There’s a moment in the first episode of the BBC Sherlock series when Dr. John Watson questions his meeting with Holmes’ self-described ‘archenemy’. “People don’t have archenemies, in real life,” John asserts. “Sounds a bit dull,” Sherlock responds. I have to agree.
I’ve had a real-life archenemy since my student days, and she’s brought me endless fun. We went to the same university, and bumped into each other a few times at events with mutual contacts, on which occasions she never failed to make me seethe with annoyance.
Of course, she doesn’t know she’s my archenemy - I think we’re even Facebook ‘friends’ - but many of our shared acquaintances are well aware that I have cast her in the role of super villain in the movie of my life.
She’s not my nemesis for any particular dastardly deed, but because she represents many of the everyday qualities I most dislike, both on a personal level and because I feel they give a bad impression of young, middle-class women. Like me.
My archenemy is, in my experience, entitled, conceited and rude. She’s the kind of girl who snaps her fingers at harried waitresses in Pizza Express and tuts when they don’t immediately come running.
She acts all dumb around men, even though she’s well-educated, because she thinks it’s 'cute'. She’s the kind of girl who claims, FFS, to be allergic to shop-bought pesto, but not homemade pesto - then can’t tell you which ingredient it is that triggers a reaction! Gah! Essentially, she’s what my mother would call 'a bit of a madam'.
Growing up, we’re usually taught to be kind to everyone and to hold back from judging people. “Don’t say anything if you can’t say something nice,” as my dear mum always said. I’m not denying that this is stellar advice, especially when it comes to increasing tolerance and preventing bullying.*
I completely agree that you should respect people for who they are, even if you disagree with them, and that you should never judge a book by its cover. But you’ve got to admit that sometimes the book sucks even after you’ve read it. And at that point, you’re allowed to write a review.
The fact is, if you’ve got a personality, you’re probably going to clash with another personality at some point in your life. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being open about that. Enough of faking smiles, forcing compliments, and feeling bad about not being everyone’s BFF: If you genuinely don’t like someone, throw your hands up and admit defeat.
And if there’s one person you simply cannot stand, more than anyone else, you don’t have to boringly and indecisively ‘just not really get on with them’ - why not step up and welcome the glorious opportunity to adopt a real-life archenemy into your real-life life?
When it comes down to it, I suppose mine is ultimately just a girl I find very annoying. So why not simply ignore her and hang out with other friends, you ask? Why be all drama-queeny and make up this archenemy business as if I’m some sort of superhero?
I confess it’s partly because I have an over-active imagination and love the attention. Whenever I mention her in conversation - such as “Oh, I hate that [insert annoying trait/object/action here], it totally reminds me of my archenemy,” - people’s response is usually something along the lines of “Ohmigod it’s so cool that you have an archenemy, I totally want one!”
This is one of the immediate benefits of accepting an arch-villain into your life; you instantly come across as an interesting character. By pitching yourself against some sort of evil force, you automatically assume the role of heroine and make your life seem a hell of a lot more exciting than it probably is.
It’s also empowering: You claim your position as protagonist of your life story, and take control of it by selecting your own nemesis. Kind of like LARPing, I guess, only without the fantasy world backdrop.
But it’s mainly because, at the end of the day, having an archenemy says a lot more about you than it does about, well, your archenemy. And it doesn’t just say you’re a bitch. Declaring someone whose behaviour you disagree with as your primary opponent is a neat way of expressing your own values. In condemning specific attributes, you reveal the characteristics you condone by default.
Having an archenemy isn’t about being mean; it’s about taking a firm stance on what sort of person you admire, and what sort of person you don’t. It’s also a way of keeping your own values in check, and the better you know your enemy, the better you can keep yourself on track to becoming the person you aspire to be (= the opposite of them).
Whenever I remember how nauseating my archenemy’s flirting-by-playing-stupid act is, I’m reminded never to play that card. When I remember how rude she can be to waiters, I work to be super-gracious to people who help me, and so on. Ultimately, my archenemy is probably very similar to me, and that’s what makes her the perfect pseudo-mirror for me to check myself against.
I’m sure if I were to get to know her better, I’d find that there’s a lot more to her than I have witnessed on our few brief encounters; a real-life archenemy will always be tainted by highly subjective experiences and exaggerations. But while she remains reduced to those few scenes of my life, she plays her role well.
And I’m sure, if she knew of her unique position in my personal worldview, she’d be flattered (and maybe a little freaked out) that she appears in my thoughts quite as often as she does.
* Disclaimer: Probably steer clear of the whole making archenemies thing if you really are a bully. It’s supposed to be fun.
Victoria's ranting and raving about her archenemy on Twitter @VickiTurk