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Dr. Irene S. Levine

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'Frenemy' Enters the Friendship Lexicon

Posted: 09/29/08 06:15 PM ET

The term 'frenemy' is increasingly becoming a part of the friendship lexicon. So I was pleased to recently conduct an email interview with Andrea Lavinthal and Jessica Rozler, the co-authors of Friend or Frenemy? A Guide to the Friends You Need and the Ones You Don't (Harper Paperbacks, 2008).

Andrea is an editor at Cosmopolitan. Her likes: dessert, a white wine spritzer on a warm summer night (seriously), and watching Gossip Girl. She lives, works, shops, and lives to shop in New York City.

Jessica works in book publishing. Her likes: comfort foods, a tall pint of Guinness on a cold winter night, and reruns of the Golden Girls. She lives, works, plays, and lives to play in New York City.

Question:

Do you think every woman has a frenemy at some point in her life?

Answer:
Not every woman has a textbook frenemy (think: the feuds between starlets that the supermarket tabloids love so much), but we think that many of us have had, at one time or another, a friendship that ends up being more negative than it is positive or more toxic than it is healthy. Our friends are often like a second family, so it's inevitable that drama can sometimes arise.

Question:
Are some women more prone to these relationships than others?

Answer:
Definitely. As women, we're sometimes taught to avoid confrontation and put our own feelings last. That being said, a frenemy might take advantage of someone who is nonconfrontational. Also, excessive frenemy drama can surround people who secretly feed off of it. And, while frenemies can happen at any age, they seem to be more prevalent when someone is younger.

Question:
How can a woman recognize a frenemy when she has one?

Answer:
We like to joke that a surefire way to know if someone is a frenemy is that if she (or, in some cases, he) cancels plans at the last minute, you feel a wave of relief. In all seriousness, a frenemy is a negative force in your life who often brings out the worst in you. She's emotionally draining and takes more than she gives in a friendship. To sum it up, even though she's toxic, it's really hard to end the friendship because no one actually expects to break up with a friend.

Question:

Why do some of these relationships linger and go on?

Answer:
In some cases the unpleasantness of remaining in the friendship is nothing compared to the drama of ending it. In other situations, such as at work, you're forced to interact with the person on a regular basis, making it nearly impossible to severe ties. Another reason why these relationships linger is because most women are conditioned to be mindful of other's feelings and would rather endure a friend's flaws than risk coming off as insensitive or unkind.

Question:
Why did you choose to focus your writing on frenemies?

Answer:
We like to write about issues that are pertinent to women our age. After completing our first book, The Hookup Handbook, we were in our mid-20s and realized that our friendships were changing due to a variety of factors. On one hand, things like online social networking, text messaging, and email was making it easier than ever to stay in constant communication with our friends, but also watering down the quality of the friendships. We also noticed that people were hitting milestones, like marriage and children, at different rates, which put a strain on friends that used to have everything in common. And of course, there is the pop culture element: real-life Hollywood frenemies have been dominating the tabloids for a few years now and shows like The Hills and Gossip Girl focus on friend drama.

Question:
Do you think that the introduction of the term 'frenemy' into popular culture will help women? How?

Answer:
Absolutely. We all have friends that bring out the worst in us or make us feel bad about ourselves. Only now we know that they're not really friends. They are frenemies and should be treated as such (i.e. manage your expectations of this person and limit your contact with them.)

Irene S. Levine, PhD is a freelance journalist and author. She holds an appointment as a professor of psychiatry at the New York University School of Medicine and is working on a book about female friendships which will be published by Overlook Press. She also blogs about female friendships at www.fracturedfriendships.com

 
 
 

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