Our friendship is still a topic we avoid discussing.
Competing with a best friend has happened to me at least twice in my life. I became friends with a woman named Kara* through mutual interest and respect. We saw in each other qualities that we admired: Intelligence, drive, and passion. We thought: Finally, someone who gets it! And that lasted for a while.
We had incredible adventures in both our professional and personal lives: traveling the country, co-hosting music events and making names for ourselves in the music industry together. We became known as the ultimate tag-team.
But then something happened. That intelligence and drive and passion and mutual interests that first brought us together began to drive us apart.
We realized that yes, we found a friend, but we also found our competition. Our same interests became the same goals and, unfortunately, it seemed at one point that there could only be one person to win it all.
We both wanted to be known as "the best" up-and-comer in the music biz. We each wanted to turn the industry on its head and gain the spotlight. So naturally, we had to outdo everyone else, including (and mostly) each other.
At first, the twinges of jealousy and sparks of argumentation between Kara and I were random and sporadic. If I made moves without her, she would be sure to try and minimize my accomplishment with her own. If I had drinks at a bar with some music industry heads and artists, she would take care to immediately remind me, "Remember that one time I partied that entire weekend away with this band?" "Yeah," I would say. "I remember."
We were almost able to forget all about butting heads and return to what was most important: our friendship. But then our clashes started happening more often: over professional opportunities; who made the better impression and who wanted success more.
To avoid ruining our friendship, she began putting more time into her side job bartending and distancing herself from our collaborative work in the industry. Meanwhile, I carried on. I invested myself more deeply in music, quickly climbing the proverbial ladder.
Kara would complain at times about her other job but then come back at me with, "Well, I'm making such great money. No way am I going to quit," knowing that I was becoming more successful than her. Sometimes it seemed that even the Greek Titans must have had it easier.
It was a tough spot. I really did care for Kara. I also knew that it would not behoove me to dismiss her from my life. I couldn't make an enemy out of my biggest competitor. No matter what, she was still an extremely smart, driven and talented individual. So, we entered the weird realm of "frenemy" territory.
In the frenemy zone, part of you really does want to believe that you can still be “best” friends and have great times together, but you’re also acting out of self-preservation. From here on out, I knew I had to keep her in a space where I could enjoy her company sometimes, but most importantly keep an eye on her.
In any industry, you should be aware of what the other players are up to. Even if it started to seem less likely, I still didn't like the idea of her somehow getting ahead of me.
It sounds cruel, but it’s the harsh reality of being friends as an adult. At the end of the day, you have to look out for yourself.
And I know I'm not the only one who started to strategize. Kara did, too. Instead of supporting my decision to walk out on a day job that I hated to pursue another opportunity, she spent time telling me how she would never have done the same thing and how I had made a mistake.
I could also tell by the messages she chose not to respond to. When I would text Kara in excitement about something positive that had happened to me, she would either not answer or somehow relate it back to herself. But still, to keep me under her thumb, she would randomly remind me that we were “best friends.”
Our friendship is still a topic we avoid discussing. It sits silently in the background of all of our conversations like a shadow. We see less and less of each other as time goes on.
I’m not saying you can’t be friends with people you admire and respect and have a lot in common with. Given the right circumstances, these kinds of people can be your best collaborators. (And we were, for a while.) However, people with drive and ambition in the same field as yours have a tendency to get competitive instead — and that’s when you have to watch your back.
And when you notice them playing these mind games, keep your head about you. Don’t play. Just do you. That’s how you win.
I don't receive texts from Kara regarding congratulations or support anymore, and I've stopped sending them myself. But I do receive the occasional "I miss you." I do receive the "Let's hang out!" messages. I respond politely, but not in kind. I'm not one to pretend and be fake.
I'll keep it friendly and cheerful, but I've set my emotional boundaries. It's a shame, really, because I do miss the way our friendship used to be.