Sound advice Thursday: The mean girl

Dear Steph,

One of my long-time friends (let’s call her Alice) goes to my school and is in my “group”. But no one really likes her, including me. One of my real best friends (we’ll call her Charlene) says she doesn’t like Alice, but doesn’t stop hanging out with her even though she gossips and says really mean things about her friends (including me!). But when Charlene is with the rest of the group she says we should talk to Alice about not being friends but she still doesn’t do anything about it! I think she feels bad for Alice because she really doesn’t have any good friends.

Don’t get me wrong, Charlene is really nice and we are really close but she won’t stick up for her other friends when Alice says mean things. Alice always seems to make up with our group because Charlene remains friends with her. Alice always makes drama (she usually lies about stuff) just to get attention. I don’t want to be mean but I don’t know what to do!

Sincerely,

Stuck with a Mean Friend

Dear Stuck,

You didn’t say how old you are, but I’m going to go out on a limb and guess between thirteen and fifteen. Am I in the ballpark? I’m taking this wild guess because I recognize your complaints from my own torturous middle school and early high school days, when my “friends” were the source of 99% of the pain and drama in my life.

First, let me offer you some perspective, just to get it out of the way: this too shall pass. In a couple of years, all of the drama that Alice caused will be a distant memory, and someday, she’ll find you on Facebook and you’ll be like, “Oh, Alice. I wonder what she’s been up to.” It will all seem so distant and petty and you’ll probably feel a little sorry for her, remembering how unhappy she was in middle school.

Middle school can be rough. Believe me, I know.

Middle school can be rough. Believe me, I know.

But I know very well that a reminder that “in a few years, none of this will matter” is not helpful in-the-moment advice. So here’s what I suggest for right now. First, build an invisible wall in your mind between you and Alice. This wall will keep out all of the drama, the gossip, the silliness, and the pettiness that Alice seems to thrive on. When she tosses a tentative drama grenade toward you, just let it bounce off the wall. If she tries to engage you in gossip or a fight, just don’t engage. Leave her and her nastiness outside the wall. Shrug your shoulders, change the subject, leave the lunch table, whatever it takes. Don’t let yourself snap back at her, or argue with her, or defend yourself against her. Just let her words bounce off the wall. I can assure you that refusing to play Alice’s games will save you a lot of heartbreak and angst down the line. Also, it will drive her nuts, and, let’s be real, that’s kind of fun.

My second piece of advice is to stop worrying about what Charlene does. It doesn’t really matter if Charlene is friends with Alice, or whether she defends you or not, or if she’s two-faced, or whatever. It would be wonderful if Charlene could be brave and stand up to Alice when she’s trash-talking you and your other friends. But the fact is, many teenage girls aren’t brave. They’re concerned with making sure people like them, and the need to be liked often clashes with the urge to do the right thing. It doesn’t mean Charlene’s a bad person. It’s just that she, in this particular instance, is weak. The backbone it takes to stand up to gossip or mean talk is something that Charlene — and the rest of your friend group — will hopefully develop in time, but you can’t force anyone to do the right thing now. Save yourself some grief and allow yourself to be friends with Charlene without requiring her to defend you or be mean to Alice in the process.

Another option to consider is getting new friends. This doesn’t mean abandoning your old friends, but it means expanding your friend group to include people you might not have hung out with before. One of the most exciting things about getting older is meeting new people. Fresh blood, in the form of new friends, will make your life more interesting and it will give you an escape hatch if the Alice business gets out of hand. If you make some new friends, the next time Alice is being a douche, you can just get up and go sit with someone else.

And here’s the truth about Alice: she’s unhappy. I know this because I knew girls like her in middle school, who went around sowing drama and discord because, secretly, they were miserable. Happy, well-adjusted kids don’t feel the need to stir up trouble with their friends. So try to think of it this way: Alice is unhappy, but that doesn’t mean you have to be. Instead of becoming absorbed in the daily saga of Alice and her evil machinations, focus on other things, things that make you happy: sports, clubs, hobbies, whatever. When I was a freshman in high school and going through a rough patch with two of my friends, I got really into photography. Years later, I barely remember those girls’ names, but I still have all the cool photos I developed in the dark room.

Remember, things will brighten in time. In the meantime, you do you, and don’t worry about Alice or Charlene.

Good luck,

Steph

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