ALL GROWN UP

From a youthful seventh grader to serving on the board of the school PTA, the mean girl spirit has no expiration date. Here’s how to take the high road, according to our lifestyle expert Amy Edwards.

CIRCLE OF FRIENDS

While thinking about female friendships and its sometimes “mean girls” connotations, I immediately recalled the myriad ways that I have been wronged or hurt in friendships over the years. But then came a moment when I needed to ask a more important, reflective question: Had I ever been a mean girl? The honest answer is: yes. I’ve had moments when I knew I wasn’t behaving as my best self. However, these scattered moments fizzled out as I got older. Or so I would like to think.

A few years back, I was in a fairly tight-knit girl-group. It wasn’t until I was out of the group that I realized how exclusionary this group behaved. When I was “out” of the group, it was a complete shock to my system to no longer be included in friendships that had been at the epicenter of my social world. Not long after, I ran into a mutual friend of that group and I told her how I had become persona non grata within this particular circle, and she proceeded to confess that she had felt left in the dust for years by this group as well, all the while I had been part of it.  That comment broke my heart. To know that I had been a party to making a lovely person feel this way crushed me. My sentiments turned to realizing that I never want to make someone feel excluded or unwanted.

It’s easy to feel anger and indignation toward those who hurt without thinking. In those situations, there’s usually that one goal: for one person to feel like they are better than others, whether it’s through exclusion, gossip, one-upmanship, or just carrying the newest, latest, most expensive Hermès bag out there. But it’s quite possible that the older we get, the more complicated the underlying reasons can be for our actions. And in my case, I was simply not paying attention to what mattered.

Or maybe there are just “mean girls” out there. At my 40th birthday dinner with the group, one girlfriend was intentionally left out. When I noticed she wasn’t invited and suggested she be included, the hostess, who was always calling the shots in that group, said definitively, “No. It just needs to be our core group.” But I knew my left-out pal was going to be hurt, of course. I agonized over it, but I had been told no and apparently, that was that, as I was not the host.

I was right. My friend who was excluded was very hurt. I know because I asked and I feel terrible about not standing up for what I knew was right in that instance—certainly at forty years old. I apologized.

As girls age, studies show that they learn to be more covert in their aggression, then hone those covert skills as we become adults. So, these girls grow into an increased reliance on relational aggression to control their own status. As researched by Ditta Oliker, PhD, in Psychology Today, the mean girl’s M.O. is as follows: “Her friends do what she wants, she is charming when she wants to be, she’s manipulatively affectionate, she takes no responsibility for hurting another’s feelings, and defines right and wrong by the loyalty or disloyalty shown to her. She is usually the one who decides who should be the victim.” Wow. All the wasted energy it takes for a girl to be mean.

OH, GROW UP

Grown-ups discuss, forgive, and get real. And while we can all have moments that aren’t our finest, we can we also work to keep perspective when we are faced with these situations. For one, stay the grown-up and don’t be a mean girl. It is simply immaturity extended to adulthood. And it doesn’t have to be the reality. Refuse it.

Second, don’t fall in line. The followers are just as at fault as the one calling the shots. It’s when I was an enabler that I helped fuel the fire. Keep your guard up, so you aren’t worried about your own survival over kindness to others. I wouldn’t want my daughter living off false stories they’ve created and telling lies to paint themselves a certain way. Whether it’s in the workplace or on social media, they can tout their ‘besties’ all day, but don’t fall into thinking that this is normal grown-up behavior.

And lastly? Include, include, include. Watch out for anyone on the sidelines. Reach out to include them, even when it might seem awkward at first. Compliment the woman who clearly tried to put her best fashion foot forward at the next gala but is sitting alone. While this sounds elementary, I can’t tell you how many of my friends of all ages have expressed having their feelings hurt by being excluded just recently. The more the merrier is always true. And love? Love always wins.