Ah, friendship. It’s always best when it’s two-way street. One where you and your friend exchange confidences, support each other, talk things out when you fight and where you uplift, challenge and provide an honest ear when the going gets tough.
But have you ever had a frenemyship with the kind of person who on the surface seems so very nice?
In fact, it could be argued that they are nice. A little too nice. The kind of saccharine sweet that gaslights you into believing that they’re genuine. And because they spend so much time being so kind to you, it takes you that much longer to recognise that their niceness is simply a method of finding ways to outdo or compete with you.
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The competitive friend is one we don’t often talk about because it feels like an exercise in vanity. In fact, I do find myself feeling a little uncomfortable talking about this, because it feels like a prelude into a humblebrag.
But at the same time, I know that saying there’s nothing bragworthy about me sounds like false humility, so talking about feeling like a friend is competing with you feels somewhat like a double-edged sword.
And yet, we need to talk about it because these kind of friendships are exhausting and poisonous and take on so many different forms. One of the biggest being that they are are positioned in a way that starts out with well-meaning enquiries into what you’re doing, what you’re buying, where you’ve been on holiday, etc.
Things any normal friend would ask you.
Except that when you next look, that friend has suddenly booked the same vacation that you have (and it’s not the first time), enrolled in the same course you're in, buys the same stuff as you and tries to compete with you in every aspect of your life.
This kind of friend has drawn you into a competitive battle you never asked for. It’s the kind of friendship where you find yourself feeling more guarded after each interaction with them.
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I have a friend like that. And I find that it’s really, really difficult to untangle myself from her.
Things that I’ve picked up on when I try to have a conversation:
• When I talk about something I’m really proud of, she talks over me and mentions her better-than-mine plans for the future
• I’m always happy for her, but she dismisses things that make me happy and redirects the conversation back to herself
• I can’t get excited over something without her wanting to jump on the bandwagon as well
• Anything I buy, she has to get the bigger, better and more expensive version of it
• She doesn’t have much empathy for others and is quick to dismiss other people’s experiences because she hasn’t lived them. She’s quick to backtrack when she’s being called out for it, but also makes me feel like I’m reading too much into her actions
• She’s only around “in concern” when I’m going through a hard time (ties in with point one)
These are only some of the problems that I’ve encountered with her, but it’s been enough to make me realise that something has been off for a while now.
But how do you stop being friends with someone like this? Especially when it's someone who lacks any form of self-awareness?
Should you cut access to your life slowly until she doesn’t even notice you’ve gone? Or should you simply ghost immediately and cut ties immediately?
Clinical psychologist Melanie Greenberg, in an article for Psychology today, reveals that competitive friendships often result from the fact that the competitive person may have a fragile self-esteem and often tend to be boastful when they achieve something because it makes them feel superior.
Researchers also suggest that relationships like this, often referred to as mixed emotion associations can result in higher blood pressure, increase the risk of depression and cause stress. The ideal way to deal with this kind of situation would be to minimise contact, or as scientificamerican.com notes, avoid problematic topics if you’re not quite ready to give up on the friendship.
But, if you’ve done all you can from your side to maintain a relationship that just doesn’t get better, then perhaps it’s time to bow out and admit that some friendships just aren’t meant to be anymore.