What is a frienemy, and how to detect them?

This article is based on 3 decades of personal experience.

Lucy the Oracle
6 min readMay 31, 2024
Photo by Tarik Haiga on Unsplash

I’ll be brief. This is a quick checklist with no explanation. If it resonates, great. If it doesn’t, too bad. I hope it reaches the people who need it.

These are the main signs that you’re dealing with an enemy disguising as a friend. In other words, what you have in front of you (or on the other side of the screen, it depends) is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. I was born into this kind of situation and have dealt with many similar relationships ever since — in 3 countries, 2 continents and hemispheres. I might know a thing or two about how universal the following signs are.

  1. They misunderstand what you say on purpose (and always to make you sound worse than you would sound if they read/heard what you said in good faith). Often times, this happens when you’re saying something that AGREES WITH the person’s worldview. It’s not during an argument, but very unexpectedly in the friendliest of “yes, I agree” type of conversations. Don’t be fooled, you’re not crazy, this is deliberate. If the person did this during an argument, you would ALREADY be on edge and you wouldn’t fully trust their evaluation of your words. THAT IS WHY they do it when you’re having a seemingly friendly exchange — to catch you off guard. So, if your gut is telling you that this person is misunderstanding you on purpose (and I have an entire article about that, clicking here), trust it. Your perception is correct. Frienemies do not attack outwardly, but instead try to make you doubt your judgement with these subtle “digs” when you least expect them.
  2. They absolutely refuse to support you and will instead pretend to be “concerned” about you because you’re “dreaming too big” and “need to check your ego”. Awwwwww… How motherly and caring! #not. (Yes, men do it too. Motherly is archetypal and does not depend on gender). Don’t fall for that. Trust me: nobody goes to THAT extent to ensure a friend is being absolutely flawless and spotless in their pursuit of what they want to achieve. REAL FRIENDS will support you no matter what and will even help you hide a body if you need that (metaphorically, of course). When the discourse turns too moralistic, that’s code for “I envy you, so I need to make you look bad somehow and this is what I managed”. It’s petty. It’s mean girls material. It’s a waste of time to deal with it, honestly, just ghost the person.
  3. They ask you to help them out with their personal projects, but do not return the favour. This particular kind of frienemy isn’t necessarily vindictive (like #1) or envious (like #2), but they ARE, always, without exception, disrespectful. They think they’re entitled to your time and energy. They feel free to use you, sometimes because you got vulnerable with them, but other times because they’re just plain mean and don’t know the meaning of “mutual exchange”. They have a scarcity mentality and everything in life must be transactional in their understanding, OR ELSE they think you’re being “a fool” and deserve to be used. Uhhhh… No. Say goodbye and do not look back.
  4. They never show up to events you and/or your other friends are organising, and only want to hang out in THEIR own place, without anybody else’s presence. I used to think this kind of person is just shy or reserved, but no. Often times, it’s a frienemy. The reason is simple: they’re uncomfortable with something about you and don’t want to be seen with you. This could be for various reasons: maybe you’re a liberal and they’re a closeted fascist, maybe you’re comfortable in your own skin and they’re insecure, etc. This is the saddest kind of frienemy in my view, but there’s no saving them if they don’t want any help. Parting ways is the best.

5. They always ask about you, but don’t reveal as much about themselves. This specific kind of frienemy is often a gossiper who enjoys triangulating you against other people. On a surface level, though, it may look like they’re just very zealous and loving and/or admire you very much. If you’re famous, stalkers fit into this category. Don’t be fooled: a REAL admirer would have no qualms talking about themselves to you. Just reverse the roles and you’ll see that. Wouldn’t YOU like to share something about your life if you had 1h to talk to your favourite celebrity? Of course you would. You’d want them to notice you, to befriend you. You certainly wouldn’t want to manipulate them into telling you about themselves, while staying quiet and mysterious. REAL admirers don’t do that. Only resentful wolves in sheep’s clothing do that.

6. They bait you with specific dog-whistles to see how you’ll react. This is something neonazis do, and what inspired this whole blog post. An acquaintance told me a story of a really nice, warm and friendly person they met who “out of nowhere” shared a picture of a swastika in a Norse neopagan altar. I advised the person to block this frienemy without giving a reply, because anything they said would result in disastrous developments. If they acted oblivious, the nazi would start framing them as a nazi too; If they reacted with outrage, the nazi would take it out of context and frame them as a “hysterical” SJW for the world to see. There’s no reasoning with certain people. No contact is the only answer.

7. They drag you into never-ending circular conversations full of word salad and/or long tangents that depart from the main topic, and subtly threaten you with [insert here gossip you don’t want] if you dare getting out of it. This is by far the most frustrating kind of frienemy and I’ve been dealing with it today. A so-called Buddhist, specifically (are you reading this, dear? Yeah I know you are. Classic secret admirer. Love and hate aren’t too far away from each other, are they?). This person wanted me to be submissive and offer him nothing other than admiration… Or else, I had “anger issues” and “ego problems” (which, in Buddhism, are akin to sins). When dealing with this type, the thing to remember is: the world is bigger than this interaction. The person can’t really prove you are the things they’re saying you are, because these are fallacies or half-truths. (And if they’re true, this isn’t the article for you. I’m talking about false accusations based on nothing but selective and cherrypick-y interpretation of your words. If you’re really guilty of bad behaviour, please don’t think I’m here to cover up for your shite). They just want to create the illusion of control, of putting you between a rock and a hard place, but it’s hardly the truth — when you talk to someone genuine within the same religion or hobby or wherever it is you met, you’ll see not everyone (or HARDLY ANYONE) actually agrees with what this frienemy was accusing you of. But there’s no confronting them. There will be a smear campaign on their part and you probably will become persona non grata in their (often small) circle. Let it happen. You’re better off without this connection anyway.

In conclusion: frienemies seem larger than life, but that’s just an optical illusion.

There’s life beyond toxic “friendships”. Chances are you fell for them because you had an insecurity they capitalised on. So… chin up, and seek the counsel of genuine people in your life. You know who they are. You’ve always known. We all have a 6th sense, love.

The good connections will eventually outnumber these bad ones, when you learn how to spot the traps early on — and consequently, avoid falling for them. It takes a bit of practice, since the world is full of such traps. Really, it isn’t your fault you’ve seen so many. Anyone could have. The trick is recognising what they really are, and getting out ASAP. And for that to happen, you need to trust yourself and your own perception.

There’s no shortcut… But if you’re stuck, gimme a shout. In fact, feel free to comment here. I take revenge on the opportunists in my life by freeing total strangers from similar situations, so consider it a gift, totally for free.

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Lucy the Oracle

Oracle learner / spirit worker based in Ireland. Buddhist/polytheist. I don't read minds. I don't change minds. I don't sugarcoat. Take my message or leave it.