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The “Crabs in a Barrel” theory of friendship

June 3, 2008

This theory was recently explained to me by a coworker. (Full disclosure: this coworker is black, and his idea of this theory only dealt with other black people. But I think it goes beyond race.) I will occasionally hear him mutter “like crabs in a barrel,” and I will know someone just tried to screw him over on something.

Imagine a big, disgusting barrel of crabs, about to be cooked. What happens to a crab that gets to the top and is about to climb out of the barrel? Inevitably, one of the other crabs will grab it and pull it back down right as it is about to escape to freedom.

This theory says there are two types of friends: the ones who are happy for you when good things happen, and the ones who pull you back into the barrel. The trick is figuring out which friends are the crabs.

I have definitely seen this several times in my life; something good happens to someone and the people you would expect to be most supportive are secretly plotting how to bring the person back down to their level. Stupid people.

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