That "Frenemies" Thing


Well, stone the crows, all these years I have been attributing this zero-sum-gaming motto to Gore Vidal; but now I find it, in a 1966 TIME magazine article, falling out of the gob of the hugely successful Broadway producer, David Merrick: “It is not enough for me to succeed; all others must also fail.” How humiliating, to have gotten it wrong! (Although I’m not alone. Others have credited Attila the Hun or Genghis Khan. Do I hear a nomination for Machiavelli?) The article, incidentally, in that halcyon, less in-your-face-snarky era of journalism, was called “The Be(a)st of Broadway,” geddit? Cuz, Mr. Merrick was (ahem) ambivalently regarded by the theatrical community.

Now, a short diatribe on the clinical meaning of “ambivalence” (as opposed to the “street” meaning, of “I hate his guts!”): “simultaneous conflicting feelings toward a person or thing, as love and hate” [Webster’s, 1988 ed.] Not, “as fear and loathing,” nar’mean? To illustrate this point in therapy sessions, I hold out my hands in the “supplicant palms” position, and intone, “On the one hand, ya-dah-ya-dah. On the other hand, la-di-dah.” I then say, “There are very few things or individuals in our lives, about which we humans are not ambivalent.”

Oh, but how we hate to admit it! Even to ourselves. So, hurrah for the new portmanteau word, “frenemy,” which captures the both-hands [simultaneously positive & negative] feelings which we can sense in others [but only bald-faced truth-tellers, like Merrick & Vidal, will acknowledge in themselves]. We’ll know that this brave willingness to admit to ambivalent feelings, about even our Nearest & Dearest, has made it into mainstream consciousness, when “to frenemy” someone becomes a transitive verb in Facebook parlance.

The next post will deal with the ways people avoid Owning their Inner Wolf [as in, acknowledging that another’s success can stir feelings of humiliation that they got the “prize” we wanted, and even fear that there won’t be enough “prizes” to go around].

Meanwhile, here are Seamus & Finn, locked in some sort of close contact. Is it a hug or combat? That’s easy. It’s both.

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Filed under ambivalence, zero-sum-gaming

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