What separates friend from "frenemy" is the presence or absence of one essential ingredient: trust.

Trust is the litmus test of any relationship, period. Without trust, there can be no (healthy) relationship. So if you want to distinguish friend or foe, start by asking yourself, "Do I trust this person? Does he or she have my back?"

Don't think too much, just listen to your gut. If your primary response was "no," ask yourself "why?" Was it something this person did or said? If so, and the incidents were minimally to moderately upsetting, try testing your distrust by discussing your feelings with your friend, using specific examples whenever possible.

For instance:


When you _______ (didn't return my calls after my cat died)

I felt ______ (sad and mad)

The result was ____ (I wondered if I could trust you and whether you were truly my friend)

I want to know___ (if you care about me and whether I can count on you when I'm down).

How this conversation goes should be a pretty good indicator of whether the friendship has mettle.

Now if your gut response to my suggestion is "there's no way I'm doing that," perhaps the trust issues run deeper. Still, it doesn't mean you need to cut the friendship off entirely. Old friendships are usually harder to sever than newer ones, and so long as they aren't toxic, may be worth preserving while minimizing contact.

Are there times to "ditch a frenemy?" Yes. Obviously, if your best friend sleeps with your boyfriend, it's time to say goodbye (to both). But it need not be so extreme. In the way that dead leaves sap the vitality of houseplants, people can benefit from pruning friendships that drain esteem nutrients and prevent growth.

If you feel like your so-called friend constantly undermines, competes or disrespects you, there's no reason to torture yourself -- even for the sake of old times. You can either declare your intention ("This friendship isn't benefiting either of us, so I'm ending it now") or disappear quietly and gracefully. Either way, you're being a good friend to yourself.

— Kim Schneiderman, MSW, LCSW, is a psychotherapist and former journalist with a private

practice in New York City. This column is not intended to be used as a substitute for a private consultation with a mental health professional, nor is this therapist to be held liable for any actions taken as a result of this column. If you have any concerns related to the content of this column, please make an appointment with a licensed mental health professional. E-mail Kim your questions at askkim@metro.us.

Metro does not endorse the opinions of the author, or any opinions expressed on its pages.

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