Is there anything more exhausting than stringing along a “friendship” — or even acquaintanceship — that is more about thinly-veiled competition and you going home at the end of the day feeling vaguely terrible about yourself than any actual beneficial interaction? It’s as though you spend all of this time investing in an account, tending to it and making it a priority, constantly checking the balance and making sure it’s taken care of, only to come to make a withdrawal one day and find it completely empty. The work of maintaining the friendship is more about maintaining appearances, a sense of obligation we have to keep a kind of stalemate of “being the bigger person” and not actually cutting things off. For some reason, we’re happier to remain “friends” on social networks, to see each other when out, and be nothing but aspartame-sweet when we run into them — but why?
How does it really benefit us in any way to keep putting our hands to the fire that we know is going to burn us, to be overwhelmed with a general feeling of “ugh, not them again” when we see them and yet to keep playing the “oh gosh aren’t we just such good friends” game? Does it make us look like better people to have a wider group of friends and keep up an illusion that we just get along with everyone? If every other comment you make to each other is a thinly-veiled snarky dig, and there is clearly none of the mutual support or even common interest that usually keeps people together, isn’t it just kind of turning us into bad people? We become friends with people for any number of reasons — proximity, mutual acquaintances, work, school — and there is no law (to my knowledge) that requires we stay that way until our tombstones. But yet there are often people who are clearly just no good for us that we allow to keep making us feel shitty.
If you think about it, frenemies are often the kind of people we would imagine are perfect friends for us. They’re usually people who work/study in the same fields — often leading to a seething-but-unspoken sense of competition — who have many qualities we share and, because we can’t quite call them out in ourselves, we tend to really dislike in others. Their tendency to make us feel excluded or constantly vying for an inexplicable kind of affection/approval we’re not even sure we want is terribly addictive. It’s the perfect example of a relationship stripped completely of its redeeming qualities and reduced to a series of slights, forced smiles, and half-lies. We keep them because actually sitting down with someone and being like, “This ‘friendship’ is clearly not healthy for me — and I’m guessing not for you, either — so I think it would be best if we just stopped trying to force things,” would be regarded as “strange” or even “bitchy” by society, when it is often what we most need.
Maybe it wouldn’t immediately result in the complete severing of contacts (or, God forbid, a defriending on Facebook), but it might get a conversation going. It could be an opportunity to say openly to each other that you have felt hurt or made uncomfortable by the other’s actions. It could be a chance for — gasp! — actual progression from “secretly disdained frenemy” to “not my best friend, but a pretty decent person overall.” After all, so many of the things we’re quick to blame on maliciousness on the part of others are often the result of ignorance or thoughtlessness. No one is perfect, but few people are wholly bad — including our frenemies.
But even if the direct confrontation route isn’t an option, there is no reason to continue an entirely masochistic relationship that brings you nothing. Not for competition, not because you know the same people, not for anything. Life is simply too short to keep investing time, effort, and that really weird hyper-curiosity one can have towards the object of their intense love-hate. It’s a cliché, to be sure, but no matter how many times we remind ourselves of how precious our emotional investments are, we’ll still find ourselves at three AM, angrily hate-scrolling through a Facebook photo album or a blog. It’s this sick kind of drive, a cheap thrill, like passing a cruel note in a middle school science class. But it’s not actually doing anything for us, and it so clearly erodes the soul. When it comes to friends, if you don’t even like some of them when it comes down to it, then what kind of person does that make you?