting expert, “so she glorifies the idea of unscheduled days at home with stretches of time for baking cookies and a leisurely second cup of coffee after the kids get on the bus.” Your friend doesn’t consider the domestic chores on your to-do list and the hard work and patience it takes to raise kids. Try conveying a gentle reminder that everything in life is a trade-off, that the grass isn’t always greener. Hopefully this will resonate with her—and maybe put things into a healthier perspective.

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iStock/Izabela Habur

She dwells on your misfortunes

Especially if you’re going through a crisis, it’s natural for friends to wonder how things are going. But there are constructive ways to ask questions and then there are obtrusive pokes that only serve to highlight your struggles. For example, if a married friend asks how you manage as a single mom, how your ex is doing on child support, or what you do for sex—she probably doesn’t have your interests at heart. “This person will not grow kinder or nicer,” Klungness says. “She harps about the space squeeze in the single mom’s apartment because the square footage of her home is one of the few things in her life’s plus column.” But if it’s any consolation, the intrusive questions about money, child support and co-parenting may suggest, perhaps even unconsciously, that your friend is exploring the same path. These are the best ways to argue with someone who’s “always right.”

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She’s always looking to one-up you

You decide to be workout buddies, but it just turns into a big competition. She’s quick to tell you that she did crunches at home before the gym, and then turns a treadmill session into a race. While studies suggest that a workout buddy can inspire you and ignite friendly competition, the key word here is “friendly.” If not, you’re better off sweating solo or finding another pal whose workout goals are more compatible with yours. Don’t miss other clear signs you’re in a toxic friendship.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest

Christine Coppa
Christine Coppa is a print + digital journalist with 16 years of experience writing about health, wellness, parenting and lifestyle. She has written for Glamour, Cosmopolitan, Health, Elle, Woman's Day, Good Housekeeping, Parents and their supporting websites. Coppa is also a fact-checker, research editor and brand content copywriter. Her book, Rattled! was published by Crown in 2009. Find her on the soccer sidelines cheering on her son, Jack.