Lesson 68: Mean girls (still) suck.

It’s been a really challenging few weeks. So much so, that it’s 1:21pm on Saturday, and I’m still in bed. (Granted, I’m dressed in yogawear, but I’m in bed.)

One would think, the hardest part of moving to a new city, in a new apartment, making new friends, and starting a new job would be all that newness — and the doing things alone part. But it’s not — at least not for me. I’m so busy with my new job that I hardly have time to be lonely. And I love exploring on my own or with the few friends I’ve started to make.

No, the hardest part has been something that isn’t new to me at all: Mean girls.

I never learned how to deal with these horrible creatures, and it appears I still haven’t miraculously developed the skills. Even today, as a confident, successful grown up — fully capable of crafting intelligent words in my defense — these women stop me in my tracks.

I just don’t get mean. I didn’t when I was 8, and I definitely don’t now. Life is hard enough, so my natural instinct is to make things easier for other people. To help them feel MORE comfortable, not less. I think that’s why “mean” always blindsides me and leaves me speechless, able to be completely walked over by these women.

In the Fall issue of Filler Magazine, writer Emily Blake describes it perfectly.

“There is something we are told as children and teens that most of us hang on to with hope as we pack ourselves off to the real world. It is that bullies — specifically “mean girls” — are part of those years alone, and that once we leave our insular ecosystem of primary and high school, everyone will just…grow up and cut the crap. As we all soon discover: this is utter fiction.”

Case in point: a couple summers ago, I was invited to join a group of advertising women on Fire Island for the summer. I knew a few of them, and they seemed nice enough. Plus one weekend a month at the beach sounded fantastic. But when I got out there, one of them decided — for whatever reason — to treat me like complete crap. No matter how nice I tried to be.

“Have I done something to offend you?” I finally asked when her bitchiness became impossible to ignore.

“Uh, oh no — I just don’t feel well,” she lied.

I kept my distance and didn’t go back the next summer. But I never felt welcome for the rest of my time there.

Mean girls have also been at almost every job I’ve had. For me, I think it’s harder to deal with there than anywhere else. I definitely don’t expect it in the workplace. Plus, I’m a pretty honest and direct person. If I’m frustrated with something, you’ll know it. I do my best to live by The Four Agreements, especially Agreement number three that states:

Don’t Make Assumptions Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.

The problem is, mean girls do the complete opposite.

Gossiping or talking behind others’ backs in such a small environment not only feels alien to me, it’s counterintuitive. We’re there to do a job, and working together as a team is the best way I’ve found to do that.

Even as I’ve moved up the ladder, it amazes me that not only do these girls still exist, but they are brazen enough to think it’s ok to talk to me (or anyone) like I’m less-than.

The worst part is that up until now — I kinda took it. Not because I think I deserve it, but because I never see it coming. It’s true what they say that we tend to see the world the way we function in it. And although I am a strong, outspoken, (sometimes too) honest person — I am rarely mean. You gotta push me pretty far, and even then I feel awful immediately afterwards.

So when someone is blatantly rude or cold to me, I’m left speechless.

Anyone who knows me knows that I rarely struggle with standing up for myself. I’m a fighter by nature. But I have also worked very hard to get where I am today. I love and really value my job, and most of the people at it. They’re amazing. So I’m more careful than ever on how I respond to confrontation. Plus I truly believe in the adage that “life is 10% what happens to you, and 90% how you respond to it.” But saying nothing just condones it, which has left me pissed off and emotionally drained.

“Next time it happens, don’t take it! Just call her on it,” my mom suggested when I shared a recent incident.

Which I totally should. And will. But the truth is that I just haven’t had the time to follow up. I’m too busy doing MY JOB.

I’m working 10–12 hours a day, barely time to pee or grab lunch, making sure my team has the support they need to do their jobs, then racing to a yoga class whenever possible. I fall asleep each night trying to catch up on emails and timesheets. I simply haven’t had time to babysit or defend myself .

I can’t help wondering WHY these girls do this. So I did a little research, and happened upon a post from Dr. Benna Strober on Why Mean Girls Are Mean. Strober explains that “girls learn to use meanness, including humiliating and shunning other girls, to obtain their power and position within their peer group.”

Which I guess I can understand with teenagers, but… haven’t we grown out of this by now, ladies? What about gaining power and position by doing GOOD things, like helping one another succeed? Instead of looking for opportunities to throw a coworker under the bus every chance you get.

Nicole Landry, an author (of “The Mean Girl Motive”) with a Master’s degree in criminology points out that “putting someone else down somehow makes girls feel more powerful and thus higher up on the popularity ladder. The girls who strive for popularity at the cost of other’s self esteem probably do not have much of it themselves.”

Probably not. But why is your low-self esteem, now MY problem?

To be honest, I’m not sure what the lesson is here. I choose to ignore as much as I can, and to trust that the universe (and karma) has got this. For the most part I do believe that as long as I do the right thing, good will prevail over evil.

But as a little extra insurance, I’m planning on following my mom’s advice. She’s been pretty spot on before.

Want more like this?

Read: “There’s a Time to Lean In, and a Time to Lean Out

About Susan:

After 18 years, I finally broke free from New York City’s insanely strong gravitational pull, and have landed happily in Austin, TX. Howdy y’all…

By day I’m grateful to be a gainfully employed advertising creative director/writer. By night I’m a Latin ballroom dancer, yoga devotee, unabashed foodie, Huffington Post personal essay writer, and seeker of real meaning in my life. Which includes friendship, family — and hopefully soon, great love.

Originally published at findthelesson.wordpress.com on September 12, 2015.