A Pretend Friend Can Be a Foe, or Simply Someone You Know
A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. (NIV)
A Good “Friend” Story
There’s a story I’ve heard about two friends that went camping in the woods. They were awakened one morning by a loud noise and rustling coming from some nearby bushes. When they looked up, they saw coming toward them a very large grizzly bear. One guy jumped up out of his sleeping bag and started pulling on his running shoes. His friend turned to him and said, "You don't think you can outrun a grizzly bear, do you?" "No," the first guy said. "I won’t need to. All I have to do is outrun you." The moral of this story is that a pretend friend will let you down—and will save his own tail at your expense whenever the going gets tough, or when he/she believes the situation warrants it. Gulp. Some good friend, huh?
There can be all kinds of different reasons why someone might “pretend” to be your friend. Sometimes, it is simply to take advantage of your strengths and talents. For example, if you are someone who is an achiever, others might want to latch on to opportunities to get you to do things for them. I know someone who faced this situation in the workplace. She was really an “overachiever,” so she attracted a lot of “underachievers” as pretend friends. By latching onto the energy and skills of the overachiever, the underachievers were able to build up their own cred, as well as their portfolios of accomplishments, without really having to do the work themselves. What did they do? They latched onto what the overachiever was doing by convincing her to let them be part of her “team,” and they got part of the credit and eased, ever so smoothly, into her light.
I’ve known people who will pretend to be your friend in order to bask in the sunshine of a leader. People who work to get themselves into positions of leadership often find they attract “hangers on” who pretend to be their friends. Instead of actually being there for the leader, however, pretend friends are only there for the fame and glory that often comes with the leadership spotlight. Then, when rough times come around, pretend friends usually disappear. And what’s even worse, if the leader becomes challenged for some reason or other, or if problems occur in the organization that call for the leader being put up to public scrutiny, pretend friends usually will scatter, not unlike cockroaches when a light is turned on. Either they will be nowhere to be found, or they won’t stand in support of the leader they pretended to support in order to stand in his or her light.
Foul Friendship Stinks ...
A most “foul” reason for pretend/fake friendship is when someone does it to get close to another person, in order to destroy that person. I hate that it’s true, but I know it is true, because I’ve seen it happen, in and out of the workplace. Sometimes, pretend friendship of this type will have its origins in jealousy, envy, or just plain old spite—someone pretending to be a friend so they can get close enough to someone else to wreak havoc or destroy them, personally or professionally.
Remember the saying “keep your friends close, and your enemies closer?” Well, you can bet enemies know this saying too, and they will sometimes work as hard as is needed to squirm their way into a “friendship” position, in order to cause harm. Remember, most are expected to be smart enough to keep known or professed enemies away, so that means the best way for a “secret enemy” to get close is by pretending to be your friend. When the end goal is destroy someone, then the best way to learn about someone—their desires, goals, and objectives, is to get close. Then, they can put road blocks in your way to achieving your goals, without you even knowing or suspecting anything at all.
By getting close to you, pretend friends can find out things about you that you would never tell anyone but someone you think of as a friend. Then, once the pretend friend gains all the information they need, they can work against you—and even get ten steps ahead of you in doing so. Remember, you’re considering this person to be your friend, so they’re comfortable knowing they’re among the last persons you would ever suspect of doing any to harm you, or doing something that might allow someone else to harm you.
Is There a “Friendship” Test?
While there may not be a test you can use to find out if someone is trying to be a real or a pretend/fake friend, there are things anyone can do to guard against being taken in by pretend friends. Following are some tips that might help you “weed out” friendly pretenders:
Don't jump into the friendship boat too early or too quickly. Even though you might like someone right away after meeting them, you still need to get to know them, to observe them, listen to them, and be mindful of their actions toward you and others before you let your guard down completely. Be observant of people who make an effort to get close to you too quickly, when you know very little about them. Take time in getting to know people. Get to know others who know them. Look for common acquaintances or affiliations where you can learn more about the person. I’m not saying you should not be “friendly” to those who seem to want to be your friend, but I am saying always proceed with caution. Friendship is something sacred, something too precious to treat lightly, and there should, for anyone, be a cost of entry for admission into your innermost circle—that cost being “trustworthiness.” While I’m not saying you need to hire a private detective to find out as much as possible about anyone you meet, I am saying you need to be mindful of any person you don’t already know and trust who seems to be trying to get close to you, who seems to be applying with you for the position of “friend.”
