Tips For Navigating A Friend Group When You Have A Frenemeny In It

Merriam-Webster defines a frenemy as "a person who is or pretends to be a friend but who is also in some ways an enemy or rival." It is the phenomenon that occurs when a friend and an enemy both reside within a single person. You may have assumed that these types of friendships would cease to exist after high school but — sadly — you'd be wrong. Navigating a friendship that is potentially wrought with rivalry, competition, disdain, passive-aggressive behavior, or general drama is difficult enough on its own. What are you supposed to do, then, when you're trying to balance an entire friend group that includes your own sworn frenemy?


How do you know when it's time to call it quits, when to be the bigger person, whether to bury the hatchet, or if it's healthy to just coexist? Here is your guide to assessing your place inside a friend group that also happens to include your frenemy. 

Examine your feelings

There are as many frenemy origin stories as there are frenemies. When you find yourself enmeshed in a friend group that includes a person you consider a frenemy, the first step is to ask yourself why you feel the way you do about this person. There is a significant difference between a simple personality conflict causing discomfort around a particular individual and feeling unsafe in the presence of someone who has hurt or threatened you.


Spend some time reflecting on the precise feelings that come up for you when you're around the person you consider a frenemy and get real with yourself about the answers. If you're experiencing a trauma response because of your past with them, it's time to consider whether it's worth it to subject yourself to further distress to remain part of the group. However, if you're unsure of where your feelings are coming from, ask yourself the hard questions. Does this person have something you want? Does an aspect of their life or personality trigger insecurities within you? Are you unsettled by their loose grasp on social cues? Are you simply mirroring back their own discomfort with you? Dig deep to find the reasoning behind the enmity in order to decide on your next steps. 


Assess your role within the group

There is no getting around the fact that spending time with a frenemy is uncomfortable. Before you accept this as your fate, ask yourself why you're doing it. Consider factors such as how long you've been involved in the friend group and how much you benefit from being a part of it. Could you imagine your life without this particular group? Are its members willing to endure discomfort for you or is the willingness to sacrifice one-sided? Does the group ever make accommodations for you or are you expected to suck it up and pretend you're unaffected?


If you can't articulate to yourself why it's worth it to remain heavily involved in a friend group that includes a person that you're not comfortable being around, it's time to face some difficult decisions. How would you advise a friend who came to you in the same situation? Are your attachments to the group based on how much you value the friends within it or centered around arbitrary social pressures? If you come to the realization that you value the group more than it values you, it may be time to move on. 

Focus on individual friendships

If you decide that it's best for you to move on from your friend group, that doesn't mean the friendships you've formed with the people inside it automatically dissolve. It's likely that you were always closer to certain group members than others. If you've decided to step away from the group as a whole, simply shift your focus to the friend or friends you feel a deeper connection with and leave the rest.


There is nothing wrong with having a few close friends instead of a full-fledged Instagram-worthy posse. In fact, the image of a giant "girl squad" popularized during the era of Taylor Swift and the uprisal of social media is actually much less common in real life than you may think. In fact, according to a 2021 survey conducted by the Survey Center on American Life, 49% of adult Americans report having three or fewer close friends. 

Consider direct communication

Have you ever sat down with your frenemy and had an open and mature conversation about the negative energy that exists between you? If not, consider that it might be time to bite the bullet and have the talk. Before you proceed with this plan, perform a realistic assessment of the general demeanor of the other person. Have you observed them dealing with conflict in the past? How did they handle it?


If you believe that it's possible for both you and your frenemy to remain composed enough to hash out your differences, it's worth it to give it a try. Keep an open mind and be ready to concede that some of their points about you or your behavior are probably valid. If you can both take accountability for the part you've played in the friendship reaching this point and create a plan for moving forward, it's possible that the relationship can be repaired. 

Resist the urge to badmouth your frenemy

Whether you attempt to discuss the matter of your tense friendship with your frenemy or not, resist the urge to speak badly about them to your mutual friends. Regardless of how you may feel about this person, they have remained a part of the friend group for a reason. Using every opportunity to badmouth them to their own friends is not a good look for you. Indulge this impulse and soon your friends will be wondering whether you speak about them behind their backs the same way you're speaking about your frenemy behind his or hers.


While there is no harm in occasionally venting about a person who frustrates you, it's best to direct that venting toward someone outside of this particular friend group. Whether that ends up being your mom, your sister, your coworker, or your therapist, a clear boundary needs to be drawn around shared friends to protect your own integrity. 

Avoid ultimatums

If you find yourself constantly struggling with the presence of a frenemy in your friend group, it may be tempting to give the group an ultimatum to force them into choosing between you and the other person. As satisfying as you might envision the results of this demand to be, there is actually no positive outcome possible. Even if the group ultimately chooses you over your frenemy, there will be resentment toward you for forcing their hands and your friendships will never be the same.


There is also the possibility that the group will choose the other person and you'll find yourself an outsider with the entire group, at your own request. It is best to avoid ultimatums altogether and assess whether or not the group as a whole is the right place for you. If you decide to walk away or focus only on specific friendships within the group, it will be on your own terms. 

Prioritize your own wellness

There is nothing in life that should take priority over your own health and wellbeing. If regularly associating with a friend group that includes a person whose presence makes you upset, uncomfortable, or unhappy is negatively affecting your overall wellbeing, it's truly time to take a break from the pressure. Preserving your mental and physical health, self-worth, and wellness is far more important than any social expectation.


You'll likely find that truly prioritizing your health and wellness will naturally bring about a change in your social circle. Identify what a wellness journey looks like for you and pursue that path. Whether it involves physical fitness, sobriety, creative expression, spirituality, or something else entirely, you are bound to find and connect with others who are on the same path. Before you know it, your experience with your frenemy could end up being the catalyst to a better life.