(Un)Friendly Rivalry

I’ve been wondering a lot lately about competition in friendship. I’ve been quite lucky in my adult life that this hasn’t really been an issue. Almost all my closest friends and I have very different career aspirations, and there is certainly no “I want to be the first to get married/have kids” craziness. If anything it’s the opposite—at least with the kids thing. No one is in any rush.

I do have one old friend who is in the same business as I am. We used to work together, though now we’re separated by a few state lines. Ours is a very specific and very important relationship. We are each other’s cheerleaders.

Brooke and I worked together for two years(ish). In that time we sat across from each other and often ate lunch together at the makeshift table we created out of a file cabinet and some desk chairs. We became each other’s voice of reason. When I needed a brilliant edit before sending something to the boss, I trusted her eyes only. When she was looking for a clever headline, or advice on the wording of a work email, she came to me. Even when we worked only a few feet away and shared a title, there was never anything but encouragement.

Three years later, we live miles apart but still act as each other’s career advisors. At least, she is mine. I send her any big projects I’m working on because I trust her as a reader and respect her smarts. When she writes “groooaaan” next to a painful cliché, I say “thanks!” I’d rather her point out a lame bit of writing than my editor, after all. And at the core of all her notes—good and bad—is an unflappable belief in me. If another person, including my editor, called a sentence lame I’d be insulted (I know this, because it has happened). But if Brooke said it I’d know she meant “you can do better” not “you suck.” Perhaps that’s why it works.

I realize this friendship is rare. I hear one nightmare after another about friends betraying each other over professional ambitions. There are plenty—too many!—stories of BFFs working in similar fields who avoid talking about the job for fear it might get awkward.

It’s not only a career thing of course. This clip from a recent Oprah Show features two cousins who say they can only stay close friends when they’re both overweight. During the times that one or the other has slimmed down, the competition and jealousy surrounding skinniness has driven them apart.

As women, we have a tendency to compare ourselves to others and want what they have—clothes, jobs, hair, all that good stuff. But where does that fit into friendship? Can BFFs who maintain a competitive relationship last? And is there such a thing as friendly competition?


Filed under The Search

6 responses to “(Un)Friendly Rivalry

  1. Kat

    One of my close friends is VERY competitive with me, and it has been a struggle over the years. And although it can be a bit of a barrier at times, I have learned over the years to not be upset by it.

    I think the big a-HA for me was differentiating between competitiveness and mimicry. I realized that although she would never admit it, she looks up to me and wants to do everything that I do…and prove she can do it better.

    Once I understood what was really going on, I turned the situation into an effort to make myself the better person. Yeah I know I hate those “life learning opportunities” – but it was so true. There was a time I used to engage her, and it made me so unhappy. Now I just think “oh she’s trying to be like me” which makes it easier to deal with. Now I can compliment her and recognize the times when she does do a better job without a bunch of emotional baggage. It took a long time to get there but in the end I am a much happier person and our friendship is much healthier.

  2. I’ve shared competitive relationships with people while I was in law school, but outside of that experience, most of my friendships are of the non-competitive variety. I don’t really understand competition within a friendship. In my opinion, this type of relationship only exists on a superficial level, one friend trying to one up the other. Life is too too short to surrender to that kind of toxicity.

  3. Suzannah

    Well the closest thing I have encountered…and it bugs the heck out of me is… I close friend of mine is much wealthier than myself…..and there are times she does not tell me something they are doing or recently purchased, then when it comes up she down plays it…..this is only hurtful becuz it makes me feel like she thinks I am a jealous person ……..I never had realized it could be the friend with more money making money an issue. So it bring a competition to the friendship in a weird way….

  4. Suzannah

    I just left a comment regard the current post..But I have had a friendship dilemma , that I am hoping maybe Rachel can address or other readers have suggestions.
    Ok I will try to keep it short…there is a lady that I have known for a couple of years. We are both on the fringe of the same social circle. We are casual acquaintances, I always enjoy bumping into her at events, which happens about twice a year. Ok how do I try to develop a friendship with someone, who you already have a dynamic set…I

    • Hi Suzannah,

      Thanks for throwing this out there! This post addresses a similar issue that I thought you might find interesting:


      Also this one:

      Your issue is interesting, since you already have your “set place” in your group of friends, as you say. I wonder if there is something the two of you have in common, that you could take outside the group? If you are both foodies, you could invite her to the Farmer’s Market some weekend? Or if you both love reading, to a book fair? If there is some sort of unusual activity that you two both might like, it would present a good opportunity for you to invite her. Others couldn’t be hurt because said activity wouldn’t be their thing anyway!

      If you don’t even know her enough to know what you have in common, I say just send her an email. Either in advance of an event where you will see each other (“Are you going to X? I hope so! I was wondering if you might want to grab coffee beforehand?”) or afterwards (“It was so great seeing you at X! Was wondering if you might want to grab coffee sometime? Its so silly that we only see each other at…”). Or, of course, you can make the plan in person when you see her next.

      Ultimately, I think everyone is flattered to hear that someone wants to get to know them better. I say shoot her an email and see what happens. I promise you wont look like a weirdo, even if you feel like one!

  5. Suzannah

    I would appreciate any ideas on how to approach her with out looking like weirdo…..sorry for the numerous comments:-)……
    Love the posts, thanks Rachel !!!!

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