What Kind of Friend Is This?: When Mean Girls and Boys Become Thoughtless Adults

My client found it unbelievable. "Here I am 37 years old, a wife, a mom, a nurse valued by patients and staff, and I am hurt -- no, correct that, devastated -- by a supposed friend and her group of friends."
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My client found it unbelievable. "Here I am 37 years old, a wife, a mom, a nurse valued by patients and staff, and I am hurt -- no, correct that, devastated -- by a supposed friend and her group of friends."

My client went on to explain that after an extended illness she was invited by a friend to attend a spa three-day "weekend" with a group who had been to the spa before. She realized for her own health she would leave the spa early, and called for an appointment. "I had no idea I would be intruding," my client explained, and then went on to describe an unkind and thoughtless pattern of behavior: On their first day the group arranged an initial lunch for all, leaving her out of the conversation entirely, totally ignoring any of her attempts to join group conversation. The group went to dinner without her and planned a movie night that excluded her, leaving her to eat alone. The same treatment repeated itself at breakfast the next morning.

"My friend did nothing to try to include me," she explained. "I cannot believe that at my age this would upset me. My reaction makes me feel I am once again in junior high school." When my client asked the "friend" who invited her how this kind of exclusion could happen, she was told that she was being "overly sensitive."

But my client told me nothing I have not heard with regularity from healthy, secure and balanced people who have felt, in the words of one, "toppled" by rude exclusivity and thoughtless cliquishness. Another client, in her early 40s, told me that she and her husband were invited to a resort over a holiday weekend, but that the couple who invited them never introduced them to the other couples they knew there. When the couple introduced themselves to others, "the cold chill was palpable." One incident involved a member of the group "asking" my client: "You are not so insecure that you will be are hurt that we want to have our meals with the people we know, are you?"

What is going on here? If this is reminding you of Mean Girls, you are surely spot on. For mean girls (and also mean boys), if they do not mature, grow up to be mean (and thoughtless) adults, who are basically insecure people making themselves feel better though the use of unkind and exclusionary behavior toward others. This, of course, is not meant to imply that close friends are thoughtless if they plan time together. But the purposeful exclusion of others who have no desire to intrude but are hoping for pleasant social exchange does not fall into the former category.

A 2012 study by Robert Faris, assistant sociology professor at the University of California, concludes that the kids who are cruel and exclusionary use this behavior as a "tactic for gaining and maintaining their social status," or in other words, to be popular. "There are a lot of other ways [for kids to be popular] -- much more effective ways," concludes Dr. Faris, such as "being good at sports, being pretty, being rich, if you're funny, if you're nice." Further, his study concluded that the most popular kids do not use such tactics. A Brigham Young University study by Dr. Clyde Robinson, professor of marriage, family and human development, shows that this type of "relational aggression" associated with "social prominence" begins as early as 4 and 5 years of age. In what Dr. Robinson described as "pertinent" and "disturbing" findings, he saw that some preschoolers not only excluded others, but were capable of spreading malicious rumors.

So what to do if, in your life, you come face to face with this "Mean Adult" syndrome? Most importantly, know that confident, secure people do not act in a thoughtless and exclusionary way. Further, friends who witness it will immediately intervene if they see it happening. This of course means that "friends" who stand by allowing this need to be crossed off of the friends list, sooner rather than later.

Supporting this premise is an interesting friendship categorization: Dr. Geoffrey Greif, professor of social work at the University of Maryland, describes friendships as those which are "must, trust, just, and rust." A "must" friend is the most intimate. "Trust" friends also share deep mutual caring. "Just" friends are fun to be with, and "rust" friends have a shared history. To this categorization, I would like to add "dust" friends -- those one is wise to let drift away.

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