Frenemy Signs That Prove They’re Not Real Friends

Friends are supposed to build you up, not knock you down. These red flags will help you spot the so-called pals that could be more toxic than true.

She always adds a “but…”

iStock/Steve Debenport

She compliments your new car, freshly painted bedroom, and adorable rescue puppy, and then routinely follows up with a caveat that brings it down a notch: “But, you should have gotten a sunroof,” “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 frequently offers these mixed compliments, you can try to address the problem, but 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

iStock/kupicoo

Remember when you were younger and you’d talk to your friends on the phone for hours? Texting and social media have made staying in touch a no-brainer, but it has also 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 can’t figure out how to reach out over the phone or in person for months at a stretch, she may just be a frenemy who doesn’t care enough. “If she has time for Botox appointments, she should have time for brunch,” Levine says. Check out these clues that your friend may be a narcissist.

She undercuts your work

iStock/shironosov

Do you have a bestie in the next cubicle? Most of us do. However, pay attention to how she or he is benefiting from—or sabotaging—your career. If she’s “adapting” your pitches, noting out loud that you were late again, or offering to help you with your workload (even though you got it under control), she may be secretly out to get you. “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. Friendship does have its place in the office: Women who form personal bonds may actually work better together according to some studies, but it can be disastrous, too. “Establishing boundaries upfront is key,” Shenker says. “Business is business.”

She flirts with your ex

iStock/Petar Chernaev

Flirting or suddenly issuing social invitations to your ex without 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, it’s important not to assume your friend understands the emotions at play, and therefore may welcome this newsflash and communication as part of the friendship learning curve. However, there’s always Girl Code to fall back on: Don’t date a friend’s ex. “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. Look out for these 9 signs that you’re being emotionally abused.