When Mean Girls Grow Up, You Have To Too

Sure, the phrase “mean girls” instantly conjures images of trust falls, Burn Books, tank tops with strategically placed holes, and plaid miniskirts we can only pray never crawl their way out of 2004. But, while that cinematic gem of a comedy may be an exaggeration of the high school bullying we all experienced in some capacity, real mean girls are very much still a part of day-to-day lives. They may not be spreading absurd rumors or making fun of your lunchbox, but I bet you can easily recall a time a coworker excluded you from lunch plans or how that one girl in your boyfriend’s friend group refuses to laugh at your jokes. So what makes a grown-up mean girl? And how can you cope with them?

Photo: Noah Basle/ VIA Unsplash

Photo: Noah Basle/ VIA Unsplash

“A mean girl is someone who’s exclusive,” says Hannah Marsh, a senior in Chemical Engineering at Auburn University. “For some reason or another, she’s not into letting other people into the circle or including people in things.” And this makes a lot of sense if you think of this behavior as an evolution of the classic popular kids vs. the nerds type clique-ing off you saw in middle school. Most likely she isn’t exclaiming “You can’t sit with us!” Gretchen Wieners style, but she’s simply not inviting you when she gets a group from the office to go out for lunch. Or, she may just show no interest in having a conversation—the most passive of mean girl actions.

The idea that exclusivity or aloofness is the ultimate trait of a mean girl is echoed by Olivia Pierce, a graphic designer in Birmingham, Alabama. “I once tried to reach out to a senior-level girl at work who is only four years older than me, thinking we would have a lot in common. She always just blocked me out. I very quickly learned that I just needed to let her do her thing and she'd eventually come to me.” Which is pretty much the best thing you can do when dealing with stand-offish behavior, especially in any social or office situation where you can’t avoid them nor can you satisfy your desire to give it right back to them and burn a bridge.

But what about the stickier situations, the ones that cause real problems? The overly competitive coworker who seems to be trying to make you look bad, or the friend you’ve known for years who all of a sudden is being a complete bitch all the time? “If it gets to a point where you’re exhausted by the bitchiness, ask the mean girl to get coffee, just you two, and see what’s up. You probably haven’t done anything, but a lot of times just talking to the person one-on-one can help a situation. If she says no, stop worrying about her. Talking about her behavior to others, although tempting, won’t change her,” says Hannah. It may feel bold and scary to talk to her directly, but keep in mind that this isn’t the playground anymore and adults can and should face their difficulties with calm and collected maturity. It’s highly likely that these mean girls’ nasty streaks stem from insecurity more than snobbery, so talking things out could actually end up helping her even more than you. When it comes to a competitive job market, the necessity to be overly assertive and powerful in order to succeed makes it easy for a girl to get caught up in jealously and wanting to be the best. So maybe that mean girl is really just a self-conscious girl. You’ll never know until you give her a chance.

Hoping to spot that mean girl from afar, or at least within the first moments of meeting her? Go with Hannah’s advice and give her a compliment. “I think the way people respond to compliments when you first meet them says a lot. If they act uninterested or like that comment meant nothing to them, red flag.” Obviously, this method isn’t fool proof, bit it could help you when you’re trying to surround yourself with positive, generous people and stay clear of drama. Ultimately, you’re going to encounter mean girls no matter how old you are or where you are in life – but you always have the control to take a deep breath, smile, and be the bigger person. Kill them with kindness, darlings.

Feature photo VIA Pexels.