A friend is someone who should build you up, not knock you down. Sometimes the person you’re calling a friend is actually a frenemy. These red flags will help you discover the so-called “friend” that could be more toxic than true.
She always adds a “but…”
She compliments your new haircut, freshly renovated apartment, and adorable rescue puppy, and then always follows up with a warning that brings it down a notch: “But, you shouldn’t have cut it so short,” “But green is the Zen color for bedrooms,” or “What about all that shedding?”
“Criticism is a slow but steady poison for any close relationship,” says Jared DeFife, PhD, a psychologist based on Atlanta, Georgia. “But so is bending yourself out of shape trying to constantly win the approval of others.”
If your frenemy often gives you mixed compliments, you can try to talk to her about it and address the problem, even though she may not be able to fix it.
“You might need to set some boundaries and share your good news with friends who will amplify your joy instead of smothering it under a wet blanket of constant criticism,” DeFife says.
She never calls or invites you out
How beautiful everything was when you were young and you’d talk for hours with your friends on the phone. Even though now it is much easier to communicate then it was back in the day, texting and social media have contributed to estranged relationships.
“My feeling is that although we text nearly every day, I need that personal contact with people I care about,” says Irene S. Levine, PhD, author of Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup with Your Best Friend. “To me, it says, ‘You’re important enough that I want to make time for you.’”
If your friend doesn’t seem to care about you enough to call from time to time, she may just be a frenemy. “If she has time for Botox appointments, she should have time for brunch,” Levine says.
She undercuts your work
Sometimes the so-called “friends” only want to benefit from you, or from sabotaging your career. Pay close attention to who’s around you and try to spot who’s honest and who’s not.
“Frenemies in the workplace can be especially toxic. Women often get close to their colleagues without realizing that at times performance issues, competition for promotions, or other business factors will impact their friendships,” says Nancy A. Shenker, author of Don’t Hook Up With the Dude in the Next Cube: 200+ Career Secrets for 20-Somethings.
However, friendship can exist even in the office. Women can form personal bonds and can actually work better together according to some studies, but in some cases, it can be catastrophic, too. “Establishing boundaries upfront is key,” Shenker says. “Business is business.”
She flirts with your ex
Flirting or suddenly going out with your ex without you or without telling you, is a frenemy red flag. “Nip this in the bud and tell your friend exactly what’s bothering you, what you want to change, and how you want it to change,” advises April Mansini, relationship and etiquette expert.
If a divorce is involved, maybe she won’t understand the emotions at play and therefore may welcome this discussion as part of the friendship learning curve. “If your friend is trying to hurt you intentionally, after you’ve expressed why the playdates with your ex bother you, move on,” Mansini says.
She doesn’t give you credit
Working moms often assume that stay-at-home moms just play all day with their children. If you think your “friend” thinks that about you, it could be a sign of jealousy.
“Your friend might be overwhelmed, frazzled, and unhappy, actually,” says Leah Klungness, PhD, a psychologist and parenting expert, “so she glorifies the idea of unscheduled days at home with stretches of time for baking cookies and a leisurely second cup of coffee after the kids get on the bus.”
Your friend doesn’t see domestic chores or raising children as hard work. Try to have a conversation with her by gently remind her that everything in life is a trade-off, that the grass isn’t always greener.
She dwells on your misfortunes
Especially if you’re going through a hard time, it’s normal for friends to wonder how things are going. However, there are constructive ways to ask questions and then there are bad intentions that only serve to highlight your struggles. For example, if a married friend asks how you manage to be a single mom, how your ex-spouse is doing on child support, or she only calls to tell you that she’s seen your ex with someone new, she’s definitely not your friend.
“This person will not grow kinder or nicer,” Klungness says. “She harps about the space squeeze in the single mom’s apartment because the square footage of her home is one of the few things in her life’s plus column.”