Life Lessons from TV and Film: Dealing With Frenemies

Heathers (1988) Winona Ryder , Lisanne Falk, Kim Walker, and Shannen Doherty

Image from Entertainment Weekly

According to Wikipedia, a frenemy refers to “someone who pretends to be a friend but actually is an enemy—a proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing in the world of friendships.” These relationships can be extremely destructive, creating a pervasive sense of unease and ultimately eroding your self-confidence. And because the frenemy often comes in the guise of collaborator or confidante, the reveal of their true nature can leave you with painful feelings of betrayal. In my experience, I’d much rather know that someone has it out for me from the beginning.

Andrea Lavinthal and Jessica Rozler, co-authors of Friend or Frenemy? A Guide To The Friends You Need And The Ones You Don’t, break it down this way:

She’s the Betty to your Veronica, the Tom to your Jerry, and the Heather #1 to your Heather #2. She invites you shopping when your credit card is maxed out, brings you cupcakes when you’re trying to cut back on calories, and brags about her fabulous, very important job while you’re barely staying afloat in the corporate shark tank. Basically, she takes sick pleasure in your pain. It doesn’t really matter what she is—underminer, user, clinger, backstabber, or simply clueless. The only thing that matters is what she isn’t: a real friend.

Luckily, film and television have taught us a lot about how to handle frenemies! Here are a few examples of the lessons I’ve learned from the big and small screens.

Mean Girls Come in All Shapes and Sizes

In the movie Mean Girls, written by the brilliantly funny Tina Fey, Cady (Lindsay Lohan) has been living in Africa and has just returned to the States. Up until now she’s been homeschooled, so this is the first time she’s had to navigate the waters of high school cliques. At first it seems like she’s in for a bumpy social ride when she befriends some of the class misfits, but then the group of popular girls known as “the Plastics” invites her to be a part of their inner circle. Cady decides to join the cool clique so that she can spy on the girls and eventually help her less popular friends get revenge for some of the humiliations they’ve suffered at the hands of the Plastics. At least that’s the plan. Things go awry when Cady finds herself enjoying some of the perks of being a Plastic, and her less than popular friends prove that they are just as capable of being mean girls.

Still have questions about what a Frenemy (or an Enemend) is? Watch this hilarious trailer for Mean Girls, and they’ll clear it up for you.

Hating Yourself So That Everyone Else Likes You Isn’t Worth It

In the 1988 movie Heathers, the three most popular, beautiful girls in town, all named Heather, attempt to convince Veronica (Winona Ryder), the reluctant fourth member of their clique, to do the things that will make her just as popular as they are. Though on the surface they seem to want good things for her, Veronica knows deep down that she doesn’t connect with these girls. Yet she can’t seem to extract herself from their orbit until rebellious, lethal JD (Christian Slater) arrives in town. The film is a dark, satirical look at the friends who make you feel bad about yourself, all the while professing to have your best interests at heart. The following exchange highlights the essence of a frenemy:

Veronica: I just killed my best friend.

J.D.: And your worst enemy.

Veronica: Same difference.

Harriet would kill me if I neglected to mention that Heathers has been adapted into a musical by the creative team of Laurence O’Keefe (Legally Blonde, Bat Boy), Kevin Murphy (Reefer Madness) and Andy Fickman (Reefer Madness, She’s the Man), which proves that the topic of destructive friendships and high school angst never gets old.  Here’s a preview of the show from a special press event earlier this year. It is currently playing Off-Broadway in New York City at New World Stages.

Being Opposites Doesn’t Have to Mean Being in Opposition

Sex and the City is often credited with re-popularizing the term “frenemy.” As Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte and Samantha brunched, shopped and slept around Manhattan in the late 1990s and early 2000s, audiences were treated to four very different women relying on one another as they each tried to find their own version of happily ever after. The nature of female friendship was a recurring theme.

The two seemingly most opposite characters from the show are the promiscuous Samantha and the conservative Charlotte. However, despite constantly disagreeing over ethics, the two women discover throughout the series that at times they make decisions or share opinions that are surprisingly similar. For a fun breakdown of their relationship, check out this blog post on the UK Comedy Central site. It’s a great example of how two distinct friends whom one might expect to be frenemies end up using their differences to grow and develop. Sometimes it’s actually the people we seem to be most alike that can cause the most grief.

Real friendship can survive competition

The topic of frenemies was explored musical theater-style on the 97th episode of Glee, which aired on February 25th, 2014. Entitled “Frenemies,” the episode explores how competition can change friendships, often bringing out some ugly, previously hidden traits. It deals with the particular strain of frenemy-ship that occurs when a friend becomes a rival.

As graduates Santana and Rachel navigate careers in New York City, they must deal with balancing out their high school past with their current levels of success (or lack thereof). Back at McKinley High, former couple and current buddies Tina and Artie are in competition for the valedictorian spot. In both situations, drama (and singing) ensues, including trash talk, one upsmanship and even some slapping. But when a critical moment is reached, Rachel and Santana part ways, whereas Artie and Tina choose to use that moment to reaffirm their support of one another. The former duo shows their true frenemy colors, whereas the latter duo proves that their friendship can rise above their ambitions.

Rachel and Santana sing Brave by Sara Bareilles.

If you find yourself doubting that a friend has your best interests at heart, trust your gut and find a way to move on from them. No one should be able to make you feel less than the wonderful person you are, especially someone who proclaims to be your friend.