Remember when you were in elementary school and your best friend caught a case of the bossies? Maybe you wanted to swing, but she insisted on monkey bars. You were so mad at her dominant behavior that you refused to sit with her at lunch. Instead, you slid your cafeteria tray loaded with mashed potatoes next to some other 8-year-olds and talked about what a bossy-pants she was. You swore you’d never play with her again.
Remember when you were in high school or college and “real” arguments with your girlfriends ensued? Maybe lies had been told or secrets hadn’t been kept. You concealed your hurt and found solace with other girls who would validate your feelings by gladly bashing your terrible friend right along with you (or in your journal).
Even worse, remember when you whispered in the hallway about someone for absolutely no valid reason? Remember when the girl with the flawless skin and the new car won Homecoming Queen? Remember how the jealously bubbling inside of you turned into hatred? Remember how you repeated hearsay as if it were fact, hoping the person listening to your drivel would repeat it also?
I remember those scenarios well.
I remember the name-calling and the hateful notes passed in social studies. I remember furiously checking the “No” box after reading the question, “Are you still my friend?” I remember the rumors that I spread and the fires that I flamed in revenge for the wrongs that I felt had been done towards me. I remember the sadness at failed friendships and the jealousy at being replaced. I remember the contempt I felt for someone simply because she didn’t have a chin zit. I remember being stuck-up toward someone because I assumed she was stuck-up. I remember it all too well.
I didn’t know malevolence was conceivable after the age of 30. I assumed women grew up and automatically replaced hate-filled speech with jovial talk of Disney on Ice and the built-in vacuums in their minivans. I didn’t know housewives and mothers were capable of such malicious behavior.
Boy was I wrong.
As a 33-year-old mother of two, I’m exposed to spitefulness on a daily basis.
I hear it at my children’s ballgames, I read it in texts, I think it (and speak it) myself when I encounter another woman who seems more put together than I am or doesn’t do things the way I perceive they should be done.
Like the days of our youth, women who feel wronged or threatened by another woman do exactly what they did as girls: they vent their frustrations to others. We crave validation. We need a team. We recruit cheerleaders. We don’t want to hurt alone.
We don’t want to hate alone.
So our tongues start flapping and seeds of hatred are sown.
Several years ago, a close friend hurt me by talking terribly about me to others. When I discovered the fallacious and insolent things that she’d said, I confronted her and a blood-boiling argument ended our friendship. I hadn’t been off the phone with her for five minutes when I started dialing other numbers and flapping my gums.
I was determined to turn all of our mutual friends against her for what she’d said about me.
As I paced my living room that afternoon, I even revealed her secrets to other ladies, and I admit that I even exaggerated some of them. When I’d made my last phone call of the day, all bridges had been burned and I felt victorious.
No one was going to spread rumors about me and get away with it. I had checked the “No” box on our friendship, and I would be damned if she was the last one standing.
As days and weeks passed, I began to feel horrible for what I’d done. I was 30 at the time, which was incredibly too old to be playing mean girl. I should have done what any mature adult should do in that situation: I should have cut ties with her, but kept my mouth shut in the meantime.
When I ran into my ex-friend a year later, we had an adult conversation. I apologized for acting like a school girl by sharing her secrets and trying to ruin her friendships with others. She didn’t apologize to me, but that was okay. My conscious was clear.
I promised myself that I wouldn’t be so catty anymore, that I wouldn’t lash out in anger or hurt or defeat or jealousy.
I had a pretty good streak until last week. A girlfriend and I went out to dinner, and a beautiful woman with a svelte waistline and shiny hair walked into the restaurant. We both knew her in passing so she stopped at our table to say hello to us. We exchanged the usual fake chitchat. How are the kids? How’s your mom? Good to see you.
She hadn’t even sat at her own table when the disdain began spewing onto the rims of our wine glasses.
“Do you know why her husband left her?” my friend started.
“No! What happened?” I leaned in, eyes-wide, ready to devour the gossip.
We sat there for nearly thirty minutes, gabbing about this woman’s failed marriage, her debt and her son’s rebellious behavior. Once I was back at home, I was exhausted from it all and those familiar waves of guilt flooded my soul.
This woman, with her fit figure and stylish clothes, had done nothing to me and yet, I talked about her as if she were my nemesis.
My friend and I critiqued every part of her life when we had no right to do so. And we based our opinions of her on hearsay, not facts. I felt so badly about it that I called my friend. I wanted to somehow redeem our catty behavior, and I wanted her to repent with me.
“You know, I’m feeling really badly for talking about her at dinner. I hate being judgmental, and we were the judge and jury the other night. Aren’t we too old for this sh*t?” I whined.
“I only talk about women if I’m jealous of them or if they’re crazy, and she falls into both categories. How could we not talk about her?” my friend responded.
That’s it, isn’t it? We only talk about women if we are envious of them or if we view them to be wrong in some way, i.e. crazy. Isn’t this exactly what we did as little girls wearing ponytails on the playgrounds?
I think about all of the things I’ve said about other women, and I feel heartily ashamed for most of it.
As the mother of a daughter, I cringe at the thought of girls talking about her the way I’ve talked about others. If I could go back in time, even as early as last week, I’d like to give myself a swift kick in the throat.
But I’m not alone. I’m not the only woman whose ears perk up at the first hint of gossip. I’m not the only mother who feels jealousy at the other put-together mothers. I’m not the only person to send text messages inquiring about someone’s divorce, bankruptcy or hard luck. I hear it on a daily basis from my friends and acquaintances. It’s heartbreaking when I think about it, but every woman I know is guilty of still acting like a silly little girl. Instead of lifting one another up, we often tear each other down with snide remarks and whispers at PTA meetings and soccer games.
We don’t want to hate alone.
I try to forgive myself for the times that I am guilty of this kind of petty and childish behavior. My wholehearted desire to keep my trap shut in the future and my guilty conscience and the apologies to those I’ve wronged must count for something, right?
But there are those women who revel in the destructive chatter. There are those women who feel no remorse for flaming fires and burning bridges. Those are the women who really scare me.
And I can talk a blue streak about them.