The Friend-Poaching Syndrome

SOFIA PANUELOS/New University

“Hi! Have you met Ted?”

A simple introductory greeting is all it takes to trigger the vicious cycle of “friend-poaching,” or  stealing friends away from others.  Before you know it, Ted will soon be scooped up by Alex, to whom you had just introduced Ted to, and before you can say, “Let’s grab a drink!” Ted and Alex will be bonding like there’s no tomorrow and you’ll be shoved to the side like an unwanted soggy sandwich.

We’ve all been in that situation before, whether we’ve poached a friend, been poached off by someone, or had one poached from us.

Friend-poaching can be viewed as the ultimate betrayal, analogous to “friend-napping.” But also, it can be seen as a reasonable way of making new friends through social networking. Despite that, friend-napping rarely comes without jealousy and hurt, to the point that it’s almost like reverting back to junior high school drama where reputation and clique membership meant everything in the world.

It all starts out with a simple hello. Then the invites start coming in — a Jamba Juice run, lunch, study sessions, dinner, spontaneous trips out of town. If you’re the one who’s coming to the harsh realization that someone is stealing your friend away from you, you might start to notice that you’re not receiving many of these invitations. You may somehow stumble upon the plans to visit the Los Angeles County Museum of Art that the friend-poacher and your soon-to-be-ex-friend are making, and you may feel excluded even if you have no interest in art and museums. Just the thought of those two making plans without you will naturally cause feelings of jealousy, hurt and confusion. You may feel like you have to try harder to get your friend’s attention. You may even wonder whether your friend was somehow not satisfied with the friendship between the two of you. And when the three of you do hang out on a rare occasion, you may feel like you have to act slightly different than usual to come across as the more interesting and appealing person, in a desperate attempt to win back your friend.

Friend-poaching may start out as a harmless, inadvertent act, but it can go down a pathological road when a person begins to consistently and consciously sabotage friendships and actively hurt the surrounding people.

It’s bad enough that such a thing can happen right before your eyes, so it doesn’t help at all that social-networking sites, such as Facebook, can allow this to happen behind your back. Ironically, sites like Facebook were created in an effort to make maintaining and creating friendships easier, but they can also act as a wedge between friends. Such networking sites make it even easier to drop an old friendship and generate a new one.

“Things are so instant now, it’s so easy to contact anyone you want and not go through traditional channels,” said Riann Smith, deputy editor of http://www.TheNest.com.

Naturally, one engages in poaching due to a sense of competitiveness and a lack of respect to others; poachers don’t care if they are hurting someone in the process. As long as they achieve their goals in terms of social standing, they’re satisfied. And once someone better comes along to potentially help advance the poachers’ status, the first friend will be dropped like a hot potato as the poacher moves on to the new person. Scary world, isn’t it? Despite all this, it’s good to know that friend-poaching has a positive element, since it allows people to assess the value a friendship brings to their lives.

That said, if you’ve ever lost a friend due to friend-poaching, don’t hold anger against anyone. Just take a deep breath and let it pass. As Ted Mosby from “How I Met Your Mother” says, “you may think your only choices are to swallow your anger or throw it in someone’s face. But, there’s a third option: you can just let it go. And only when you do that is it really gone and you can move forward.”

Unlike family or marriage, friendships have no blood or legal ties. It is perfectly normal for friends to come and go. Every one of us has lost someone precious at one point in life.  But never forget a past friendship, even if it hurts to remember it, because that’s part of what it means to be alive.