The Worst Kind of “Me Too” Moment
“I hate her”
“We hate her”
They chuckled together, like the shared disdain for one human in particular created a bond. They felt comfortable standing in that statement. Or, at least comfortable enough to say those words at a higher volume than they should while in the middle of the jewelry section at Target.
I kept sifting through the earrings in front of me. I cringed as I overheard the conversation. My nose squished, my shoulders lifted a little closer to my ears, and I felt my body lean away. These five young women, presumably college students getting ready to return to class, were discussing their plans for football attire while tearing down another girl. It was simultaneously painful and infuriating to listen to.
“She talks about everyone like she’s better than them. We don’t like her anymore.”
The irony was missed entirely. The figurative pot called the kettle black, and they didn’t even realize it. They were doing the very thing they were criticizing this girl about, while trying to make themselves feel better about it all by throwing “we” into the sentence. It created the worst kind of “me too” moment while engaging in a toxic pattern – female backstabbing. I’ll never know who those girls were or who they were talking about, but I know I’ve been there. I’m not proud of it, but I’ve been there.
Those years were tough. Middle school is hard for everyone, but it’s a particularly toxic time in a girl’s life when the nasty friendships can become all-consuming and there doesn’t seem to be any way to escape. I was one of those girls who had a notebook filled with mean notes. I shared it with my best friend and we talked about other girls who made us feel insecure. We had friendship bracelets to obviously exclude others from our friendship. We tried to start rumours and heard the rumours spread about us. It was tough and hurtful and there are still scars.
“It’s just middle school” you might think. “People say mean things, then we all grow up.”
False. The habits you settle into early in life can easily turn into the lifestyle you teach your children to mirror. The negativity, the insecurity, the toxicity, and the scars can become generational. Nasty girl-talk can be broken.
It would serve those ladies more to be kind to that girl and understand that she’s searching for acceptance in the same way they are. She may not know how to love herself, so creating a false sense of superiority is her default coping mechanism. The words we speak are the fruition of the feelings we hold in our hearts. When pain lives there, it tends to find a way out through our words.
Years later, my senior year of high school, I believe, the very woman who spent so much time trying to tear me down wrote a note of apology. We all grew up and apologized for the things we did when we didn’t know how to be better. We didn’t have to live our life trying to tear each other down just to feel a moment of self-esteem. The truth was, that feeling of superiority and judgment wasn’t built on solid ground. It was the sand castle we’d worked to build and washed away as the waves of truth rolled through. The truth being, speaking such negativity about another only made us look (and feel) bad. For sustainable self-esteem, we’d have to invest in ourselves. We’d have to learn what healthy friendships built on mutual support felt like. We’d have to evolve and free ourselves in the process.
Is my story the rule? It’s not likely. This winter, I’ll be a bridesmaid in the wedding of my middle school best friend. That friendship is one of the oldest and most supportive I’ve experienced. The friend who apologized – we created some great memories after we talked. Unfortunately, that won’t be the case for all.
I hate to say it, but I know there are some grown women out there who treat other women as if they’re still stuck in 8th grade. Those same women are teaching their daughters to do the same through example. It will become a cycle, but it doesn’t have to be. For my female readers, take a look at your friendships. What are they built on? What kind of language do you use with each other? What kind of language do you use to talk about yourself? Is the pain in your heart sneaking out through your words?
When I speak, I’m frequently asked how to make better friends, how to build confidence, how to do the things that scare us. You have to be intentional about who you’re letting into your heart and what words you’re letting into your mind. Your entire world can change when you take one toxic element out of your life. Sometimes, that toxic element is the influence of a friend. Choose wisely.
Those girls I saw in Target are in pain. They feel insecure about something and they’ve funneled that hurt into judgement of another girl. Then, they bonded over insecurity. If women learned how to support themselves by supporting each other, we’d be living in a radically different world. For the sake of my future daughters, for your daughters, I hope we can work together to shift the norm for female friendships. Start with yours. It might be uncomfortable or awkward, but the long-term will be worth it. I don’t want you to find yourself in your own version of that Target conversation tomorrow or next week or next year or 5 years from now when you could have made a change today. Who do you want to be surrounded by? Choose today. Be intentional, and be brave enough to speak up when you hear cruelty from others. Your friends are just as influenced by you as you are by them. Be the good.