The Mean Girl Complex

Someone once told me “you know why you’re mean? Because you think being called nice is an insult.” Isn’t it? Isn’t that what you say about someone when their personality is so unremarkable that, when pressed for an opinion, all you can think of to say is that they’re nice? Isn’t that the polite way to tell your mother that you had the most uninteresting date ever with the guy she set you up with? “He was nice.”

All too often, after I’m safely past the first few impressions with someone, they will get too drunk and rhetorically ask, “can I tell you something?” which inevitably follows with the confession “I thought you were such a bitch when we first met!” After years of reluctantly entertaining this conversation, I’ve learned it mostly has to do with my face. I have that perma-judgmental mean girl face – whether I’m actually judging you, trying to focus in a meeting, or find you really hot.

The mean girl complex comes with a love hate relationship with the label. Some days I accept it with pride and a sinister grin, but more and more I resent it as the lazy label that it is. If a “mean” person is conventionally offensive, selfish, and malicious, then sure I am mean some days, like most people, but those are not traits that define me.
After recently being indicted as a mean girl for telling someone I didn’t want to meet their friend because her favorite artist was Fergie, I thought more about my mean girl label. I realized that some of the traits that do define me are too often conflated with “meanness”.

I’m picky about the company I keep. I’ve been on this earth for 20 something years now, and I know that a guy who texts me at 8am the morning after we met saying, “thinking about your smile… J” is just not a guy I’m interested in. On a Friday night, I’d rather lie and say my parents are in town than go to a club for a girl’s birthday who I went to the beach with once in college. Is that mean? No. Antisocial? Probably.

I’m cynical. I know lots of genuinely nice people, some close friends. But I probably know more nice opportunists. That part-time friend who didn’t show up to your birthday but then wants to catch up because “it’s been like forever!!!” and casually mentions over drinks that she wants you to submit her resume to your boss. She’s not a mean person, but I’ve come to expect a lot of “niceness” to be motivated by self-interest. I’m guilty of it too. And actually we all are – it’s human nature.

I’m candid. I say what I think. Sometimes in regard of your feelings, sometimes not. I tend to have either the sarcastic genre of candor that amuses people, or the “thank me later” genre that burns now, but makes sense later. But my intentions are (mostly) pure. If I tell you that you have bad taste in men, it’s probably because you keep picking guys that only call you after 1am, because you keep answering.

I’m competitive. I like to get ahead. If someone at work is going out of their way to make me look like a slacker, I’ll retaliate in my own special way. And sure, if it looks like I’m competing for a guy’s affection, I’m prone to make passive aggressive insults about other girls in his company, and brainstorm creatively insulting epithets with my friends behind her back. Most women do this; it’s just part of the emotional hygiene of being a 20 something.

I don’t use exclamation points without irony. Too many people use too many exclamation points. And too many people get insecure if you don’t reciprocate. If you ask me out and text me “so excited for dinner!!!” I’m likely to respond something short like, “me too. See you in a bit.” The absence of an exclamation point, or three, does not undermine my excitement – but the conversation might.

When people call me “mean”, they tend to deliver the news in this apologetic tone like there are only a few of us out there – like I’m part of some minority group. Like somehow my cynical humor and punctuation preferences marginalize me. There still seems to be some pervading myth of this species of “nice” people who walk around smiling, emanating their bright aura of magnanimity. From what I’ve noticed, it’s an endangered species – at least in New York. TC mark

image – Mean Girls


More From Thought Catalog

  • hunter ray

    I too am a mean girl (boy), and I've recently noticed that I've made weird concessions in my behavior to try to trick people into thinking I'm not. A la the texting example you used: I overcompensate with exclamation points these days, although now that I've caught myself…. it's back to the unemotional  un-exclaimed responses that a sane person should be texting. 

    But like you said, we aren't really mean, just honest. Most people prefer to be nicely lied to than to be treated honestly. Ugh.

  • Kevin Mac

    Hm.  It seems like your writing off anti-social and annoying behaviors to human nature/being young/being a New Yorker.  I agree that everyone acts like this sometimes, but if people drunkenly alert you to it, it's probably worth looking into changing it.

