Reader Q & A: Mean Girls

Published: December 8, 2008 | Last Updated: December 8, 2008 By | 11 Replies Continue Reading


Hi Dr. Levine,

It’s been about 5 months since I broke up with my boyfriend due to conflicting schedules, frequent disagreements and life stresses. This guy was friends with my ex-girlfriend for over 15 years and I was friends with her for 10 years.

He took me to this party and I had no idea what was going on. My ex-girlfriend and her best friend, who I also knew from high school, completely snubbed me; I said "Hi" and got no reply along with very nasty looks. Anyhow, I invited my ex-girlfriend to my sister’s wedding. That’s how close she was to my family. I sat at the party for three hours with no communication from anyone except my ex-boyfriend. I then decided to leave, and told him I knew something was up.

The following day, I had tried calling this ex-friend with no pick-up, I attempted to speak to her online, no reply. I then managed to speak to her best friend online. She didn’t hold back. She told me I failed to make a good impression with his friends from the get-go, for example, that I used my now ex-girlfriend by calling her when I had rough patches with my ex-boyfriend. She went on to say that I could break-up with my boyfriend over this because now I have the perfect drama-filled excuse.

Let me inform you Irene, I am 23 years old, not a teenager. I thanked her for her honestly. She immediately called my now ex-boyfriend to let him know what was said. I asked him if her would defend me. He said no because they have their opinions. He admitted that they have been telling him that the relationship wouldn’t work out.

My best friend emailed these girls because she saw the damage it was doing to my body. I was suffering from anxiety and panic attacks and feelings of hopelessness, and had a drastic weight loss. My now ex-girlfriend stated she felt betrayed because she never heard from the guy and me once we started dating. I think "life" is the issue. I started working as a full-time nurse, dealing with teenage girls; and basically trying to support my ex-boyfriend as he went back into school, quit smoking, and focused on his life. My best friend also asked my ex-friend to return my call, but she never did so.

The hurtful part is that a week after the breakup, she was hanging out with my ex-boyfriend, and they have maintained their friendship since. I spoke to my ex-boyfriend recently, and he told me he never believed the things they said about me, but he has to remain loyal to them and doesn’t think we can ever get back together.

I knew he was toxic for me, so I had to set limits and stop supporting him emotionally because it was draining. But why can my ex-girlfriend maintain contact with him and not me? I do miss her but I know our friendship could never be the same again. I thought about contacting her, but fear that she won’t pick up my call. Then I tried online messenger, but learned that she had blocked me from her MSN.

I am terribly hurt and feel rejected, guilty and confused. I understand that I was entering a new chapter in my life with a new job, a serious relationship, and basically growing up. It was difficult to carry on the relationship, but it’s the backstabbing I will never understand. Is it worth contacting this individual? There will be Christmas parties as well. Do I attend those? Sometimes commuting to work, I fear running into these girls.

Having Trouble Coping


Dear Having Trouble Coping:

I understand how painful it is to feel let down by a boyfriend and a girlfriend at the same time. First, I want to congratulate on having the courage to break up with a boyfriend who was focused exclusively on himself and was insensitive to your feelings. You did the right thing.

The behavior you describe at the party sounds like teenage behavior. Whatever the age of these women, they were acting like "mean girls." There is absolutely no reason for you to contact this mean, disloyal, toxic friend who dumped you and rejected your overtures, choosing instead to befriend your ex-boyfriend. She has to know how hurtful that would feel to you, yet she didn’t care.

It sounds like you have a good career and I think that the best Christmas gift you can give yourself is to move away from these low-life people. Perhaps, you can make new friends with colleagues at work. It’s up to you whether or not you want to place yourself in the position of attending Christmas parties where you might see these mean people. Would you want to be snubbed by them again? That’s a good possibility.

My advice for you for the New Year is out with the old and in with the new! Taking control of this situation will help you better cope, and make you feel less hopeless and insecure.

My best wishes,

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Comments (11)

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  1. Maggie B. says:

    Dear Dr. Levine,

    I’ve lived through the aggression of mean girls as a youth and mean women throughout life into retirement. Age does not help me understand these types, I continue to be baffled by their behavior. Recently my adult daughter (May) asked for my advice, and all I could think to suggest to her was to rise above the cattiness, be kind to others, and remain true to herself and her values. Easy for me to say, as I don’t have to deal with her situation daily. She shared the most recent experience with me today when we met for lunch.

