Why the ‘frenemy’ has no place in your life

Screen Grab CNN - Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie

You will have many negative relationships in your life: the enabler, the difficult friend and the toxic friend, but the absolute worst is the frenemy.

The dictionary describes frenemy as: A person with whom one is friendly despite a fundamental dislike or rivalry, a combination of a friend and enemy.

GIF - Rachel Green from Friends

Often people mistake the toxic friend for the frenemy, but there is a very clear distinction between the two; one is consistent, the other is inconsistent. Science has recently looked at the difference between toxic relationships and ambivalent relationships, and the ambivalent relationships are far, far worse for you.

Here’s a quick run down of the ‘Toxic Friend’:

They are always jealous of your achievements rather than excited.

The times you have fun with them are rare, if ever.

You already recognise the relationship is unhealthy.

You have absolutely no idea where you stand with them.

GIF Toddlers and Tiaras
This chick is 100% Toxic-City

So, what’s the difference between the toxic friend and the ambivalent friend?

The ambivalent friend, or ‘frenemy’:

Is a friend that is sometimes excited for you but not always.

She can be really fun but it depends.

They have moments of being really supportive but are not always supportive.

There are days where you know where you stand with them, and other days where you have no idea.

GIF - Jamie King from Private School Girl
Thanks for the compliment…I guess?

The two VERY big differences between to the two friends is that one is consistent, and the other is inconsistent. A frenemy is a perfect example of an ambivalent relationship, and can be far more damaging than our toxic friendships.

There is science to this.

According to Science of People psychologist Bert Uchino found that you are more likely to have higher levels of depressions and stress when you have ambivalent relationships.

One researcher at the University of Minnesota wanted to see the impact frenemies had in the workplace. Michelle Duffy, a management professor at the University of Minnesota led a study which surveyed police officers. This study looked at how often the officers were undermined or supported by their closest co-workers.

In a result that surprised no one, negative (or toxic) relationships, where the officer felt constantly undermined, had extremely negative results. These officers were more likely to take unauthorized breaks, were less committed to their work, more absent from work and reported high levels of stress.

But when the undermining colleague was at times supportive, the levels of stress and anxiety got a lot worse, and not better. These officers took even more breaks, was far less committed and had even higher levels of anxiety, depression and dissatisfaction with life.

Toxic relationships are awful, but they’re also predictable: if a friend constantly undermines you, you come to expect the worst and keep your distance. But when your friend is a supporter who also undermines you, you are always on guard, and you never know if your friend can be trusted. As Duffy’s team explained; “It takes more emotional energy and coping resources to deal with individuals who are inconsistent”.

Ambivalent relationships cause confusion, and the frenemy, your friend who supports you but is also a rival, is the ultimate ambivalent relationship.

If you recognise any of your relationships as ambivalent ones, it’s time to think about cutting off that friendship, for good.

Milly Haddrick


Milly is passionate about the issues and concerns of women navigating their way through the world of sex, dating and relationships, with a side passion for brie, dark chocolate and red wine.

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