Healthy rivalries: is it good to obsess over a nemesis? – Stylist Magazine

Healthy rivalries: is it good to obsess over a nemesis?  Stylist Magazine

Roxane Gay has 10 of them, but how healthy is it to obsess over a rival or enemy? Stylist investigates.

They are our secret adversaries. They make our blood boil on Instagram. Their ever-growing LinkedIn connections really drives us mad. Pit us against them on a sports pitch and we turn gladiatorial. They are our nemeses, and they are also completely normal to have. 

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Guest editor Roxane Gay is the undisputed queen of conjuring up adversaries. She can have 10 nemeses at any one time, simply because she likes having them. “A nemesis is someone for whom you harbour an abiding, relentless dislike,” she writes in her essay on the pleasures of having an imagined rival.

They might not know we exist, but that hardly matters. Roxane’s primary foe, for example, “smiles too much, is thriving professionally and exists to spite me. It is almost too much to bear.” 

Our rivals exist solely to grind our gears, but we also can’t get enough of them. It might not have quite the thrill of Eve versus Villanelle, but more than half of us have a work enemy, according to Totaljobs. And social media has gifted us access to our adversaries out-of-hours. There are close to 300,000 Instagram posts dedicated to the #nemesis.     

From YouTube beef to Twitter feuds, nemeses are trending in real life. So why do we have them? “Our nemesis often shows what actually matters to us. They reflect back our own values and ideals,” says psychologist and life coach Honey Langcaster-James. “It’s often someone who is doing what we would secretly like to. Or perhaps they appear to be living their life in a way that we aspire to. Your nemesis is a mirror, reflecting back what you want to be doing with your life.”

We tend to pick nemeses that are quite similar to us. They are us but with a better CV, #friendshipgoals and great hair (how do they do that?). Social media puts all of this pettiness in the palm of our hands.

Yet nemesis-collecting can be a noble pursuit. We pick workplace nemeses according to how willing they are to throw others under the bus, Totaljobs found, suggesting we’re keen to protect colleagues who have been wronged. There are other good reasons for having an adversary. Long-distance runners cut five seconds off their race times when competing against an arch-rival, according to a 2014 study from New York University. Nemeses are motivational. 

“Think of a nemesis as grit in your oyster,” Langcaster-James suggests. “They might really wind you up, but they also might represent something that is against your own values. They can make us think, ‘What do I want to be doing more of? How should I be investing my time?’ You can use your nemesis as a springboard to differentiate yourself from. You can even turn a nemesis into an inspiration.”

Here, four women offload about their arch-nemeses.

“I’m petty, so revenge really motivates me”

Jen Corrigan – Writer and Tech Worker

Vivienne think having rivals is healthy.

My nemeses are women’s football teams who use grassroots football as a vanity project; hip teams born from the hype and opportunities in women and girls’ football. They take money and attention from clubs like ours, teams that provide proper grassroots opportunities for women and girls to build confidence and self-esteem. 

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Our team, East London Ladies, started from nothing and continues to grow without big endorsements from sports brands, who focus their attention on the teams with the trendy-looking girls without a hair out of place. These teams don’t know they are my nemeses. I’ve tried to get to know their story rather than judging a book by its cover, however, I’m not sold on what they are selling. Some may call it jealousy, but when you’ve been grafting, providing opportunities for over 120 girls and women a week, and it goes unnoticed to the point where you can’t even get equipment, it’s disheartening.

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At the same time, it becomes your driving force. It’s healthy competition. Every Instagram post of their fresh new kit from a well-known brand motivates me to go that bit extra.I meet my nemeses at games. Sometimes they can’t fulfil all the opportunities thrown their way and we are asked to step in. So why not take that moment to show what you do? A nemesis keeps me pushing and driving, but it is not as important as what happens on the pitch.     

Roxane says:

I have several nemeses – people who have slighted me in ways both real and imagined who are now mortal adversaries. May they be forced to fly only United Airlines for the rest of their days… 

Photography: David Harry Stewart/