We get mail (well, OK: pony express) here at Historiann.com HQ. From our mailbag today is a savvy analysis of a very special kind of bully. Fans of Sex and the City (the TV show) will recognize the word “frenemy”–an enemy who acts like (and may actually believe) ze’s your friend. An anonymous correspondent writes,
There is a kind of bullying that I haven’t seen discussed before: the frenemy. This is something a sociopath colleague has worked to perfection. He provides inside information things that as an assistant professor you’re not supposed to get, he gives “advice” that’s only in your best interest, he warns you about others who are out to get you, he vows to “defend” you when other people try to bully you, etc. (Needless to say, there are disturbing hints that behind your back he is doing nothing of the sort.) At the same time, of course, he makes it clear how dependent you are on him: his patronage, his good graces, etc. There was/is a double effect in this kind of “information banking” style of bullying; because it’s kept secret (and is based in many ways on the fact that it is secret), other people in the department are often unaware of what’s going on. To this day I think that some of the senior faculty in our department have no idea that this individual has hazed every single junior member of our department at some point.
Have you ever had a frenemy at work? I recognize the type described here. You know hir–ze approaches you shortly after the faculty retreat at the beginning of the year and invites you out to lunch. Ze tells you all about the other finalists for your job, and reassures you that you were so very much better than those other pretentious losers. Ze then warns you who you need to watch out for–because although most of the department are very happy that you took the job, there are others who are not so impressed. And this person, your frenemy, is going to watch out for you. Aren’t you the lucky one!
Your frenemy will tell you what people are really saying about you in tenure and promotion committee meetings–stuff that doesn’t make it into your annual review letter, which is always very positive and says that you’re on track to win tenure–but ze says you should know what people really think of you nevertheless. Ze will warn you darkly about trusting anyone else in the department–ze knows, because ze’s been treated badly by them. Ze will listen sympathetically to your frustrations as a junior faculty member–and will collect any and all information you volunteer about your hopes, dreams, and love life. Ze will remind you how much you owe hir–ze will expect proof of your loyalty. If not this year, then someday.
Oh, you know hir, too? (Does this sound like a Joyce Carol Oates novel yet?) Readers, do you have any advice for our colleague, or for others who are dealing with their own frenemies? Talk amongst yourselves–I’m so skeeved out that I have to go take another shower.
And on another note: We Don’t Like Ike. To all of our friends and readers in Houston and elsewhere in East Texas, stay safe and dry this weekend as the storm bears down on y’all. We’ll be thinking of you–let me know if you’ll need the guest room at Historiann HQ in case of evacuation.