“Let It Go” is sung in our house a hundred times a day. We get bonus plays in Spanish and Italian due to our multicultural family blend, but in essence it’s the same song over, and over, and OVER again. I ride the wave with it, like all things children related, it’s a phase they will outgrow soon enough. Typically the outgrowing occurs when they discover their next maddening obsession.
Yet this song in particular got me thinking about life, friendships, and letting go. Specifically, it got me thinking about girlfriends and frenemies. The word frenemy is an interesting one. I was surprised to learn that it’s been around since the 1950s, and not invented recently with the surge of bad teenage movies. It’s a word our kids learn early. I remember my daughter coming home from kindergarten asking what it meant because another young girl had used it. It’s a word I despise for everything it stands for, and it’s as utterly confusing as the coining of the term “friendly fire” during wars. What is a frenemy? Is it a friend, an enemy, is it a close enemy you choose to keep close? If so, why in the world, just why?
Finding a good girlfriend at my age is the equivalent of finding a faithful boyfriend in high school, it’s almost impossible. Perhaps we discriminate more and become harder to please, perhaps we don’t have as much time to waste as our younger selves. I often feel that good girlfriends are as endangered as the Puerto Rican Nightjar (Note: No one I know has ever seen this rare bird). Needless to say I’ve found my friend list gradually decreasing, while my standards are increasing. This might be good or bad, I don’t know yet. I know that having girlfriends is as beneficial as having a community, but the old adage “It is better to be alone than in bad company” rings true when dealing with frenemies.
Out of curiosity, how many frenemies do you have in your life? Do you even know?
Sadly, as women we are socialized to compete very early on; and it happens in the most vicious way possible: via our physical traits. I say vicious because it is impossible if not dangerous to change the way we look. Unless we commit to plastic surgery we will always have our nose, our skin, our hips. And it’s a problem when little girls are taught to use these traits as ploys of superiority so that they believe there is actual value in being born “pretty”. Not to say beauty is a curse, but in many ways the emphasis we put on it is.
Competition also arises from natural comparisons and contrived praises adults put on children. I was raised in a Latin culture where girls are praised for being flirtatious, sexy, and display exhibitionist tendencies. Those are shaky values at best, and inevitably leads us to grow up as women with unhealthy obsessions and a tenuous understanding of female bonds.
It’s taken me years of thought and analysis to put this behind me, and as a mother to two young girls it is something I am very conscious of. Both my daughters are often praised for their beauty, one more than the other, and it is a conversation we have frequently in the car, at home, on our walks to and from school. I want them to know that these comments, while they seem nice enough, are not useful and can be damaging. There are so many other adjectives to use when praising children, why do we always resort to cuteness?
There are other types of competition too, such as intellectual superiority, job hierarchy, or for those who identify themselves through their partner’s professions it turns into mundane conversations centered on what our partners do for a living. Female competitiveness is embedded so thickly that it comes out in every interaction between us, as women, as co-workers, and as mothers.
None of us are perfect, but all of us deserve quality people in our lives. Whether those numbers are few or many might be contingent on luck. Sometimes it’s easier to weed out frenemies before the relationship develops, but how many years of subtle competition do you put up with before you finally decide to move on? And when do you know it’s time to move on? It might take you a long time before realizing you are dealing with a frenemy. Doubts can begin to surface or you might not immediately trust your instincts. At some point though, you have to follow your feelings and assess the friendship. Most important in your assessments is the need to have a clear understanding that people don’t change unless they 1: become aware of their limitations, and 2: They want to change. No amount of hanging out with them will do it. And that’s okay. You don’t have to change them; you don’t have force your values on them. You can, however allow them to move on with their lives and wish them the best, hopefully in some form of enlightenment.