What Does the Term Frenemy Really Mean?


Do you feel like someone might not have your best interests at heart?

A new study published in the Southern Communication Journal offers a succinct definition of a term that has become commonplace in pop culture over the past decade: What it means to be a ‘frenemy.’
“Despite the prevalence of frenemies in popular culture and the significant effect these relationships can have on our lives, frenemy scholarship is limited and contradictory,” says Dr. Jenna Abetz, the lead author of the study. “Developing an in-vivo definition of the frenemy relationship portrays the realities of these relationships as they are lived.”
To land on such a definition, Abetz and her team interviewed 29 adults between the ages of 19 and 62 to get a better sense of how individuals who have had a frenemy define and understand the term.
They found that many of the interviewees shared similar feelings about frenemy relationships, leading the researchers to land on the following definition: “Relationships, often negative, steeped in situational ties and shared social connections that outwardly appear friendly but are fraught with underlying competition, jealousy, or distrust.”
Unlike genuine friendships, the researchers found that frenemy relationships displayed three prominent characteristics:

1.Competitiveness (viewing the other more as a rival to outdo than a friend to support)
2.Jealousy (either in terms of social connections or material possessions)
3.Distrust (a lack of respect and care in the friendship)
The dynamic was described by some interviewees as ‘hot and cold,’ with the frenemy repeatedly giving mixed signals as they shifted between friend-like and foe-like mentalities.
While many of these relationships were found embedded in unavoidable social circles and networks like family, school, and work, some participants stated that frenemy relationships evolved from seemingly true friendships that became pressured due to external circumstances.
Interestingly, having a frenemy was more of a ‘felt’ experience than a verbally defined label. In other words, frenemy relationships have an element of ‘unspokenness’ in them.
This is not to say that frenemy relationships don’t come with their own silver linings. Some interviewees shared positive outcomes amidst the dark cloud of a frenemy relationship.
“For some, the outcome of having a frenemy was better awareness of what they wanted and deserved in a true friendship,” explains Abetz. “Others reflected on those teachable life lessons — and that having a frenemy highlighted future relational red flags for them."
Here are two thoughts shared by interviewees that highlight the positive side of their experience with frenemies:

* “I’m more cautious, I see how they treat others before I get close to them.”
* “You learn how people are and what signs to look out for in a friend. It helps you reconsider all the earlier signs.”
Experience with frenemies or frenemy-like relationships underscores the importance of learning what a good friendship looks and feels like by having experience with a wide range of social relationships. This is especially important for children and adolescents to understand as they learn how to navigate the social world. They need to know that while no friendship is perfect, frenemy dynamics are not genuine friendships and they should not feel compelled to maintain them if there is a clear undercurrent of distrust.
“It is important for parents and educators to be able to assist adolescents in identifying unhealthy relational patterns and how they manifest in friendships,” says Abetz. “While learning how to make and be a friend is one of the central developmental tasks of elementary school, as children age they still need guidance and support navigating challenging friendship dynamics.”
Abetz hopes that her research not only helps people define a somewhat indescribable relationship feeling but that it can be used to teach young adults how to seek out more positive relationships in their own lives.

psychology today

10 replies
  1. Zahra bahram
    Zahra bahram says:

    Every human being needs social communication and friends, and how to find friends should be taught to children. Friendships may appear to be close, but there may be jealousy and competition behind it. When we learn how to control these problems, we benefit ourselves

  2. Elika Khodadi
    Elika Khodadi says:

    This article was very useful and concrete. These days, most of the superficial relationships in the society have trained people in such a way that they are willing to abuse others to achieve their own goals. Most of the friendships only have a positive and good appearance, but in principle, we usually choose people for friendship that we can We can get more profit through them or those who have more benefits for us and can make us reach our goals sooner.

  3. Davood galedari
    Davood galedari says:

    According to the text, by examining relationships and people and having knowledge for the type of relationship, you can grow by entering or leaving relationships

  4. Atena soleimani
    Atena soleimani says:

    It is very useful to do a program called making friends for many children and for parents to teach the children this issue in the future,it will make them have better social relations.

  5. Zahra choopanbishe
    Zahra choopanbishe says:

    Hi Professor
    In my opinion, if the parents reach the level of insight and understanding that their child from the very beginning who wants to enter the social environment to a competent counselor and someone who has acquired knowledge and skills well together,
    refer to
    Definitely, many of that child’s problems such as making friends, communicating, controlling emotions, etcHe can control and restrain them very well.

  6. Mohadeseh khan mirzaie
    Mohadeseh khan mirzaie says:

    Hello, dear professor
    We may interact with people who are both friends and enemies at the same time, or someone who appears friendly but has hidden motives or bad intentions. A crazy person may be someone we associate with and enjoy spending time with, but also compete with or undermine us in some way. Most of these relationships may be rooted in our own weaknesses.
    It’s important to set boundaries and communicate openly when we suspect someone who might be toxic, and prioritize relationships with people who are honest, supportive, and respectful.

  7. Shirin farrokh
    Shirin farrokh says:

    Failure to communicate at school can lead to many injuries. For example, many children who have limited social relationships experience a lot of stress and anxiety and fall behind in their studies. For this reason, dating education should be a priority for schools and parents.

  8. Khadijeh sedaghat
    Khadijeh sedaghat says:

    Also, tell your teen to be honest with each other about your thoughts, feelings, and actions. Honesty brings trust. Few things can damage a relationship as much as lying.
    be proud

  9. mahnaz nouruzi
    mahnaz nouruzi says:

    hi dear professor
    I think that even though pretending has become a part of daily life and social communication, we can still find friends for ourselves, but children especially need guidance to make friends. Today’s parents are very busy and considering the impressionability of teenagers from Their friends need school counselors to help them in this matter
    good luck


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