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  1. Wealth
May 17, 2009

With Friends Like These

By Spear's

Frenemies are useful and often do lovely things for each other: give great gifts, throw fab parties in each other’s “honour.”

It was a typical birthday party of a certain ilk of London society, set in a popular society nightclub.

“You must be prepared; that’s the key to these things,” I said my husband, who is highly perspicacious but rarely prepared for anything. I was concerned: “It’s going to be stuffed with frenemies,” I had said.

‘Frenemies’ or ‘frienemies,’ depending on where you want to put the emphasis, is an amalgam of friend and enemy. It’s not quite as simple as the latter posing as the former, for frenemies are useful and often do lovely things for each other: give great gifts, throw fab parties in each other’s “honour.”

Most importantly, they are economically and socially useful: they tend to be famous and/or wealthy and are therefore great people to go on holiday with. Mustique villas are stuffed with them: women sunbathing side-by-side checking each other out to see who has the better body/better bikini/more expensive beach bag/newer sunglasses; men laughing and playing water polo in the pool while competing for strength and body and talking about how their businesses “couldn’t be better.”

The problem is that it’s a relationship more complicated and exhausting than most, meaning the ones who excel at it are the women with the leisure time to indulge it. Saturday night’s birthday party was a paradigm case.

Several of my closest buddies would be there, but so would some of the hostess’s other friends: supermodels, pop stars, billionaire’s wives, and a smattering of fashion impresarios and editors. I made the distinctly geeky mistake of arriving on time and on my own. As I sat alone on a chair and quietly sipped my pink saketini, many of the cool girls arrived fashionably late and in a posse.

Upon air kissing hello, they quickly launched into typical frenemy chat: “What company did you hire for your daughter’s last birthday party?” and “Where did you spend Easter?”

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All whippet-thin, they ignored the one fried canapé and pushed most of the sushi around on their plates. There was no imminent danger of a meaningful conversion on the topic of just war doctrine or the various formats for global justice, say.

Apparently I’m not alone in despairing of this sort of evening; the web is stuffed with websites advising “How to Deal with a Frenemy” and “How to Give a Gift to a Frenemy.” There’s a lot of angst out there.

Saturday night broke a cardinal rule according to ehow.com’s “How to Deal with a Frenemy”: “Do not introduce your frenemies to your real friends. It’s important to keep them separate, if possible, so your frenemy does not hurt your friends and does not try to talk to your friends about you.” There we sat, friends and frenemies interspersed when it dawned on me that these people are scared.

It is fear that makes people flee to formulas of social behaviour: an inability to stand their own ground and say ‘here I am, take it or leave it.’ That’s the soft underbelly truth of the matter.

Once I had that epiphany, I downed those saketinis with glee and rushed to the dancefloor for my bout of booty-shaking. “Wow,” said a major fashion editor, “she’s so … unaffected.” “Yes,” answered my closest friend there, “isn’t she cool?”

When mingling with frenemies, it is best to emulate Rhett Butler: “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

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