    She started a new job last month working for a small company in customer service, fielding phone calls from customers and working on the company website. It’s been a bumpy road for her, being the new kid. Everyone works in a central office environment, no privacy, every phone call and internal conversation is audible to the entire group. May needed a lot of help answering calls at first, and no training was provided. Her coworkers were disgruntled when she asked for help, causing May to feel inadequate and fear she would be fired for not learning more intuitively and quickly. The company appears casual, and allows people to bring their dogs to work. May does not own a dog, and thought this was the cause of the hostility she felt from her work group, which is mostly women. I suspect that these women are overworked and under appreciated, and unhappy with their jobs, so their dissatisfaction is aimed at others. May walks during her lunch break, and offered to take her supervisor’s dog Rex with her a few days ago. It was a hot day, and when they returned, my daughter remarked goodnaturedly, “I hope I didn’t kill Rex, walking In the heat today!” Rex’s owner allowed her to take him, so I’m supposing he knew how hot it was, and decided the benefit of walking outweighed the discomfort of heat for the short time Rex was out walking. One particular woman has targeted my daughter for no apparent reason, and decided May had mistreated Rex and needed to be punished. after May returned from walking, this woman pretended to be nice by bringing May a cup of coffee. The coffee was spiked with several shots of espresso, tasted terrible, and my daughter thinking the woman’s intentions were friendly, felt that if she complained, she would hurt the woman’s feelings. The woman then told her loudly so all would hear: “Oh dear, I think I accidentally killed you!” This kind of behavior from a grown woman is astounding! I would consider it harassment. I am a scientist, and always look for cause and effect. When a person makes a decision to complete an act, there must be an end result in mind, right? So It would seem that humiliating May was her objective. Meanwhile, the supervisor ignored the whole scene. I understand there is a lot of turnover in this department, and I suspect it’s due to this atmosphere of meanness. Don’t these women realize that they could benefit from creating a supportive environment which encourages cooperation? I wish I had some helpful insight for May and other women in similar situations. You are right in your observation that these are learned behaviors, and are passed from one generation of mean girls to the next. How can one woman break this vicious cycle?

  2. Julie Martin says:

    I know this is a very old post, but I’m reading a lot due to some current challenges of my own..anyway, I can so relate to what you were going through, and I’m sorry you had to go through that. Sometimes it seems like some women never leave middle school behind! When my daughter started being excluded from her group of friends, we talked about many of the same feelings, and she eventually moved on to a new and more supportive group..but it was so hard for her! Then I went through something similar with some longstanding friends..or so I thought. Sometimes it’s so hard to take the high road when people almost seem to enjoy inflicting pain. In general though, at least for me, it’s gotten better as I’ve gotten older..I just don’t have room in my life for women who act like teenage mean girls. I’d rather have one true friend than a score of fake ones!
    Best wishes,


  3. Rachael says:

    For some reason I find it very very difficult to make friend’s at work. The women that do communicate with each other just gossip and complain about the smallest things. It’s so ridiculous! Because I’m not one to gossip about other’s ( I see no point in it) and bitch about anything; I’m not wanted. I’ve been nice to people and it doesn’t matter. The men are friendly & talkative and seem to get along just fine. The women are mean to each other, but nice to the men. Sometime’s I really hate being around women!

  4. Anonymous says:

    What a familiar feeling. What kind of woman in their right mind would look at two little girls and not have something nice to say to both of them?. Reading this in print is so sad. I am sure your daughter is fine, but I would love to know what would ever make grown woman act like that. I have been there. Kathie

  5. Anonymous says:

    many people do not know how to bond positively and so they seem to bond by bullying and excluding, mutual hate of a target–it is sick and sad and happens daily and it is entirely the issue of the bullying group and has zero to do with the target–birds of a feather flock together–they aren’t nice, so they do not act kindly–no surprise, really

  6. Anonymous says:

    Well, hum. The “nice” thing. I have always been nice. Always. And altruistic as well. So I researched this topic of mean women, people, zeroing in on me and bullying me to the point where I felt emotionally shredded. And a lot of it has to do with perceived weakness in the “target” Nice people just seem weak. They usually do not feel comfortable confronting the mean spirited person and so the mean spirited person digs their claws in deeper. Not necessairly to obtain some sort of reaction but because they just”can” They are mean, they have a strong need to get away with it and they know intrinsically that they can with you. And it it’s really all that personal. They make up reasons to shun you. The reasons don’t have to be real. But they have to certain people as targets. You are probably not their only target at the moment. They have done this before and will continue to do it in the future.

    Then, altruism. If you are too giving (whatever that actually means) people will pick on you. Again, altruism is a perceived weakness. They believe you do not think highly of yourself. If you thought highly of yourself you would give more to yourself and less to others. They put you on the defensive where you remain.

    I gave up having close friendships when I read about the latter. I am altruistic. I’m not going to stop because of some mean spirited female thugs. So I am friendly to the people I work with. With the bus driver who drives me daily to work. To my son. But I am not their friends and they know they are not mine.

    My daughter, she’s a mean girl at 27. I just got through living in the same apartment building as she. She moved out. Thank god. I love my daughter but I can only talk to her every once in a while, and then only superficially.

    So that was my solution for myself. To “keep it neat”. That way I don’t have to rely on what I have begun to learn it dysfunctional radar. (alarm bells sound like wind-chimes to me)It has saved my sanity.

