You can still be ruled by the rules of the playground well into adulthood.
“It’s as if someone called you a whore,” Meagan* said without apology. I was stunned she was bringing it up again. I thought we were having a lunch date, I didn’t realize it was just another opportunity for her to berate me about a social blunder that happened months ago. As the tears collected in my eyes, she continued her brutal — for my own good, she insisted — honesty. Our conversation seemed to go on forever even after our summer salads had been eaten.
Meagan has been this way for awhile now. When I first met her, I admired her outgoing personality, her sense of humor, and intelligence. These days I see less of the fabulous Meagan, and only the judgmental and hypercritical one. She treats me terribly under the curtain of concern; of wanting to help me, but it still stings. It makes me wonder about my friend choices.
When would I have enough of Meagan’s meanness? When would today be the day I finally stood up to her, and end our unhealthy (for me) relationship? And why did I still have mean girls as friends? Why was I still allowing people to emotionally bully me?
You always remember your first, and my number one mean girl was my mother.
Strange as this might sound, it wouldn’t hurt her feelings for me to describe her as mean. She considers herself independent, blunt, and if that seems mean to you, well that’s not her problem.
At the age of six, I was excited to be in my first fashion show, even if it was only for my elementary school’s PTA. I was modeling a bathing suit cover-up made from two beach towels, and yet I acted as if I were walking the runways of Paris in Christian Dior. Since my mother didn’t sew, I was modeling our neighbor's creation. Mom didn’t attend the show, and threw the handmade garment into the trash minutes after I returned home, saying that it wasn’t very flattering. Perhaps she felt embarrassed that she hadn’t made my terry cloth couture, but it still felt mean to me.
I didn’t grow up with much family, so my friends became my family. The more friends I had, the better I felt. Sabina had a big group she ruled over like the miniature queen of Kindergarten that she was. Once during Dollies, a game that only Sabina knew the rules of, I mistakenly lifted her skirt. As this was a major playground faux pas, everybody froze to hear Sabina’s ruling. My punishment was to sit out the rest of recess on the bench, and I did. I couldn’t risk losing friends. I had already started to be intimidated by the mean girls.
At weight-loss camp in high school, I became one of the mean girls.
As with any gang, I had to establish myself as a valuable member. I did this by masterminding a prank disguised as helpful. I secretly left soap, deodorant and shampoo with an anonymous note outside a shower-phobic camper’s door. When the girl found the gift, she was devastated. I felt horrible that I had treated someone as I hated to be treated — as a loser and an outcast.
I continued to have mean female friends into adulthood. I was proud of my ability to handle difficult women. Being able to be friends with mean women made me feel as if I had earned a special prize. I could be friends with anybody if I tried, even the cool, condescending kids. You can still be ruled by the rules of the playground well into adulthood.
At the start of my relationship with Meagan, I had a girl crush on her and couldn’t wait to introduce to her to my friends. They immediately bonded with her. Now I know if you have different groups of friends, sometimes it's best to keep them separate rather than integrating them because ending a friendship is much easier if you don’t have a lot of extra people hating you for doing it.
Since it became obvious that I couldn’t do anything right with Meagan, I became terrified of giving her any ammunition to feed her constructive criticism.
Whatever qualities Meagan seemed to want in a friend, I strived to have. But being a more perfect version of myself didn’t seem to work either; Meagan still found ways to be super critical of me. She was no longer a friend, but a dreaded frenemy.
One day after a very careful conversation with her, I received an email from Meagan where she chewed me out for my tone. I hadn’t said anything that she objected to, she just didn’t like the manner in which I said it. Normally I would have just said that I was sorry and let it go, but this time I questioned her motives. Was she deliberately trying to pick a fight? She immediately became defensive as I had never been this confrontational and by confrontational I mean simply defending myself against her attack.
Meagan wasn’t so critical with her other friends. What if I had been honest at the start and told her how I felt? Since I hadn’t said anything, how would she have known that I was upset with the way she treated me. She might have assumed I had a thicker skin than I did.
I was the bad friend, not Meagan, and not all the so-called mean girls in my life. I was the one who had sacrificed my self-worth and self-respect to be accepted and liked. It took me being criticized for something that I couldn’t fix, to realize that it’s far better to have a few friends who love you for who you are than a bunch of mean women who just need you in their lives to feel better about themselves.
Since I wanted to end the friendship quietly, I simply stopped including Meagan in any social events and discontinued communicating with her directly.
Without any discussion or communication of any kind, we ceased to be friends. To anyone observing we simply drifted apart like two high school friends going to colleges on separate coasts.
I know in the future that Meagan and I are bound to run into each other at a party or social event since our mutual friends didn’t take sides, and remained friends with both of us. It will be awkward and emotionally upsetting like running into an ex-boyfriend. But feeling uncomfortable is better than not being able to be who you are — even if it’s self-imposed — and it’s a lot better than having someone treat you like crap because they’re an adult mean girl.
*Names have been changed