Monday, October 4, 2010

"Frenemies", Ambivalence, and Self-talk

"Frenemies" is a coined word that was lolling around in the back of my mind until I heard it today on NPR's program, "This American Life". Here's the intro from NPR web-site:

"Host Ira Glass plays tape of two women who ended up as frenemies.They kept trying to be friends, but couldn't help themselves from fighting. Ira then speaks with psychologist Julianne Holt-Lunstad who has run scientific studies to answer the question: Why don't we simply end these troubling kinds of friendships? Holt-Lunstad's research also shows that these relationships are much more common than you might think." As a matter of fact, Holt-Lunstad reports that women say that 50% of their relationships are troubled and cause ambivalance, an emotional state that apparently is more stressful than an "enemy" relationship.

Why do women stay in troubling friendships with women? I've always wondered why women stay in troubled relationships with men and I bet the same answers fit both situations. The obvious one — the women stuck in the relationships are getting something they want out of it, even if it's not so healthy. e.g. a sense of being loyal, self-righteousness, frequent reignited indignation, guilt, hope, self-congratulatory feelings.

The research found that women stayed because of the limitations, rules, principles that they placed on themselves through their own self-talk. e.g.
• "I'm not the kind of person to dump a friend just because they are flaky."
• "I'm not going to sink to the low level that she has adopted. I'm going to be civil even though she isn't."
• "How dare she do it again after I forgave her the first ten times?"
• "She doesn't have many other friends. Supposing she really is devastated if I dump her."
• "Maybe she'll have a sudden realization that I'm an important part of her life and apologize."
• "I've behaved admirabley through all this. She's been a jerk."
Just notice, that all of the outcomes are based on self-talk, meaning we have control over the outcome.

Apparently most of us don't have the courage to end friendships that don't mean anything anymore. And perhaps it's because we're reluctant to say that any of our relationships, short or long, with men or women, are meaningless. People, feelings and relationships are our favorite topics for conversation and self-talk. What would we think, feel and talk about without them? Nonetheless, we all could probably do a better job of some light weeding of our friendship garden.
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