Service of Relationships that Zig High and Zag Low

July 6th, 2023

Categories: Frenemy, Friends, Friendship

Image by John Hain from Pixabay

Like millions before me I’ve said that if the only friends I want are perfect people I’d be very lonely. When couples say they never argue or disagree I wonder which one isn’t owning up to what they think or wish for.

Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist at Wharton, wrote a guest essay in The New York Times, “Your Most Ambivalent Relationships Are the Most Toxic.” According to him, they are worse than negative ones. His examples:

  • “Friends who sometimes help you and sometimes hurt you.
  • “In-laws who volunteer to watch your kids but belittle your parenting.
  • “The roommate who gets you through a breakup and then starts dating your ex.
  • “The manager who praises your work but denies you a promotion.”

Walking on eggshells isn’t good for your health.

Grant reported that “One study found that adults had higher blood pressure after interacting with people who evoked mixed feelings than after similar interactions with those who evoked negative feelings.”

He wrote that bad feelings are amplified when someone praises you sometimes and cuts you down at others. “And it’s not just in your head: It leaves a trace in your heart and your blood.”


The essayist hypothesized about why frenemy relationships are so harmful as the reasons aren’t definitive: “The most intuitive reason is that ambivalent relationships are unpredictable.” He added: “It’s unnerving to hope for a hug while bracing yourself for a brawl.” And “When someone stabs you in the back, it stings more if he’s been friendly to your face.”

Toodle Loo

Grant reported that at any age people are slow at letting frenemies go.

“A relationship in which you can’t be candid isn’t a relationship at all; it’s a charade.” Regarding feedback, “The goal is to be as candid as possible in what you say and as caring as possible in how you say it.” The wording for a kind frenemy breakup might be: ““The mix of good and bad here isn’t healthy for us.”

Grant posited that most have as many friends as frenemies. Do you?

Image by Bill Shortridge from Pixabay


8 Responses to “Service of Relationships that Zig High and Zag Low”

  1. Linda Levi Said:

    Linda on Facebook: I don’t think so–and certainly hope not. How sad.

  2. ASK Said:

    Since I retired, I don’t have any. I suspect that many frenemies are work related; I “ghosted” one blatant example in my life and have not looked back.

  3. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I imagine that competitiveness and envy enter into some ambivalent relationships.

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Bet that was a relief. The image I have of Adam Grant’s point about not knowing if you’ll get a hug or a verbal thrashing resonate. Skating on thin ice is never fun.

  5. Anonymous Said:

    Thanks for writing about this. I pulled up the article, very insightful.

  6. Eileen Dover Said:

    I call it pushing my buttons! I think, people need a mix of business relationships, acquaintances and truly good friends but those toxic relationships once recognized they should get tossed to the curb. Except for my mother…she gets the privilege of saying a compliment and then trashing me in same sentence!

  7. Jeanne Byington Said:


    My dad was understated. His biggest compliment was “pas mal,”–not bad. I’d return from Loehmans with amazing buys in the day and would put on a “fashion show” for my parents. If he said those magic words I knew he agreed that I’d hit paydirt.

    I had far flashier ideas than he had of how he should dress. I always knew I’d taken a risk in my choice of a Christmas or Father’s Day tie but had to select one I loved…. He’d say, “Let’s have lunch and we’ll go to Brooks Brothers and choose a tie we both like.” Once he told me someone had admired his [boring] tie. I loved our lunches and gift return days.

  8. Lucrezia Said:

    Lucrezia on Facebook: If one must consult a psychiatrist in order to analyze a given relationship, then something’s not right. Ambivalent behavior on the part of a “friend” is a red flag and usually a clear signal to start running. The boss who denies an available and deserved promotion, is a wolf who hasn’t bothered adopting the appearance of a sheep.

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