I wish I had come up with the word, “Frenemies.” It predates the popular Disney movie of the same name by about sixty years, appearing in an article by journalist Walter Winchell. At the height of the Cold War he suggested we call Russia our Frenemy. The word is a “portmanteau,” a word-blend of “friend” and “enemy.” You probably already figured that out.
I love the word because it challenges our tendency to draw lines separating people in our lives. Sometimes that line is clear. Our friends genuinely care about us and our enemies are out to get us. But sometimes the line is not so clear, and drawing it can be more of a wall than a line that keeps us from crossing over.
Two examples. In World War 1 the Germans were our enemies. But on Christmas Day in 1914, only five months after the outbreak of war in Europe, German soldiers emerged from their fox holes to greet British soldiers with songs, carols and gifts of cigarettes. At first the Brits thought it was a trick. But soon they too ventured into No Man’s Land between the lines to greet their “enemies” and retrieve the bodies of their fallen comrades.
This amazing crossover occurred only once and was never repeated in subsequent warfare, but it did reveal the core of humanity that lies beneath differences of language, culture and beliefs.
A second opposite example is found in the Book of Proverbs. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.” (14.27). Translation: True friends care enough about you to tell your the truth that hurts. My wife is my best friend. She would never knowingly hurt me but she will sometimes tell me things about myself no one else would dare.
“You need a breath mint. Your fly is unzipped. That was a foolish thing to say. Don’t wear that.”
When I’m smart the irritation soon gives way to gratitude and change. Yes, my wife is one of my best Frienemies.
Having friends and enemies can lead to a kind of Cold War of relationships with walls that don’t permit crossover. There are former enemies in my life that have become close friends. Sadly, there are former friends that would now count themselves as enemies. It happens. But by not drawing a line between the two, you open a path to change, and in relationships, change is