Pay close attention: Caring and love behave in caring and loving ways, not in evil ways. For example (and this is something I’ve taken from my own life/experiences), I was in school studying for an advanced degree when a new acquaintance began calling constantly, wanting to keep me on the phone for hours and hours at a time. At first, I didn't think much of it, until the calling started to interfere with my study time. Then I knew I had to ask myself if this person really wanted to become my friend. Especially since I knew I'd told the person I wanted/needed to devote most of my spare time to my studies. Still, they called and called, wanting to talk for more and longer periods of time, all hours of the day and evening. I eventually came to the conclusion that that person was not a good candidate for “friend.” Friends observe boundaries, and they respect each others time. So, I had to mark that friendship application "Denied!"
Without even realizing it, someone who disregards your time might be doing all they can to sabotage your efforts, whether you're trying to earn a degree, get a better job or a promotion, or even to spending time maintaining good relationships with your own family members. Another good example (again, taken from my own life/experiences) is when you’re going through a particularly rough period in your life and you never hear even one comforting word from someone who often tells you they’re your friend, even though your friend knows what you're going through. Since friends care about each other and are there for each other, even if all they can do is say "I'm so sorry to hear that," you should hear something from a friend. It is probably a red flag you shouldn't ignore if a friend ignores you at such a time in your life. Such a person might be someone you need to reconsider as part of your inner circle, because even if a good friend is also going through trying times at the same time as you, they will still find a way to comfort you, somehow, knowing what you’re facing. On another note, if someone has to constantly tell you that they’re your friend, you should ask yourself why this necessary. Love behaves in loving ways, and if someone is really your friend, you should know it by his or her actions toward you.
Watch out for “friends” who are stingy with their friends. Friends want you to be friends with their friends. They will introduce you to the people they love, and will find joy in you becoming close with those they know. If you believe someone is your friend, yet you’ve never met anyone else in their family or anyone else they are close to, you probably need to reexamine why you believe this person is your friend. Sometimes, when someone is pretending to be a friend, they will keep you at arm’s length from the people who really know them well. That’s because they don’t want you to find out who they really are. You can learn a lot about a person by meeting and getting to know the other people in their lives. Therefore, a “pretend friend” will not give you this opportunity.
Found your friendships on solid principles. As a Christian and as someone who does her best to live true to her faith, I believe friendships are best when they’re founded upon godly principles and objectives—when the foundation of friendship is love and genuine caring for one another. During the Last Supper Jesus said to his disciples “I call you servants no longer, I call you friends.” Because of what they had shared with Him, He was able to exalt them from disciples to friends. Therefore, friendship is a most high appointment, and is not something to be too easily gained, or else it may be taken lightly.
Best to Throw Loose Friendships Overboard
Too often, I believe we all use the term “friend” too loosely. We call someone a friend who is actually just an acquaintance. An acquaintance is someone you know who is really not a close friend at all. It is easy to be an acquaintance of someone. It requires no work on your part or theirs. You are simply two people who know each other. Acquaintances often do things for each other, but it is more of a “mechanical” relationship where if I scratch your back, you must in turn scratch mine. Acquaintanceship has no ties, bonds, or attachments beyond a kind of mechanical give and take. Friendship, on the other hand, can be a lifelong bond. In fact, if friendship does not last a lifetime, I tend to believe it is really not friendship at all, but probably a relationship that might fall more along the line of an acquaintance, or “someone you know.” Because of the strong, unbreakable bonding, and the true and caring nature of true friendship, I believe it is something that lasts through life’s ups, downs, ins, outs, trials, triumphs, joys, pains, moves, moods, and messes. And even though you may not keep in constant contact with someone you consider to be a friend, I believe the "true friendship bond" usually keeps the friendship real and alive. That means even though you may become separated from a true friend for days, months, or even years, whenever you do manage to meet or come together again, the bond that’s never been broken will allow you to easily find your way back to trust and closeness with each other.
The one true friend I’ve known in my sojourn on Earth is my mother. Even though she is in Heaven now, the love she had for me lives on, so I don’t speak of it in the past tense. Love never dies. And the love of a friend is something that will sustain you even after your friend has passed on from this world. My mother is the person I think of when I meditate on the idea of what friendship means. Some people might think mothers have to be there for us through thick and thin because that’s just what mothers do. But those of us who have matured in our wisdom through Christianity know that not all mothers are friends to their children—for life. Those who are, therefore, are demonstrating the love of Christ to us, and they should be held up as examples to others seeking truth and enlightenment about what it means to be and to have a real, true, friend.
© 2012 Sallie B Middlebrook PhD