Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Mean Girls Forever

A friend I'll call Holly rushed up to me at the supermarket the other day. I was surprised at her downcast expression. Holly, in her forties and married to a man over 55 (as our community rules require) is usually so bright and cheerful, happily balancing her busy work life with parenting a college student son, socializing with a wide variety of people and using the community recreation center enthusiastically. Swimming is her favorite way to exercise and to relax.

"When I was at the pool yesterday, it felt so terrible because QB was really rude to me and her friends snubbed me, too," she told me. "I didn't have anyone to talk to. Would you please let me know the next time you go to the recreational pool so I can go with you?"

I suddenly realized that my own uncharacteristic lack of enthusiasm for hanging out at our recreational pool this summer has been due, at least in part, to my wish to avoid a clique of aging mean girls -- who undoubtedly honed their considerable skills in junior high and who now hold court on the steps of the pool, throwing appraising glances and occasional comments to those daring to enter their domain.

I happen to know that QB -- Queen Bea -- has particular antipathy for this attractive young woman. She has often treated her rudely -- on land and in the water. "She's the same age as my oldest daughter," Bea told me some time ago. "She doesn't belong. Or, at least, I don't want to know her."

 I told Bea that I found Holly well worth knowing, a wonderful friend. So what if someone is twenty years younger? So what if someone is the same age as one's child? Bea had no answer. She simply sighed at my obtuseness and walked away.

I've long suspected that this younger woman's attractiveness, professional success and marriage to another highly successful, still-working professional stirs up a storm of jealousy in some of these mean girls, making her an easy target.

It still surprises me, though, when I see such cliquishness, exclusion and mean behavior among people our age.

This mean behavior isn't exclusive to women, of course. There are mean guys around here, too. In fact, the meanest guy in town moved away shortly after being banned from our community center for 90 days after getting into a physical fight in the front lobby with a woman, a neighbor he disliked, mostly just because she was there. Many of us bid him a heartfelt "Good riddance!" when he packed up his belongings and headed for a Florida trailer park.

But there are gender differences. Mean guys seem to be more directly aggressive, a more obvious threat. Mean girls are more covert, more passive aggressive, more dangerous. As they probably did decades ago in junior high, the mean girls often manage to outdo male bullies by far in terms of long-term pain inflicted on others.

One would think that the challenges, disappointments, losses and insights that come with time would mellow these folks out and modify their mean-spiritedness.

But no.

Some people are simply mean girls forever, stunted by -- what? Insecurities? Defensiveness? Habit? Unwillingness to change? Rogue evil genes? Personality disorders? Just plain meanness that won't quit?

What does one do in the presence of an aging mean girl?

Confrontation is a possibility, but this is, too often, met with well-honed hostility or aggravating deflection. When a neighbor recently confronted Bea with a reasonable comment on her outrageous behavior, Mean Girl whirled on her with a puzzling barrage of accusations, including the command to "Stop dumping your problems on me! Whatever you're feeling is YOUR problem, not mine!" And she stormed off, leaving my neighbor momentarily stunned and speechless.

Doubling up for comfort and for safety, as Holly requested, is certainly a possibility. It does feel better to have a friend by one's side -- kind of like having someone to eat lunch with in the junior high cafeteria -- as a buffer between oneself and rejection that the mean girls dish out so well. But it saddens me to think that we have to pair up to stave off the sting of rude comments, obvious snubbing and messages that one doesn't belong at this stage of our lives.

My latest inclination -- knowing that some mean girls are forever and unchangeable and without insight or caring and that one can't always have a companion at one's side -- is to simply ignore them much of the time. My strategy is simple. I remove my hearing aids before I head for the pool, may smile in the direction of the crowd sunning themselves on the steps and then just immerse myself in the water and float away.  I muse about how I don't care what they think about me, while realizing that they're not thinking about me at all, but about themselves and holding the power they feel in judging and excluding others.

And I feel a little sad for them: that they have no idea how others see them, that they are behaving in a way that keeps others, perhaps has always kept others, at arm's length, that they seem so unable or unwilling to change. What must it be like to inflict pain on others on a daily basis? What is the payoff at this point -- when we're all aging and dealing with the losses and fears and challenges that we all face at this time of life?

I think back to the rare times in my life when I've been deliberately, stubbornly unkind -- and remember the awful feeling, the aching in my throat and in my heart when I knew I was being a brat, when I could see the consequences of my words reflected in the tears of another.

And I wonder if our resident mean girls ever feel such twinges of conscience or regret or if they feel an adrenaline surge when they see hurt in the eyes of another?

How awful.

How unnecessary.

How sad.

And I told Holly that I'd love to join her at the pool.


  1. From what you say I gather that the bullies are in a group, never singly horrid. Their strength derives from the group, egging each other on, being brave en masse. Childish behaviour in an adult deserves the same kind of treatment as it does in a child: ignore it without getting worked up.

    The worst thing that can happen to a bully is to lose power, whether somebody bullies them back or simply doesn’t notice them. Engaging in reasoning, conversation, giving them attention inflates them, walking by, smiling and otherwise not paying them any kind of attention deflates them.