    • Alexandria


  • Ana

    I have lots of problems with being candid. i'm not saying things to be mean, i'm saying them to express my honest opinion. but being blunt costs, and everyone sees me as arrogant and bitchy. i'm kinda amused by it, especially because I'm a very insecure person, and I have always thought people see that. apparently, they don't.:)

    • Angela

      Haven't you ever heard, “Opinions are like assholes….”?  You maybe insecure about some things, but you mistake candor for thinking everyone cares about what you think, and that is seen as arrogant.

      • Ana

        nope. not really. i was thinking about specific moments, when you’re supposed to talk and express what you think.(Creative Advertising Workshop, where the only way you can know you’re doing it right is by receiving feedback. and this applies to arts, in general).

  • Abbey Dethlefs

    Caroline Washington, in the least creepy,  non-sexual way possible, we may be soul mates. This is spot on.

    • mopey P

      Lulz y'all should totes hang out and wait to see how long it takes until your conversation consists of nothing but complinsults.

  • lula

    eww. you sound really arrogant.

  • Viktoriya Gaponski

    Social niceties are hindrances to real communication

  • Morgan M Rappaport

    We're the same person. Thoroughly enjoyed this.


  • A. T.

    Your paragraph about being “candid” deffo makes you sound like a mean girl . Yikes. 

    And if a bland person is described as “nice” because there's nothing else remarkable about them, what makes you think there's any difference when it comes to being mean? You say that your mean traits aren't those that define you, but according to the confessional drunks in your life those are precisely the traits that define you.

  • mopey P

    Oh babydoll. I'd be more way more on board with this whole thing if your “I'm competitive” section hadn't been about how you plot out ways to undermine other females.
    Beyond being super cliche, think about it in the work setting. It isn't like there's just one reserved “female” spot at the table. Don't forget that in the workplace you are competing with boys too, and it makes their lives 10x easier when the women sabotage each other and thin their own ranks.

    ETA: but duh you're right that calling someone “nice” without a qualifier is totally an insult.

  • Unfastidious

    And this is the article that finally made me remove Thought Catalog from both Twitter and Google Reader feeds.

    • Jennifer Sussex

      unfastidious, you might be the meanest girl of all.

  • ams

    I related to this more than I like to admit. I have looked at myself and improved on some things, but some of these tendencies still stick. I appreciate when someone gets super excited about little things, and I can recognize it as genuine, but I don't show my enthusiasm like that. I look forward to things, yet I dread most social obligations. I love my friends and family. If I didn't, I wouldn't choose to spend time with them.

    • ams

      And I also have what people seem to think is an always angry face. I think I just look at ease, but apparently not!

  • Christina

    I sort of agree with most of these behaviors? At least, I sympathize with the motives behind them, but it's more than possible to be all of these things and still be a nice person. “Bitchy” is not a pejorative term for “candid.” It describes someone who offers their unsolicited, often unhelpful opinion at every opportunity. Passive-aggressive comments about other girls in his company? Any guy worth knowing sees right through that shit.

    I've been called a mean-girl, before. And I don't have bad motives either, so it makes me take a second look at my behavior. Trying to justify it would just be defensive and insecure.

    • mopey P

      You sound like you have a good attitude. Candidness is okay. And so is the refusal to spend unnecessary time around people who don't have any of your interests at heart. As I get older, I've learned to say “no” more and not feel guilty.
      But yes, girls who don't take shit aren't the same as (mean) catty girls.

  • JJ

    This was interesting. I appreciate this type of personality because I have little tolerance for bullshit. However, even though I'm aware of this, I still find myself being offended by little things (like, all of the stuff that you've written). As I get older, though, I get less and less bothered by it and more appreciative of honest, straight-talkers.

    Loved this: “But I probably know more nice opportunists.” Just so true.

  • Ameltoid

    Has anyone ever told you that you sound a bit mean?

    • Guest

      How long did it take to come up with this?

  • Aelya

    The text message thing isn't so much mean as it is a testament to how difficult it is to properly convey the right emotion when you're not face-to-face with the person you're speaking to.

