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What is a Frenemy?

Malcolm Tatum
Updated May 23, 2024
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Frenemy is a term that is often used to refer to a business colleague that one maintains a friendly relationship with, but who is in fact an opponent. Within a business setting, a frenemy may be a coworker who has a desire to secure your job by discrediting you, while presenting a friendly front at the same time. At the same time, an individual may become a frenemy as a means of keeping tabs on someone he or she thinks is out to get them. By creating an environment where there is easy access to the other party, it is possible to monitor activity more closely, and possibly defuse a negative situation.

The concept of the frenemy has been around for a long time. It is not difficult to find examples in literature of two people who genuinely like one another on one level, but are mortal enemies on another level. The source of the conflict may be love, lust, power, greed, or any other underlying motive that creates a situation where the two parties like each other and at the same time can’t stand one another.

Frenemies can exist among social groups as well as in the workplace. For example, two neighbors may participate in community activities and appear on the surface to get along very well. At the same time, there is competition between the two that may bubble to the surface for any reason at all. Perhaps both wish to be thought of as possessing the most attractive lawn on the street, or wish to be thought of as the most helpful neighbor. The competition may become so intense that the two neighbors begin to look for small ways to discredit one another in the eyes of the rest of the neighborhood, but without using overt antagonism to accomplish the purpose.

The process of frenemy may also function in reverse. That is, two parties may choose to present a public appearance of being opponents, while in fact enjoying a friendly relationship in private. Secret lovers may in fact be frenemies in this manner, or two individuals who are competitors in the business world may actually be weekend buddies.

This unusual mix of friend and enemy can sometimes bewilder outsiders who observe the activity. However, there is usually some reasoning behind the phenomenon that is not readily apparent to other people. As an example of the eclectic nature of human interaction, the idea of the frenemy remains a subject open for a great deal of discussion and conjecture.

PublicPeople is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Malcolm Tatum
By Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing to become a full-time freelance writer. He has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including PublicPeople, and his work has also been featured in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and newspapers. When not writing, Malcolm enjoys collecting vinyl records, following minor league baseball, and cycling.
Discussion Comments
By anon61005 — On Jan 17, 2010

I'm in the same position as you.

Let me guess you actually hate this person but you won't admit it because if you ever said anything to anyone they would all get mad at you

and then you would sound like a witch even though that other girl just needs a reality check.

I think you should just completely ignore her and wait until she or another close friend who hangs out with her asks why and than tell them off and If they don't understand than I guess none of you guys were actually good friends to begin with

hope this helped :)

I know the heartfelt pain you must be in.

By salsasue — On Aug 24, 2008

I have a frenemy who is jealous and competitive. She always asks me hurtful questions in the guise of being concerned and compassionate. I know she has undercut me with my friends and even had a false quote I supposedly said published in the department newsletter at the university where we were both pursuing our Ph.D.'s. Much to my unhappiness, she moved to a city an hour away from me! Every time we get together, she gives me thinly-veiled pokes and jabs. I am sick and tired of her games but we share the same professional friends and I always seem to appear critical and vicious when I call attention to something she has said or done. She keeps in loose touch via phone and email and I keep putting her off when she wants to meet for lunch. I can't completely shut her off because we are in the same discipline academically and she is in a position to bad mouth me professionally. What to do?

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing...
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