Bijoutefriends: how to spot and avoid them


How many times have you received a pretty-looking, silver-colored necklace or ring that at some point started leaving an annoying green mark on your skin? And then looking and smelling like it was fished out of the sea along with some ragged boots – and maybe even giving you a rash? Nothing wrong with that, of course, if you know what you’re getting into. But what if you do think that piece of bijouterie is real and durable, what if you’re led to think that it is something you can cherish and keep close, or that you can at least wear without breaking out in hives? What if the bijouterie breaks even your most basic expectations, after you’ve paid quite a high price for it? Here I apply this to a particular brand of false friends (and not of the grammar type): Let’s call them “bijoutefriends.”

Bijoutefriends do cost you a lot.

It can be literally money, or it can be time and energy – and eventually your sanity, if you don’t manage to escape fast enough. They approach you with ulterior motives, and often try to blur the boundaries between the personal and professional realms. They want something from you that they perceive themselves as not having. And yet, they make you believe that it’s you who needs them.

Living abroad, we could become more conspicuously vulnerable, in need of great help and affection without our usual support network at hand. We sometimes ignore our gut feeling and rush into relations with people who sound too good to be true (because they are). We ignore the warning signs as they grow louder.

These people’s legacy tends to be, at best, an irritation and nasty mark that fade off after a bit, and at worst the loss of your real friendships and lifelines. For they will paint others in a negative light and try to isolate you. They will subtly put you down, all the while talking themselves up. Name-drop. Enchant you with grandiose plans. And then slap you with a velvet glove, as far into the ground as possible, and leave you breaking out in hives and doubting your own worth. Their scars tend to run deep but be hidden underneath luster.

The tricky part is that bijoutefriends tend to present themselves at first as having your best interests at heart, even as being selfless.

The bijoutefriend shines, stands out among others who are more sincere, unfiltered, visibly scarred. The bijoutefriend reaches out his or her hand to you, and promises to fulfill your needs, transform your issues into gold, like Midas, and all that the person asks is that you do this one little thing. An investment. Giving over some money, or personal contacts, or space, lending talent, an ear, a whole arm – losing sanity.

Bijoutefriends know how to make an entrance. They give you a show of goodwill, sometimes in the form of gifts and/or compliments, but mostly it’s a lot of hot air and empty promises you receive. He or she dangles hope in front of you and then yanks it away, seemingly on a whim, and tells you it’s your fault that it didn’t work out. And that’s when the (calculated) exit happens.

Once you’ve done this one little thing – or a series of things that keep adding up and sapping you – and the bijoutefriend no longer needs you, then he or she will find a way to discard you. Or that can also happen when you fail to deliver this one little thing the way he or she wants it (or you seem to be onto them) and so the bijoutefriend quickly turns to another source of supply and begins putting you down to them. And thus, the cycle restarts with a new target.

Sometimes the latter case is enough for bijoutefriends to walk out of your life. And believe me, although you will feel used and betrayed, and even second-guess your own actions, this is the best outcome you can hope for once you get involved with this sort of person. It’s time to cut your losses and begin the healing process.

Unfortunately, you cannot completely avoid running into potential bijoutefriends – but you can still protect yourself.

Beware of anyone who offers what appear to be quick, easy shortcuts to solving complicated issues, including money-related ones. Beware of people who claim to be giving you their time and energy freely, but who then demand more of your time, energy and attention than you’re willing to give. Steer clear of those who expect you to compromise who you are or your goals and values on their behalf, or in exchange for their “special resources.”

If you feel uncomfortable in a relationship, it’s probably for a good reason. Be brave and walk away, even if that means feeling lost, alone or broke(n) for a while.

I do believe that most people are decent human beings, and that we can find kindred spirits anywhere we go or move to. Join a language course, a choir, a dance or cooking class, do team sports, search for local groups online matching your interests or giving you a taste of home. Get informed about what jobs and funding sources are available here, what you need to settle in as a foreigner, your rights and duties, and how to navigate the legal and bureaucratic sea. Seek out help from professional advisers or reliable info from the city.

It does sound exhausting and discouraging, before you get to comfortably reap the benefits. It can be a slow and arduous journey, to be sure – but building a solid base will be worth all the work.

Armed with knowledge and confidence, and gradually building a support network in your (new) environment, you are a lot less likely to grant a bijoutefriend unwarranted access into your truly precious life. It usually takes a lot of time, effort and patience to fish out the real pearls.

You’ll be thankful you waited.

A Global Studies doctoral degree holder and former newspaper reporter, avid eater, pseudo-philosopher and poet, occasion-propelled singer, semi-professional socializer, movie addict, Brazilian-American nomad. In this space, she will share some of her experiences and (mis)adventures regarding various topics, with special attention to social issues.

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