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Dear Captain Awkward:

I am trying to not make this question sound like a pity party, but will probably slip up somewhere. Apologies in advance and gratefulness for making this the space you do.

I feel like I am just plain mean a lot of the time. 

It’s confusing because I try to be really caring and positive and encouraging to my friends, there’s just this fucking mean streak too. I also work in Profession where Being Kind and Supportive is a huge part of my job and I don’t have any trouble there. The few times my friends have been my clients (which is ethically fine in this field) I have felt lucky because I feel like they finally got to see me at my best.

But outside of that I feel like there’s just this continuous stream of negativity that slips into conversations even with people I love, and I dig at people in subtle and not-subtle ways and don’t even notice it until the words have already flown out of my mouth. 

I think it is a defense mechanism because I don’t do it as much when I’m around people I feel comfortable with, but when I’m in a new social setting or around people I’m not sure like me I am just like…negative thought machine word vomit spout. It used to be way worse, but it is still often enough to sting and be totally inappropriate. 

I avoid getting involved with people who I can tell are no-bullshit and have good boundaries because I feel like they would automatically dislike me because of it, which sucks because I really respect people who have those skills and I am working on them myself. Simultaneously, I try to avoid becoming close with people who aren’t necessarily good at standing up for themselves, because I’m afraid of hurting their feelings.

I’m also really hard on myself, like 24/7 negative self-talk, which I know is my stuff to deal with, and I’m working on getting back in therapy. I guess what I’m wondering about is how to deal with Jerkbrain: Externalized so I’m not always hurting people I care about and feeling like I have to avoid social situations so I don’t ruin them for the people who are there to enjoy them, not be insulted.

I already know that what I’m doing is shitty and I am trying to find tools to be able to stop, because shaming myself about it is, surprise, totally ineffectual. Tips? Tricks? Personal red flags to look for? Mantras to repeat under my breath in bathrooms at parties? 

Thanks,

Jerk but Trying

Dear Trying Jerk:

The negative self-talk and the negative other-talk are connected. So yes, please go back to therapy.

I’ve been in the headspace you describe, for sure. I believe the clinical term is “total misery.”

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Dear Captain Awkward,

Three years ago I picked a new flatmate from a bunch of randoms-off-the-internet and this person turned into one of my besties. Even better, she had a bunch of wicked-cool friends who are now my friends as well, and I’ve brought my own pals into the mix as well. 

One of these friends used to be really busy all the time with work, but has recently settled into a more normal-hours job and has been spending a lot more time with my former flatmate (we’ve now all moved to a big city and live separately). I learnt a long time ago that I can’t stand jealous friends and I aim not to be one. I love it when my friends are friends, and as long as they don’t deliberately exclude me, I’m happy for them to hang without me. 

But this friend has lately seemed to be rubbing it in my face that the two of them are spending time together without me and are planning to move in together. She also mentions frequently that several of the group have known each other since they were 5 yrs old, and I’m just a recent addition. I don’t know about you, but I personally think it’s how well you know a person, not how long.

It feels to me like this person is jealous of my friendship with former-flatmate, which I can understand. The problem is that it feels so very high school, and I also thought she and I were getting closer when we were on a recent holiday without former-flatmate (and I thought we bonded), so I’m disappointed that this has reverted back to an apparent rivalry that I don’t wish to partake in. 

I’ve been too afraid to mention it to any co-friends in case they think I’M jealous of THEM being friends, but I’ve recently heard word that actually I’m not the only one getting the mean girls treatment and everyone is sick of the behaviour. 

BUT, no one has spoken up, and I’m not sure if it’s worth getting into a major drama over. Former-flatmate still texts/messages me all the time so I know she still cares (and is poss oblivious), even if I haven’t seen her without mean-girl for months. 

So I’ve got two questions: How do I broach this with our co-friends to not sound like a high-school bitch; and do I/how do I broach this with either former-flatmate so she knows what’s going on (if she doesn’t see it herself) and (more terrifyingly) with mean-girl herself?

-Thought I’d Left High School

Dear High School:

Don’t broach! Don’t confront!

Just say “That’s great!”

Friend and I are getting a place together!

“That’s great!” “She’s a great roommate, you are lucky!”

We’ve all known each other since we were five, and you’re the new girl!

“That’s great!” “It’s great to have friends who knew you when!” “I’ve so enjoyed getting to know all of you!”

She might find this behavior really irritating and insincere. And that will make her avoid you. Which is better than her passive-aggressively baiting you, so count it as a win. Just because someone’s trying to hand you a sack full of their insecurities doesn’t mean you have to take it, open it up, pull them out one by one, and deal with them. Friendship is primal stuff, and she’s obviously trying to sort out something about her place in the pecking order and deal with some jealousy. No rule says you have to participate in that process.

Give her a lot of space at social events. Admit to yourself that you don’t like her, so don’t feel like you have to invite her to everything. Admit to yourself that she doesn’t like you, so if she’s throwing a birthday party for herself and inviting you out of obligation, you can just be busy that day. Make as little effort possible where she is concerned, and let the people who have known her since she was five sort out the rest.

 

It is still Winter Pledge Drive Week. Thanks to all who have donated so far! Have you seen where people are suggesting ideas for Captain Awkward swag?

