One good thing about getting older, I’ve told my daughter, is that you finally run out of time and patience for frenemies. Life’s going fast! The pace is picking up! Time to jettison the toxic cargo! Adios to all those “friends” who cut you off at the knees or armpits, all the time smiling and feigning concern.
I wasn’t always like this. Good lord, no. Like many women (and excuse me, but I think women have more problems with frenemies than the more straightforward sex with the XY chromosomes), I spent my first, adolescent and younger adult years keeping my friends close and my enemies closer; that’s what happens when you can’t tell the two groups apart.
“Somebody told me you’re a writer,” said the woman with a voice like a goose being strangled. She was a writer, too, and someone had mentioned me to her. “I said, yeah, I bet she’s just been hanging onto editors’ knees for years.” She blared her horn-honking laugh into the phone.
Naturally, she and I were “friends” for a few years, even though both my kids made gagging noises every time she showed up and even my husband looked a little queasy at the sight of her.
Then, there was the friend I confided in about how hurt I was to be called “lucky” to be published. Didn’t people realize I’d worked my butt off, had read widely in the market and might possibly be good at what I did? Sure, I’d been lucky occasionally, but I’d also been unlucky. “I think you’ve been lucky,” she said. She and I, as you can imagine, were friends for years.
There was the friend who told me I had a horrible haircut, the friend whose statements to me usually began with “no offense, but … “, the friend who accused me of using her for contacts. I read over this sob-story of a list — and it makes me wonder about myself, too. What kind of friend was I when I was so screamingly insecure all you had to do was look at me wrong to send me into a funk that lasted months? Was I really capable of being a decent, honest friend myself — or was it all about me, me, me? Wasn’t I — come on, admit it! — occasionally a frenemy myself, smiling and feigning concern? And didn’t I love telling stories about my alleged friends’ bitchiness?
Damn, all I wanted to do was to write a simple post about how I’d been done wrong, but now I’m old enough and smart enough not to put up with it any longer. The frenemy victim who eventually grew up, wised up, triumphed. What was so wrong with that?
Time passes, I suppose. The shadows grow longer and so do the memories. You want a short, simple, pretty story? Ask somebody young to tell it. Not me. My stories have all grown long and complicated and hoary. Where I used to see in black and white, I now see shades of gray — smudged like charcoal with palm prints that resemble my own.
These days, I need reading glasses when the print’s not big. But my own rabbity, impure heart — that’s gotten a little clearer over the years. I guess this is what people mean when they say you get wiser with age, but wisdom isn’t always comfortable, dammit.
(Copyright 2010 by Ruth Pennebaker)
Read one of my favorite posts about support group hell
I follow the philosophy that “I’m as good as you; you’re as good as me.” But then any proffered compliment can throw off that balance. Hearing “you have nice eyes” or “that sketch is lovely” immediately makes me think “what are you up to by saying that?” Possible ulterior motives multiply in my mind. On the other hand, criticism of a negative type I take at face value. So, for me, friends tell it like it is, but frenemies sugar-coat everything.
The trouble with frenemies is that they can turn and strike when you least expect it. I try to avoid having them, but darn it, sometimes you don’t actually know who they are until they strike.
Frenemies are about envy. They see you do well and want to give themselves a boost by taking you down a notch. Don’t let their ugly envy corrode your success. Hard work has nothing to do with luck, and you have been plugging away for a long time, Ruth.
I’m with you, Ruth, life feels to short to keep frenemies in the mix. There’s barely enough time to catch up with true friends, why waste time with toxic types.