    Also, honesty doesn't always have to come off as mean. There are kind ways to tell the truth. It really all boils down to your delivery. Unless it's someone who you've been close with for years. If my best friend looks bad in a shirt, I tell her to get the fuck back in the dressing room.

  • KP

    All these bullet points sound really clever and all, but are you happy? All this negativity sounds like a waste of an existence.

  • Rebecca Eisenberg

    I can't stand the exclamation points — my sister always IMs me “Hi!!!!!” “What's up!?!?!?” and I'm on the other side of the computer going “I'm at work. Doing work. Did something amazing happen? Because you're incredibly excited to say hi to me. You know, the same way you say hi to me every single day.” Luckily she knows me pretty well, so she doesn't get offended at this point.

    She's like a happier version of the boy who cried wolf. She's always saying things are amazing and she loves this person and that person…often people who she has just met, and I always have to ask her directly to confirm: “Does this mean you have a crush on him? Do you just love him as a person? Have you been secretly dating someone all these months and are just telling me about it now?” Honestly, when she does actually have a boyfriend and falls in love for the first time and she IMs me or calls me to tell me about it my reaction at this point is just going to be “Uh-huh.” 

    I just can't operate at that level of excitement all the time. Does that make me mean? I don't think so. 

    • AlyW

      You sound just like my sister. I always text her with lots of exclamations and she just rolls her eyes at me.

  • Alexandria

    I agree with all of this. I've been getting that whole “I thought you were a bitch when we first met” since middle school….we can all thank bitchface for this.

  • ME

    I feel like I could've written this.  And, I totally have the perma-bitch face.  People always accuse me of looking mad/giving dirty looks and I'm not!  I have felt this way about most of your points, not all, for a long time.  Like you, I walk around with the “deal with it” attitude most of the time.  My internal dialogue sounds something like, “I don't have time to massage your insecurities and to help you believe something that just isn't true (i.e., your booty call really does like you on the inside).”  However, as we get older, I am realizing more and more (and often the hard way) that our world does nothing but punish this behavior/personality-type.  In the workplace it can be especially damning.  I think it's a combination of our society and the gender roles it mandates.  Alas, I still loved your post.  Thank you for being brave enough to be honest about it.

    • mopey P

      You're going to get frown lines. Professional ladies with wrinkles are also punished/seen as dumpy/not given the corner office. But maybe then you can botox yourself into a more sociallyacceptablepleasing face?

      • Gia Lori


    • Margaret Thatcher

      Um. Yes. Because as we get older, we lose patience for inflexible, elitist, unhelpful personality types. It has nothing to do with gender. I know some men with these same personality degects, and the world is starting to crap on them as well.

  • shoehorn

    i can't imagine thinking about myself this much.

  • simón

    When did this site become a journal of sorts?

    • hunter ray

      well it is a catalog of thoughts

  • Darya

    I sympathize with the CBS (chronic bitchface), but realize the difference between being candid and being bitchy. Passing judgment by saying someone (esp. a friend) has bad taste in men instead of  “heads up, 1am booty calls are a sure way to misery” is both useless and cruel. Try a little tact…

    Also, the girl-on-girl hate is not cool.  Time to lose the high school bs.

  • ariel

    I liked this until I read your competitive section and read that you assume most women behave in this manner. In the words of Madeleine Albright, “there's a special place in hell for women who don't help other women.” Making passive aggressive remarks about other women to get the attention of a dude? Really? Maybe try getting his attention with your personality and intellect.

    • bappada boopy


  • FreeDrunks

    “There’s a huge difference between a strong woman who speaks the truth
    and a self-righteous cunt who hurts other people with her unsolicited opinion. If
    everyone around you thinks you’re a bitch, take the hint. You don’t
    have to be a nice person, but you do have to be a good person.” -Coketalk

    • m bell

      coketalk is my guru. but also there's a big diff between good and nice. in my experience, the 2 rarely overlap. loved the article.  but i don't think the things listed make you mean at all. mean girls stomp on other people for power, for the sake of it and there's a total pack mentality about it. cynicism, competitiveness, candor and discernment are not mean.

  • Ela

    My friends call me a bitch because I'm picky about the people I talk to. Love this article!

blog comments powered by Disqus