On Frenemies and Frenemity

By Kollengode S Venkataraman           thepatrika@aol.com


Recently I came across a syrupy multi-serial-forwarded e-mail from India, this time on Friends and Friendship. The oozing syrup in the e-mail  was too much for me. That triggered me to explore a paradoxical relationship everybody recognizes and nobody can escape from. This unnamed complex relationship, present in all cultures, now has a portmanteau word in English for those in this relationship – frenemies. The actual definition of frenemy depends on the dictionary you go to. Here are the examples:

  1. Merriam Webster: one who pretends to be a friend but is actually an enemy.
  2. Google.com: a person with whom one is friendly despite a fundamental dislike or rivalry.
  3. Wikipedia: “Frenemy” is an oxymoron and a portmanteau of “friend” and “enemy” that can refer to either an enemy pretending to be a friend or someone who really is a friend but also a rival.
  4. Dictionary.com: Informal; a person or group that is friendly toward another because the relationship brings benefits, but harbors feelings of resentment or rivalry.

From the nuanced differences in these definitions, it appears, the meaning of the term is still evolving. There lies the problem: no matter in what sense you use it, readers can internalize it in different ways.

From frenemy we can also coin an abstract noun frenemity, like enmity. Frenemity is known only among Homo sapiens, both the male and female species. The male species have this when they are in the same competing business as among news bureau chiefs of NBC, CBS, and ABC. Frenemity exists among doctors or lawyers in the same specialty practicing in the same town, or between editors of the NYTimes, WaPo and WSJ. In sports among QBs of football teams of comparable ranking. It is common among musicians, writers, dancers, actors everywhere, and among politicians vying for the same office. When two people in the same profession are unevenly matched, the one perched on the perceived higher level often has condescension toward the other. Often, the other guy/gal perceives the condescension. Those perceiving themselves to be below reciprocate with envy that can contextually morph into hatred. This one-way relationship is not frenemity. For frenemity, these love-hate feelings have to be mutual among equals.

Even though frenemity is gender-neutral, people watchers arguably believe frenemity is more prevalent among women.

How do you identify your frenemies among those with whom you interact socially? You can start with the points below. You can add your own to embellish the list.

Frenemies love you sometime and hate you some other time. But it’s not always this simple — they can love and hate you at the same time. It can be more complex: when you love them, they hate you; or vice versa.

When two frenemies love each other at the same time, it is all honey.  When they hate each other simultaneously, it is all vinegar. Worse still, it can be caustic lye.

If the spouses of frenemies are normal friends, this can lead to awkward moments between the spouses. If they are not careful, frenemies will drag their spouses into their orbit. If these gullible spouses take sides, eventually they too end up as frenemies.

Frenemies, whether they love or hate, are always in each other’s thoughts; they constantly try to read each other’s minds, and try to stay one step ahead of the other in the social game they play. When they misread the other, it can lead to awkward interactions between frenemies. When these interactions happen in public, they are hilarious to onlookers. This is what nourishes gossips.

Frenemies care for you, for sure; but your frenemies also can be gleeful in your misery, particularly when they are in the hate-you mode.

Your frenemies are not from your family, thank God. If they are, they are your relatives, your cousins, your brothers-in-law or sisters-in-law. For Indians, they are your sambhandhis, particularly when they belong to the same caste, or the same socio-cultural group in a different Indian language (as when a Tamil marries a Bengali/Gujarati/Punjabi/Kannada/Telugu, and in its varied permutations and combinations). The caste identities add another toxic dimension. Or when they are your oarpadis or oar-agatti (Tamil), oori-gatti (Kannada) or jethanis (Hindi), or todi-kodalu (Telugu).

Though frenemies are not your blood relatives or relatives by marriage, they can be more lethal.

In interacting with frenemies, women appear to be more sophisticated than men in navigating the turbulent, turbid frenemity waters.  You realize your frenemies have long memories, because you have a long memory.

Frenemies are ready to share your pains; Painfully for you, they share your pains with others who know you well, more so when they are in the Hate-You mode.

Whether you hate your frenemies or they hate you, you learn to live with them, because you cannot live without them either. As you read through this short piece, if the images of your own frenemies, or the images of your friends who are mutual frenemies flash through your mind, don’t blame me.   ♣    

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