One of Bob Dylan’s most memorable songs, Positively 4th Street starts with the immortal lyrics “you’ve got a lot of nerve to say you are my friend…” the song is a rant against a false friend of his, and when I first heard it. I was struck. Struck by a feeling of recognition, of that there was something intrinsically relatable about the song.
All of us, many times in our lives come across people who present themselves as friends. We come to trust them, spend time with them, but after a while, for whatever reason, their true nature shows itself. They may have mistreated you, ignored you when you needed help, or used you as a tool for their own gains.
These people can be hard to spot, it can be difficult to understand their goals and intentions. But they tend to fall into seven particular categories.
1. The Complimenter / The Lothario
It’s part of human nature to like being complimented, and we in turn often like those who are complimenting us. Beware the complimenter , as they know this. The complimenter throws you with praise and appreciation to get close to you fast. You need to question why they want to get close to you so quickly. What are their goals, it could mean they have confidence issues and are genuinely a great and kind person, but it could mean they want something very particular from you and not your friendship (be wary if the complimenter is of the opposite sex).
Luckily the complimenter is easy to spot, as their over friendliness can easily seem fake (because it is).
2. The Manipulator
The manipulator can be one of the most dangerous forms of fake friends as they are often the most difficult to spot. The manipulator is only effective when they have earned your appreciation and your trust, it is here when their deviousness comes into play. A good friend, a real friend always takes your thoughts and feelings into account, the manipulator has no reason to take these into account as to them you are only a chess piece to move in order to get what they want. Don’t expect them to stick around once they have gotten what they want. Avoid at all costs.
3. The Social Climber
The social climber sees friends as others see expensive clothes or items, something that makes them look good. In their minds they are constantly judging all they associate with, and are ready to drop you or any friend if they feel they are no longer needed as they climb the social ladder. Like the manipulator, they only associate with you if it suits them, and have little regard for your feelings or wants.
4. The Copy Machine
The copy machine is not so much a friend, but a fan. Where the complimenter, the manipulator, and the social climber are shrewd and cunning. The copy machine is willing to drop or modify any aspect of their personality or character to mimic yours. Their end goal for their mimicry is uncertain, but possibly to them there is an aspect to your personality that they want. With good friends, there is the possibility to challenge each other, to grow and find out more about each other. With the copy machine, you are only dealing with a warped mirror image.
5. The Pretender
The pretender is much like the friend Bob Dylan sang about in Positively Fourth Street. They are someone who only acts like your friend when it suits them. They can be friendly, they can even be fun to hang with. But there is no loyalty to them and in the same way they are pretending to be your friend, they are also perfectly happy to pretend that they are not your friend if they think that will negatively affect them.
Most of the time the pretender shows themselves in debts that will never be paid back, borrowed items that aren’t returned. Like many of the fake friends on this list they don’t really think much of your thoughts and feelings as they are not important to them.
True friends are there with you just as much in bad and difficult times as in good times. The pretender never shows when things get tough.
6. The Cheater
Unlike every other entry on this list, the cheater may well once have been a true friend. You might have been important to them, and they may have been important to you. You may even think they are still your friend, when secretly all that has changed. The cheater is a person who stays and acts like your friend when they are secretly doing something that utterly betrays you and your trust. Most commonly this is having a secret romantic or sexual relationship with your partner. Sadly the cheater is only knowable once they have already broken your trust, and until then appears to be a true friend.
7. The Rival
The rival is the least subtle of all fake friends. Unfortunately they are quite common. Have you ever had a friend that, whenever you mention something you or a friend has done, they immediately say something that makes them the focus of attention? Then this a rival.
Every achievement you make is to them a challenge, not something to be duly celebrated. If you get a new TV, they get a bigger one, if you take up a new hobby, then they take it up too with the exclusive intention of becoming better at it than you. What’s worse, is that if they can’t beat you, then they move to spoil your enjoyment, eventually they cease being your friend then become an enemy. They never were your friends to begin with.
There is no single way of spotting a fake friend. But ultimately it comes down to these things.
Is there something fake about the way they interact with you, and you often feel worse off after spending time with them? These are two major red flags, and may very well suggest your social circle has been infiltrated by a fake friend.
Make a note of how real friends treat you compared to the fake friend. The difference will be clear.
Importantly, if they are difficult to engage with and seem to have no real interest in spending time with you, then grant them their wish and keep them at a distance. There is no point in respecting someone who doesn’t respect or have much time for you.
Your first instinct may be to reach out even more in this situation, but this can only leave you feeling unwanted and unliked. Always put your own personal and emotional needs first.
Ask yourself if the person is ever a bully.
This might not be outright and obvious, but it can be a lack of caring when you are suffering. Often times fake friends, in particular the manipulator use emotional blackmail to get what they want from you. Don’t fall for it.
Now here comes the hard bit.
Ask yourself how much their friendship means to you.
You might have noticed that some times in your life that you hang out with and spend time with people for no real reason. Perhaps you spend time with them almost out of force of habit. This is a similar situation.
You should consider if you truly enjoy spending time with them. Or if they seem to hurt or sadden you.
If you still want to be their friend then you have two options.
Keep them at the distance that you are comfortable with, with full knowledge of how they act and operate. Alternatively, you can tell them how they feel and risk offending them, or them cutting the friendship. It is possible that this will make them more aware of their negative behavior and may seek, over time to become a true friend, but this shouldn’t be expected.
It’s important to realize that friendships have a natural ebb and flow. Even real friends may one day stop being your friend one day. People naturally drift apart, becoming increasingly distant, and distant until no more connection is made. If you no longer want to be friends, then ultimately you just need to stop trying to be friends. Eventually they will get the message.