Patty Hewes and Ellen from Damages, in the breakroom drinking coffee.

Sometimes what we learn from our mentors is how not to be.

Dear Captain Awkward,

I live and work at an isolated location with six other people. We are nearing the end of our work rotation and everyone is wearing a little thin emotionally so that might be partially where this problem stems from.

I have a really good relationship with the woman that I spend the most time working with. She’s about twenty years older than me. (I am twenty-three.) She says shocking things sometimes and it has never bothered me before. She says that she lacks a “filter” and that she always keeps going when other people stop. Anyway, she never seemed mean and her outspokenness was kind of refreshing but today she really knocked me through a loop. Another coworker was in the kitchen with us and we were joking and talking and I’m not even sure what the topic was but someone said “young and a virgin.” She looked at me and said “you’re two for two there.” I was shocked because I had never said “I am a virgin” to her before and I wasn’t aware that it was that obvious. I also have feelings for the coworker that was there with us and it was embarrassing to have that said in front of him.

I am bewildered why this comment hurt so much. I had to fight back tears for the rest of the day and was pretty much incapable of talking to anyone. I know that she felt really bad and she apologized. I didn’t want her to feel bad so I tried to act normally but I really wasn’t able to. The coworker whom I have feelings for knew that something was wrong because I wasn’t talking to him. I wished that I could just tell him which comment specifically bothered me but I really couldn’t because I was afraid I would start crying.

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"Tact is just not saying true stuff." - Cordelia Chase

Dear Captain Awkward,

Are there times when the FU should not be silent when telling people the STFU? If so, do you have a combat guide for mild-mannered ladies who wear pearls and read a lot of Jane Austen?

Wanting to Get out the Sticks and Stones

Oh, my ladylike friend, one day you will be on the subway and a creepy strange man will be leering at you and trying to  talk to you, and where before you may have just tried to focus extra-hard on your book or retreated back into your happy place of recalling last night’s ball at Netherfield or mentally cataloging your spice rack, something will snap inside you and you will say “Listen, you creepy, disgusting motherfucker, why don’t you take five steps back from me because I just cannot handle your goddamn bullshit today” and it will feel fantastic.

Not everyone curses like a sailor in an extremely unprofessional manner, when, say, teaching a class on lighting for film and finding that every single light in the kit I’m using to demo is broken in a slightly different way.  Invective might not roll off the tongue for you, which is okay, because people who are just learning to cuss end up sounding kind of cute when they try.  It’s especially noticeable from novice actors and directors who attempt Mamet or Mamet-like (Mamet-ish?  Mamet-y?) dialogue.  They overemphasize the swears because the little kid inside them gets excited about saying them or they want to be dramatic, so the rejoinder to Creepy Subway Guy (above) comes out as “Listen, you creepy, disgusting MOTHER (pause) FUCKER, why don’t you take five steps back from me because I just cannot handle your GODDAMN (pause) BULLSHIT today.” Amateur hour.

Thankfully we have Miss Julia Sugarbaker to turn to in times of crisis.  Look, it’s been a long time since I’ve watched an episode of Designing Women and I have no idea what she’s so mad about in this clip but I’m pretty sure I agree with every word she’s saying.

You might have to age into that some to get the right mix of patrician elocution and crazy eyes, but that just means it’s something to look forward to! Does anyone know if Dixie Carter attended some kind of Auntie Mame-training academy and, if so, can I go, too?  Maybe there I can learn to cultivate pointed silence in the face of vapid absurdity.

If you want to ride down the middle of the road and can master a sufficiently cutting tone, here are some all-purpose phrases that might get you through a trying conversation if you’ve exhausted “Really,” Wow,” and “What.”

  • “Well, I’ll be doing the opposite of that, but thanks for your opinion.”
  • “It’s amazing that you think that’s your business.”
  • “Let’s just pretend this never happened. It will be less embarrassing for you.”

When I am rich and dead, teenage girls will get copies of The Portable Dorothy Parker and The Handmaid’s Tale* from my dead rich lady foundation, so that they learn exactly how depressing and terrifying life can be and develop the necessary sarcasm and drinking skills to cope.  Dorothy Parker could bring the pain.

So, you’re the man who can’t spell ‘fuck.‘”
-Dorothy Parker to Norman Mailer after publishers had convinced Mailer to replace the word with a euphemism, ‘fug,’ in his 1948 book, “The Naked and the Dead.”

Buuuuuuuuuurn.

Have you been watching Downton Abbey?  Because Maggie Smith as the Dowager Countess Lady Grantham is delightful. When I use the word “cunty” to describe her character’s amazing ability to deliver a backhanded compliment, please believe that I mean to convey only respect and awe.

Lady Grantham: “You are quite wonderful the way you see room for improvement wherever you look. I never knew such reforming zeal.”
Mrs. Crawley: “I take that as a compliment.”
Lady Grantham: “I must’ve said it wrong.”

It seems what is required is to just remove one’s filter.  Strip it right off.  Why wait for dementia to set in when you could be enjoying an unfiltered life right now?

I hope you found this educational and improving.  Shall we take a turn about the room?

 

*What else (besides Auntie Mame, can’t believe I left that off) should we add to the curriculum for the Academy for Wayward Girls Who Want To Stay That Way?

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