You spend your childhood learning how to manage playground bullies, to not fight back but remain assertive with the thought that once school life is finished you no longer have to deal with unsavoury classmates. But school ends and it turns out these relationships have evolved into something altogether different and society has coined a new phrase to describe those you NEED to be friendly with despite a fundamental dislike - introducing the “frenemy”.
Now at 35 and in a workplace full of professionals I am still encountering and continuing to make undesirable and somewhat false friendships. People with an agenda, people with whom you have been thrown together, people with a past! Are we to spend the whole of our lives forging friendships with people we don't regard with any kind of affection? Is it only after retirement that we can finally become honest and pick our friends or will we always be circumnavigating rocky relationships? Is there ever an age to disengage with frenemies?
There’s no escaping that Jersey is a small place, despite its 100,000 inhabitants. Smaller still when you work in the finance industry and you find yourself moving through jobs with many familiar faces. It’s never felt quite so small as when you start at a new place of work. There’s always that fear lurking at the back of your mind that maybe you haven’t done your research properly on your new employer and that actually you’ll end up siting opposite your mortal enemy. I certainly breath a huge sigh of relief when I start at a firm and know absolutely no one (a true rarity)!
Sometimes being thrown together with someone you nurture a distaste for is not a bad thing. Age only assists to breakdown the stereotypes and assumptions that you create at school and those people that you never acknowledged because they weren’t cool enough or friends with the right people, actually turn out to be pretty awesome. In work there is something freeing about being able to throw off the labels of school and take everyone at face value with a sense of ease - a clean slate if you like.
And there’s no mistaking that the frenemy fear works both ways. On more than one occasion in work have I been told by colleagues after surviving several years, how cold and scary I was at first meeting! My inclination to call things as I see them, rather bluntly at times, takes some getting used to, which is probably why I take offence to the term frenemy, since it is steeped in falseness and the charade is exhausting. Friendship should be easy and fun, no?
Work relationships take practice. It is a skill to be learnt and developed and not one you take with you from school. Those that have the natural knack for being likeable and easy to be around go far, for others like me, it is something I’m constantly aware of and I am often found biting my tongue! You’re never going to love everyone you work with, but professionality teaches you to tolerate those you don’t and to learn to work together to get the job done.
Whilst the term may have hit our dictionaries in 2012, I'm not convinced that frenemies are anything new. Michael Corleone told us to “keep our friends close and our enemies closer” in the Godfather Part II and we have been educated from a young age to love thy neighbour despite their flaws. Maybe frenemies is too easy a label to place on complex relationships when they get fraught? I'm not sure how my friendships will develop once my working life comes to a halt, or whether frenemies will still be in the picture, but I do know that those worth keeping will always require hard work.