Friends, Allies, Adversaries, and Enemies

I’ve been reading a lot about the hero’s journey.  On a call with writer friends, one asked if I had ever heard of The Virgin’s Promise.  It’s the ARC for characters that stay home, but still learn to fulfill their dreams.  I’m not sure I buy the male/female divide between these two books, but I am intrigued by the underlying concept.

One of the concepts for ordinary world was give her friends, but not allies.  That paused me.  Did I really understand the difference?  In the US, everyone is a friend.  Just met them?  Call ’em a friend.  My daughter and son are taught in pre-school to call everyone in the room a friend.  Obviously the whole room of kids are not their friends.

So what’s the difference between a friend and an ally?  An adversary and an enemy?

Doing a little googling was, for once, not useful until I stumbled across an article geared toward executives and the importance of getting relationships right.

Here’s how this concept ended up fitting in my head.  I use ‘you’, but writers feel free to pop in your character instead of you.

An acquaintance is someone that you know a bit.  There may be mild liking to mild disliking, but you don’t interact very often.

A friend is someone who likes you. They have what they think is your best interest in mind.  The relationship isn’t conditional on shared or related goals.  Friends are in your corner, true, but may not have the skills, insight, or connections to help with your goals.  It feels like most friends are good for status quo.  If you try to change the norm or if you change and friend may slide to be an acquaintance or even adversary.

An ally is in your corner because it’s in their best interest.  They don’t hold any ill will or good will toward you as a person.  This relationship is conditional. You are aligned by circumstances, i.e. the ally’s goals align with yours.  They may have the skills, insight, or connections to help you on your goal or are using you for your skills etc.  Once that alignment is gone, unless you have converted them to a friend, they are no longer an ally.  I think they slide to be an acquaintance.  If our goals become cross purposed, they slide to be an adversary.

An adversary is not in your corner because it’s not in their interest to be.  This relationship is also conditional on circumstances that our goals are at cross purpose.  They don’t hold any ill will or good will toward you as a person.  They can be converted to allies if you can align goals and to an enemy if they start harboring ill will to you.

An enemy just doesn’t like you.  When given the choice, they will do what they think will undermine you.  Your goals may or may not align.  That is not relevant for the definition. Unless you can figure out the underlying reason someone doesn’t like you, it will never change.  And even if you do find that reason, the relationship may not change.

Relationships are fluid and change as you and your goals change.  I think this is another layer of conflict.

Do you agree?  Did I miss a part of the definition?

6 thoughts on “Friends, Allies, Adversaries, and Enemies

  1. You didn’t miss a single thing there. Great post.

    One of the more interesting relationships I ever had was with a guy who was actually an adversary. As people we got along fine. We had many of the same interests, enjoyed talking, even had coffee together. The problem was, he was more interested in selling dope and I, of course, was interested in stopping him.

    At the very least, it was bizarre. One minute we’d be discussing physics, the next I’d be putting the cuffs on him, or he’d be taking a swing at me. And then when I got him to jail, we’d talk physics afterwards.


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