  7. BC says:

    Hi Kat, I’m sorry you are finding yourself in this situation.
    I’m an older woman and, as the years go by, am coming to the conclusion that one of the ways women bond is to subtly exclude other women, usually someone who is either envied by somebody or has trangressed some unwritten group rule. In other words, the group enjoys shutting somebody else (sometimes more than one person) out.
    I’ve seen what you’re describing happen to a particularly attractive and ambitious woman in my office, and to a second, ordinary-looking woman who apparently crossed some kind of line in a management-union dispute (she was apparently not supportive enough of the union).
    Remember, this is not really about you – it’s about how this group of women relate to one another. Pretty weird, if you ask me, to relate to someone else by being nasty to others, but hey, takes all kinds.
    If you google relational aggression, you’ll find more – basically, we women bully in such a subtle way that there’s not a heck of a lot a victim can do about it. Imagine if you’d spoken up and said, “How come you are leaving out my daughter?”!
    You need to broaden your – and your daughter’s – social horizons. If these women act like this, so will their kids (towards your child).
    If you are interested in spirituality, check out places of worship. Consider volunteer work or part-time employment. Enrol your daughter in swimming, dance, whatever, maybe in the next area along, if there is one – you will meet lots of nice folks waiting for the kids. If you have old friends or relatives in the area, give ’em a call.
    If you are really stuck, say on an isolated military base or something, go for counselling, it will help to have a sympathetic ear.
    I hope you can find some other women who will truly be your friends.
    Hang in there,

  8. Kat says:

    I found this blog because I was searching for some guidance with friendships. I have always had lots of acquaintances, and I have a few close friends that I know I can trust. But, I have repeatedly found myself in a difficult spot when I am friends with several women from the same group (work, school, sahms, church). It seems like everything is going along fine and I am getting to know the women and everything is great. It might go like this for a few years–then something happens. In the most recent case a new women joined our social group. She seemed really nice and everyone liked her. Then I started getting the feeling that I was missing out on something. Only another woman could know what I mean–when you are part of the group in all outward appearances but you know that stuff is going on that you are not privy to. I just tried to ignore this feeling but it has become more and more obvious. Recently my daughter who is 3 was standing next to another 3 year old and the women were going gaga over the other 3 year old’s outfit. You think they could have said one nice thing about my daughter? No! They just totally ignored her like she wasn’t even standing there. And she was wearing her Easter dress when this other girl was just wearing play shorts! I know there was a message behind it and it breaks my heart that they would hurt her to get at me. I have had this happen over and over and usually I just move on and hope for the best next time around. But this time is different–first, due to the nature of our community and schools and such there is no way I can truly move on. We will continue to see this group unless we move houses so I need to know how to handle these situations. And second why does this keep happening to me? It’s like some women just need to pick on someone and for some reason as soon as those type of women come into contact with me they realize I make a great target. I don’t know why. I am well educated, nice, funny. Nothing spectacular, but certainly above being used as a doormat! There just can’t be this many mean girls out there! I am almost 35 and sooooo done dealing with this stuff!

    • B says:

      Hi there,

      I know it’s been 5 years since you’ve posted this but I wanted to reply to let you know I really relate to what you’re saying, I’ve found myself in similar situations, and wondering why I’m the one who gets picked on. It’s happened in several different kinds of group with different dynamics since I was a child, and I’ve come to realize it’s because of my nature – that I want things to go smoothly, I’m polite and kind and in most cases not aggressive – so women think they can get away with that sort of behaviour. I’ll make friendships quickly because I’m nice and accepting and easy to get along with, but because of that I also seem like I’ll put up with crap too. And I wouldn’t have thought this years ago, but I’ve come to realize women are often motivated by simple, immature jealousy – and I think this is where a lot of the subtle put-downs and manipulations come from. It really sucks, and I’ve had to let go of some otherwise great relationships as a result (particularly recently, which is why I’m here). I hope your situation worked out – it sounds like a compounded nightmare having a child involved, but it sounds like you’re a genuine person and your daughter is much better off with you as a mother. I feel sorry for the daughters of the women you describe.

  9. Irene says:

    I am so sorry for your loss. I hope that the pleasant memories of your grandmother will bring you some solace.
    To find the right guy, you have to find yourself first 🙂

    My best wishes,

  10. LuLu says:

    Hi Dr. Levine,

    I sought some professional help and realized the feelings of abandonment and rejection were embedded in years of anger and resentment towards a close family member and this simly mirrored that part of my life. Thus, it has been difficult to deal with. Also, due to the passing of my grandmother a week ago, I’ve put many things into perspective. I am neither angry nor resentful towards the ex and ex-friends. Guess ‘mean girls’ truly do exist, but doesnt matter those people were privileged enough to have met my grandmother, and its time to look past everything. One friend suggested that the events from the past 5 months have prepared me for the passing of my grandmother, a loving lady that I truly loved and will never forget.

    Thanks a bunch for responding. And I’m coping much better and living each day to the fullest. Now any advice to having the right guy FIND ME? lol


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