unwanted competition

Reader B.C. writes:

I have a friend who keeps making everything a competition between us. And I mean EVERYTHING — boys liking us, clothes fitting, our jobs. We both do freelance work, and we made a deal a long time ago that we would only go for clients in different fields so we wouldn’t ever be in direct competition with each other. But these days, if I get a client, she has to point out how many more she’s got, or what a crappy client it is, or whatever. The other day I got a weird, extremely critical comment on a blog post I’d written from an “anonymous” commenter, but it included a lot of information about me that I don’t advertise on my blog, so I have to believe it was a friend, and I honestly believe it was her. I don’t want to be in competition with her — I want to be friends. What can I do?

Dear B.C.:


You can't win if you don't compete, you know. Image: Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It sounds to me like your friend has an inferiority complex, which you will never be able to assuage. The best you can do is call her out on it, and let her know it’s bothering you. Hopefully she’ll be mature enough to admit what exactly has brought this competition spurt on, and the underlying issues will come forth so you can resolve them. Don’t even bring up the fact that you suspect her of trolling on your blog, because that will make her immediately defensive. Just tell her you’ve noticed she’s been more competitive recently that usual, that it bothers you because you prefer not to compete with your friends, and you’re wondering if something new has gone on to make this change, or if there’s something you can do about it.

You could also ignore it and let her burn herself out. If she’s got an issue with you that she can’t bring up and can only address through passive aggression, then the problem is in her head. If you can ignore it, do. Continue with business as usual. Maybe point out to her when she’s being unnecessarily mean, but other than that, just ignore her tirades. In fact, be extra nice to her so that she feels even worse. If you quit reinforcing a behavior, it should eventually stop. Criticism can be good for you, even if it’s mean spirited or unwarranted, because it brings us to question what we know, and can help you grow. So even if she’s just being mean, you can use it as a tool to better yourself.

If she doesn’t stop, you can lessen your interaction with her (like, quit telling her who your clients are, and hang out with her less), or you can even end the friendship altogether. It can be hard to tell a girl you don’t want to be friends anymore, and for the most part, relationships between girls tend to just putter out rather than end with any discussion. If neither of you is willing to discuss where your relationship is going or why, I bet this is what is going to happen anyway.

But you could compete back. A little competition is healthy, even for those of us (like myself) who don’t like confrontation. Like criticism, it makes you question your strengths and work on your weaknesses.

Why not push back? Get more clients than her; be a better freelancer (are you writers or graphic designers or what?); get more boys to ask you out. Maybe it will give you more confidence and make you feel better about yourself.

I know, I know, it’s not what nice girls do. Nice girls politely step aside when their friends get fussy, or allow their girlfriends to shine instead of tarnishing them, or whatever. The whole “girls are supposed to be nice” thing is a recurring theme I have to admit I fall into myself. But standing up for yourself is as important as being nice. And forget being viewed as nice. You can’t please everyone all the time.

I’m sure that as a working girl, you’ve been viewed as a bitch, or pushy, or awful at least once in your life. Hell, even outside of the workplace, no girl is nice all the time. Or at least no girl I’ve ever met.

Try fighting fire with fire. If you two can’t have a civilized conversation about what is going on in your relationship, or she can’t admit she wants something you have, then just prove to her how out of reach your life really is. It’ll probably knock her on her ass. If she wants a flame war, start a flame war. Get your friends to leave critical comments on her blog, too. Purposefully bid on work she’s said she wants. Go nuts. Be as bitchy to her as you feel she’s being to you.

True, it probably won’t end well. But you’ll improve your game. And you may scare her out of her present state of mind while you’re at it.


2 Responses to “unwanted competition”

  1. 1 Sarah
    June 30, 2011 at 12:52 am

    May we please end all competition between people? Is it possible? Would the world be too boring or something?

    “A little competition is healthy”…. I don’t even know the last time I met someone who knew the meaning of healthy competition. And chances are, it probably wasn’t a woman. The kind of competition I run into, and notice being fully embraced in some social circles, the workplace, even incited by managers and execs among their subordinates, is dicey mean shit that grows from people’s worst traits.

    I’m not suggesting transcendence, as it’s something I myself have never ever been able to do, but developing some awareness and control over our words and actions in the face of very unpleasant feelings such as jealousy and unworthiness and shame, would make the world friendlier.

    I recently went to dinner with a friend, yes, friend, who sometimes is competitive, ESPECIALLY about men. (You look a man in the eyes and smile, and she’s right there ready to malign you to him.) I had to tell her about something I feel ashamed about, and decided to trust her that she would be supportive. She was. It felt great. There was no sign that she liked hearing the bad news. I was so surprised that I sometimes wonder if it was real. Women can smell jealousy on each other… if we could trust one another to be able to discern between an unpleasant feeling and the words and actions that will end up taking our friendships where we don’t want them to go, wouldn’t we all be closer and feel more love?

    Assuming that’s what we all want, even though we suck at getting it. Love.

    Sorry– it’s a huge challenge for me to embrace the “flame war” option. Perhaps because I’ve never won one.

    • June 30, 2011 at 8:02 am

      You hit the nail on the head. That’s how I feel about “competition” most of the time — it’s just ugliness. I don’t think anyone wins in a flame war. But some people thrive on it. And those of us who hate it bow out. Good response, Sarah 🙂

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