I grew up on Gossip Girl, The O.C and a range of other American TV shows that set some pretty unrealistic expectations about what I was to expect in the next 10-15 years. However, amidst the dramatic shoot outs, the random alternate universe (oh Josh Schwartz, my luv, season 5 of The O.C was not your finest hour) there was one concept that united them all – the frenemy.
This was the girl you loved to hate. She was mean, feisty, but at the end of the day she would would have your back. Like the seminal sitcom Friends taught you: she’d be there for you. And then were the loons – think Georgina Sparks who would steal your boyfriend, slash your tyres and generally just wreak so much havoc it would take at least two episodes for you to recover.
However, what I have learnt over the last few years is that relationships are far more complex than American TV led me to believe. I always thought that you could smell a bad egg, their sheer corruptness turning their surroundings black; or forgetting that, their god awfulness would manifest into action, making their intentions pretty clear. And, that aside, apart from the obviously bad people, everyone essentially had the best of intentions. Yes, I was naïve – I believed that most people were basically just doing their best at this crazy thing we call life – and so I assumed people fell into two categories: good and bad. (As an aside I also, for some strange reason, acted on the assumption that only boys could hurt. I was wrong.)
Adolescence did not prepare me for the sheer power of psychological trickery that people can play – the type that is subtle, creeping and makes you question even your own intentions. Some of these people are bad, most are hurt, but their actions are all eerily familiar. And I am not the only one in my friendship group that has suffered needlessly at the hands of a “friend” who uses guilt trips, emotional warfare and half-truths to manipulate.
But, the thing is once you reach your twenties you a) have history with most of your friends and b) probably won’t make that many new friends until the morning run on our future kids’ playground (a truly terrifying thought) so we hang on. Because there were good times, or because they’re going through a hard time (some people – let me tell you, are always going through a hard time) or because we just don’t want to lose them or we are hopeful that it can get better or for fear of the unknown. There are so many reasons to hang on in there, to wait it out and hope for the best. However, sadly, clichés don’t help at this time. Losing a friend is hard, but what’s even harder is being close to someone who consistently lashes out and demands far too much energy.
Over time I have found to watch out for the warning signs – say if someone consistently makes you feel like shit, makes you question your own judgement, or ‘drops’ you for no real reason. Thankfully, these sorts of people are the exception to the general populace, however preparing yourself for the full gamut of personalities should help you stay on track in this crazy thing we call life.
Words: Helena Baker