    I wouldn’t feel sorry for them either, they’re hardly worth wasting a moment’s concern over.

    Of course, being able to do that means you must have confidence in yourself.

  2. Ah, mean girls, no matter the age. You're right- they must feel so miserable inside themselves that I'd never want to take a peek there.

    Good for you- and Holly, too.

  3. Wow -- beautifully written, Kathy. We don't have a mean-girl culture at my office (except for the Dean who is meanest of the mean and because of her power can dis anyone behind their back and get away with it). But there is a little cliquishness. Not much, but when I see it, I try to either avoid them or act opposite. I don't know why people do such horrible things... it only makes them look bad. I hope QB sneaks into your blog!

  4. You know, the world is full of them. I wrote my blog on God and the 10commandments not because I am a religious fanatic, but because I was raised with the 10 commandments and I thought
    so many kids today are not and missing out on knowing something they should know.Many could use a dose of it because they would feel loved by someone at least they could trust.
    Well to be eaten alive for pushing religion by people who go to church but would never do so, was funny for me. lol
    What kind of Christians are these fine upstanding women?
    I didn't know them and my blog caused them discomfort.
    So you see, ego plays a big role in our society.
    Not many like to be humble but humbleness makes for a nicer caring person who at least understands human nature.
    We wonder why our youth is lost. But then today who do we even trust as pastors? We are only left with the book to teach us. I used to love it when ladies would come to our school and tell us stories on velvet boards of Jesus and Mary.
    They should have stuff like this for kids.Maybe then they wouldn't grow up to be mean girls. lol

  5. Ignore them, just ignore them, Kathy. Not always easy to do, but as Friko says, taking their nastiness seriously just panders to their imagined self-importance. Poor things - how sad to have lived so long and not to have learned to be kind and generous and to love others. What a waste of life's opportunities.

  6. Hard to imagine mean girls at this age in their lives. I have often wondered what it would be like to live in one of these retirement communities and enjoy all the nice conveniences but you made me realize how I would not fit in.
    Like your friend I would be searching for you to help me with the bullies.
    It's a shame you can't print this out and hand it to them as you slip into the pool because it was very well written.
    Made me think of my days in junior high when I had issues like these. I guess some people never grow up.
    Hope you are well. I have not been able to do a post in a month. Blogger will not let me compose one. I wonder if anyone else is having problems writing post.
    Glad I came by today.

  7. Somehow, some people never grow up. How tragic to be stuck in adolescence.

  8. There are times when a retirement community appeals to me, but I like picking and choosing if/when I have social interaction. I'm too old for those childish behaviors and not very tolerant of bad behavior. I hope your neighbors don't destroy your pleasure in living there.

  9. I can't stand mean girls! I always thought that it would get better when they got older but they didn't change at all. If anything they got worse! Now, I'm having to go through this all again with my 15 year old daughter!!! I HATE it! It seems like when she brings a friend to the house and they spend 2 nights here they always gang up on her the next day with another friend. We are going through this right now and this exact minute! No kidding! A friend of hers from kindergarten came and spent the night for 2 nights. I took them out to eat my treat. Took them shopping. They had a great time hanging at the house or so it seemed. The other girl's boyfriend broke up with her 2 weeks ago. My daughter has a boyfriend for the past 2 months. The other friend that is now ganging up with the friend that was here doesn't have a boyfriend right now so I guess they want to pick on my daughter. They are telling my daughter that her boyfriend is controlling her. I don't think so! The only person controlling my daughter is ME! I'm the mother and I tell her what she can and can't do! Then these 2 girls had to go and get a much younger boy in the picking process that goes to our church. I don't even think this boy has even met my daughter's boyfriend and he's telling her that he is controlling her life too. Believe me I know this boyfriend is not controlling my daughter! I would put an end to that if it were true! I joke with my daughter that these girls are just jealous because she has a better mother than those girls do! lol Which unfortunately for them is true!

  10. Kind of sad really that meanness is all these emotionally stunted women have. I too would have thought that the years would have proven to them that meanness really has no plus side. Can you imagine being her daughter-in-law?

  11. Oh Kathleen.....this post really raises the hairs on my back. I have had a few experiences with "mean girls" in my life and I know how much hurt they can impart. I have never understood the need for this behavior....You are so right in suggesting that it usually comes from envy...which is such an awful emotion for anyone.....both the giver and receiver.

    Great post.



  12. Oh My Goodness---I never thought about this happening --especially in a group of OLDER women.. I knew it happened to kids --and even some of the younger generation of women... But????? Gads---what a shame.

    They are jealous of that woman... Unbelievable! There's nothing worse than a group of 'negative' people --whether they are women or men....

    Very sad...

  13. "Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people." - Eleanor Roosevelt

    I think of this often, and will likely think of it even MORE often after your post! It's good incentive to watch one's topics.

    It would seem that these older "mean girls" have nothing else to talk about than other people. This is probably what they grew up seeing as proper conversation - and it is hard to change the habits of a lifetime, especially if one sees nothing wrong with them. Your approach is the only one that will not end in more aggravation, I think.