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Mean Girls as adults(2 Posts)
I was ‘mean girled’ last week, and I’ll tell you what. Even at the age of 35, it still came as a shock when the penny dropped. That awful moment when I realised what was going on, I felt stupid and small. What was different this time though, was that it didn’t hurt. Fourteen year old me did not take it well and completely spiralled when she realised her friends were not actually friends, but happily 35 year old me is older, more experienced and not prepared to put up with this shit anymore. To paraphrase the great Taylor Swift - shake (that sh)it off.
I agreed to the big group holiday without really thinking it through. I was a little hesitant, only because I knew my long-suffering boyfriend would rather peel and eat his own eyeballs than spend a week in a house with 7 other people her barely knows, but ever the optimist I selfishly assured him it would all be fine. They had done new year together in a holiday cottage the previous year, partners and children in tow, and had a great time, so of course we and our children should join them. The idea was fait accompli, we just had to find a house that suited our requirements - easypeasy.
Looking back now, there were warnings, some more glaring than others, but I ignored all of them. Any suggestion I made was ignored, any house I suggested was immediately put down. I just tried harder and harder to please, like the lapdog I was supposed to be. I felt duty bound to build the friendship, create a sense of closeness, shared experience and togetherness. I had everyone over for playdates and coffee, which was never reciprocated. We went to local events together and if I am being really, brutally honest with myself, even without the glory of hindsight that I now have, I could have seen that this wasn’t going to work.
I am not going to pretend I am perfect, I know I’m a nightmare sometimes, but the fact is I do believe I am, for the most part, a good person. I have said and done mean things in the past, and I probably will again in the future, unintentionally. Little moments of weakness that are natural in humans. I was a self-involved asshat for most of my 20s, but I do have a modicum more awareness of other people’s feelings now.
We had booked the Cottage Saturday to Saturday, but a month before we were due to go, I found out about an event locally that I really wanted to go to and to cut a long story short I went. I explained the situation to the others, and invited them, and made clear that we would of course continue to pay for the whole week even though we’d be arriving a day late. We all joked about them getting to pick the best rooms, and everything appeared to be fine. We were messaging up until the day before the holiday started, the usual back and forth about food shopping and plans for days out, but when we arrived on Sunday evening, walked in the door and the atmosphere was ice. It did not improve.
The unbelievably frustrating, but important, thing about mean girls is that they fly completely under the radar. I could write a long list of all the tiny slights, comments, looks, smirks and manipulations that I endured over the next few hours, but each individually sounds ridiculous. When you put them all together it makes me look and sound like a precious, petty snowflake. This is why mean girls are so fucking powerful, and why they get away with it. If you feel you are a victim of a mean girl, the minute you open your mouth to talk to someone about it, you talk yourself out of believing anything is wrong.
‘She looked at me funny’, oh boo hoo.
‘She changed the plans last minute so I couldn’t come’, or was it just an unfortunate coincidence?.
I almost envy the honest brutality of how boys bully - a punch in the face - BANG! Yes it hurts like hell, but you can’t deny it happened. No one is going to tell you that they did it by accident, or that the bully didn’t mean anything by it, or they didn’t realise it would hurt. Your own brain isn’t socially engineered to tell you that it didn’t really happen that way. It is nowhere near as insidious, as malicious. It doesn’t creep under your skin and continue to eat away at your self esteem for years to come. Bruises heal, but the psychological damage a mean girl can do can take years of counselling to repair.
It took two days until the moment of blinding light hit me, at about 11pm on new years eve. The selection of petty behaviours had just peaked - when I walked into a room the other 4 adults left and only came back each time, giggling, after about 20 minutes. Every time I spoke there were obvious eye-rolls and sniggers. A board game with a buzzer prop was produced, the game was never played but the buzzer sounded every time I opened my mouth. If I’m honest, even writing it now I feel like a silly school girl for letting such small stuff get to me, but therein lies the bite. It did get me.
The good news is that I was there with my aforementioned long-suffering, but absolute fucking legend of a boyfriend. He had clocked it too. We took a moment alone just before the bells, I checked with him if this was all really happening, he confirmed, and we went back into the sitting room as a team.
We left two days later, which was two days earlier than we had planned to leave, but two days too late in my opinion. Those two days were spent navigating a minefield. The husband of the main mean girl works with my boyfriend on occasion. We are all part of a small community, and have children the same ages - I don’t feel able to let this blow up because we’ll be paying for it for years to come.
I felt such a surge of relief as we drove away, and by the time we walked through our front door after the long drive home we both felt like we had escaped something quite evil but thank God it was over. We had a couple of unexpected days at home to catch up on life post-Christmas, it was a nice surprise, made even more pleasant through comparison.
After a few days at home, quietly glowing in the glory of our dignified departure, the mean girl is still trying to exert her power by minimising her behaviour. I have received an escalating number of messages checking in, saying hi, asking how the journey was, tagging me in events that might be of interest etc. all as if nothing happened. As if we didn’t leave in silence, having tried to say goodbye to a group of adults sat around the table ignoring eye contact.
These messages have peaked with a very clever weapon in the mean girls arsenal - the ‘is everything ok’ message. She has suggested that she’s getting a vibe that she’s upset me, completely accidental I am assured, but if she has, in any way caused upset she’s sorry, things are tough at home at the moment you see, but she’s getting the impression that I might want her to ‘fuck off’.
Oh clever, clever, clever. I read this message and 14 year old me immediately tells me I’ve overreacted. She didn’t mean any of that stuff, I had clearly misread the whole situation and she is worried she’s upset me. Bullshit. The tone of her message, when I apply my cynical adult brain is that this is the most half arsed non-apology she could cobble together. She knows she upset me, she KNOWS her behaviour was rude, hurtful and it was intended to be so. It wasn’t an accident. If you stand on someone's toe, or kick them under the table, that is an accident but you have hurt them and you say sorry. If you belittle, ignore, freeze out and intentionally ostracise one person from a group over a period of days that is not an accident.
Classic mean girl - excusing her bad behaviour by looking for sympathy for it, blaming me for being offended by her bullying, making me the bad guy for wanting her to ‘fuck off’. And for the record I would also like to state that ‘I’m sorry you felt that way’ is NOT an apology, it is a relocation of feeling blame from the perpetrator to the victim.
I have to confess, I have taken the cowards way out. I was brought up to fight the good fight against bullying, but on this occasion, I actively wish to slink off into the background. This is not my battle. I do not wish to nurture a friendship with these people, I’m lucky I wasn’t too invested in the first place, and that they showed their cards early on before I did get in any deeper. If I tell her how her behaviour made me feel, she’ll apologise, I will have to do the decent thing and accept the apology, and then we’ll have to limp on through until her nature takes over again and we have ever growing repeats of the situation until one day it really will blow up. Why would I invite that in to my life?
My advice to anyone, of any age, facing down a mean girl - think it through. Do you actually want this person in your life? What joy do they bring you? Do you feel energised and positive when you have spent time with them? It is more likely that you feel drained, anxious, eager to please, to try harder and quite stressed. If that is how friendship is supposed to feel, you can count me out. A mean girl’s power lies in you buying into them. The minute you don’t care what they think of you, they lose control.
Really relate to your post, I've been going through a very similar situation recently. You're right, once you stop caring, the person loses their control over you, it's been an epiphany for me realising that. Also I was shocked that grown adults in their 40's were still behaving this way, but sadly there are mean girls that grow up to become mean mums who are also teaching (perhaps not consciously) their daughter's to model that mean girl behaviour.
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