One Question Quiz
Even the closest and most loving relationships aren’t immune to the occasional power struggle.
Even the closest and most loving relationships aren’t immune to the occasional power struggle.

SocietyMay 9, 2024

Help Me Hera: Are my friend’s compliments of our other mate designed to terrorise me?

Even the closest and most loving relationships aren’t immune to the occasional power struggle.
Even the closest and most loving relationships aren’t immune to the occasional power struggle.

She doesn’t have a single kind word for me and it’s getting under my skin.

Want Hera’s help? Email your problem to

Dear Hera,

I have two amazing friends that I absolutely adore. Grace (all names have been changed) and I lived together across 2023 and Olivia moved in with us this January, and despite some initial reservations on my part, it’s been a smooth transition. We are all enjoying the rollercoaster of our 20s while working on being authentic and honest with each other (ie we’re all recovering people-pleasers).

There’s just one thing that I’m currently struggling with: Olivia, who is by nature a loving, bubbly human being, often effusively compliments Grace’s appearance or speaks at length at how gorgeous she is. Now don’t get me wrong, I totally agree. Grace is naturally stunning AND truly believes her friends are too. However, Olivia’s compliments often happen when I am in a similar outfit, or they interrupt serious conversations or situations where appearance doesn’t necessarily need to be mentioned (like in the middle of us singing ‘Happy Birthday’!) 

I don’t believe I am jealous of Grace, but this definitely does get to me. Surely I should be happy for my friend and comfortable in myself – so why am I finding myself feeling a bit offended at the fact that I’m not mentioned, and like I should try harder to be beautiful?

Please, Hera, tell me: how can I stop being offended by my best mate’s well-intentioned compliments to our mutual best friend?!


Left Out

a line of dice with blue dots

Dear Left Out,

I’ve thought long and hard about this letter, and don’t know whether I’ve got the requisite emotional intelligence to parse what’s going on here. Either Olivia is lovely but oblivious, or you’re dealing with a subtle form of girl-on-girl power violence, specifically designed to make you feel as if you’re going insane. 

It’s difficult to tell where Olivia falls on the dumb/evil axis without actually observing her behaviour in action. But I don’t think you’re being unnecessarily insecure. Even if Grace was Julia Roberts and you were an old hotdog wrapper clinging to her shoe, constantly delivering effusive compliments to one friend while leaving the other out is obviously hurtful, and your friend should have the emotional intelligence to know better.

As far as I can tell, there are three possible motivations for Olivia’s behaviour. 

One: she’s genuinely oblivious as to how verbally lopsided her affection is, and has no idea she’s hurting you. 

Two: she’s harbouring secret romantic feelings towards Grace, which are spontaneously erupting at inappropriate moments, like halfway through singing ‘Happy Birthday’.

Three: she’s doing it on purpose. 

The second option is the most fun, and I’d love to believe it, but I think we can probably rule it out. So you’re left with the question: does Olivia know what she’s doing? 

Before speculating, I’d like to offer the caveat: I obviously have no idea. I cannot stress enough how little I know any of you, or what the dynamics of your friendship are. But if I were you, I’d ask myself a few key questions. Does Olivia usually display high emotional intelligence, or can she be oblivious to other people’s feelings? Do the three of you have an equally strong relationship? Is there any sense in which Olivia might be competing for Grace’s attention? Do you and Olivia have a good solo relationship, or do all your interactions occur in the friendship Bermuda triangle? What were the “initial reservations” you alluded to? Is Olivia insecure about her looks? Would you be surprised to think she was trying to hurt you, or is she naturally bitchy? I don’t mean the last question to be derogatory. Some of my best friends are natural bitches. But the answers to these questions might provide a little context. 

The last thing I want to do is start unnecessary drama in your friendship group by attributing malice to an innocent misunderstanding. I also don’t want to play into stereotypes about female friendships. Anyone who knows men knows they can be just as catty as any hen’s party WhatsApp group. But there has to be some middle ground between Broad City propaganda – that female friendships are about drinking watermelon daiquiris and trimming each other’s pubic hair – and going full Andrew Tate; “relational aggression and dominance hierarchies in adult female primates.”

You describe a supportive friendship, full of mutual love and honesty. And I believe you. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t also complicated feelings at play. 

In general, it’s not considered socially acceptable for women to express hostility towards other women, unless their dislike is ideological in nature. We’ve all unionised, and nobody wants to be a scab. So acts of overt malice usually have to be subtle enough to wound, without the aggressor being perceived as aggressive. 

This is no surprise to anyone who’s ever read a Jane Austen. The more polite your society, the more subtle and ingenious your slights need to be. My brother and I learned this at an early age. We were the children of a social worker and discouraged from hostile name-calling. But it was easy to antagonise each other, by weaponizing concern. “You seem a little overwrought. Why don’t you have a little nap, and we can revisit this conversation later?” is just as devastating a riposte as “shut up your big stinking worm face” and arguably more effective, because it’s guaranteed to make the other person lose their shit while allowing you to maintain plausible deniability. The bitchiest thing anyone ever said to me was, “I hope you feel better soon.” To anyone listening, it probably sounded like, “I hope you feel better soon,” but she and I both understood it to mean, “I hope you die in your sleep, you worthless piece of human garbage. I’m going to ruin your life and there’s nothing you can do about it.” It’s called subtext, and women are good at it. 

I’m not saying that’s what’s happening here. I just wanted to raise the possibility that the situation is making you crazy because it’s designed to make you crazy, and is expertly calculated to make you look stupid if you complain. 

Why would anyone act like this? Perhaps she’s jealous of your friendship with Grace and wants to usurp you in some imagined social hierarchy. Maybe she feels insecure about her own looks, and elevating Grace at your mutual expense makes her feel better. Some people are perfectly happy to tear themselves down if it means they get to drag you down to hell with them. 

I don’t want to make you paranoid. I’ve been reading a lot of Dorothy Dunnet lately, and have aristocrat brain poisoning. By far the most likely explanation for your friend’s behaviour is that it’s totally unintentional and she has no idea she’s hurting you. But even if there’s a sense in which her slights are strategic, it doesn’t mean she hates you either. Even the closest and most loving relationships aren’t immune to the occasional power struggle. 

Either way, I think you should raise the issue. If this was a true cold war between rivals, I’d say reacting would be giving her precisely what she wants. But you say you have an authentic and honest relationship. So trust that! Tell her that her constant compliments of Grace are making you feel insecure about the way you look. If she is truly as good of a friend as you think she is, she’ll try and be more mindful of your feelings. If she gets weird about the situation or finds another way to make you feel left out, at least you know she knows what she’s doing. And if she confesses her secret lesbian feelings towards Grace, you can all laugh about this at the wedding afterparty. 

Want Hera’s help? Email your problem to all the previous Help Me Heras here.

Keep going!