How to Deal With Your Local Coven

Dear Robin:

I am a pretty laid-back person who gets along with everyone. I have a variety of friends in different groups and from different walks of life but one group gossips about other women and usually it’s women in that same group.

I’m talking about really mean jabs and insinuations about their relationships, their looks, their kids, their careers, their parenting skills, basically anything you can think of that would be hurtful.

My husband says I have a duty to speak up and try to minimize the damaging conversation when I am there to do so. I’m not so sure I’m comfortable doing that even though this has been bothering me for years.

You are good with funny ways to confront people – do you have any ideas for me?

Alice

Readers:

If you’ve been with me a while you’ve seen this before.  

I have exactly one week to finish How to Get Divorced Without Losing Your Mind, Your Money and Your Kids and I am so close but re-runs will be happening now and again. However, I’ve come a long way as a writer since I started and have edited the old post to reflect my advancements.  Please enjoy!

Dear Alice:

I come to you with unclean hands.

More on that later. Let’s talk about you and this nice group of ladies you spend time with.

Who’s On the Carving Board When Alice Stays Home?

I agree you have a duty to speak up and add if this is a very regular thing for these women you should dump this group.

When we messaged last weekend you mentioned the group’s target was a moving one but usually centered on whichever unfortunate gal couldn’t make it to that week’s “Shit On (Name of Whomever Isn’t There) Party.”  You do realize what this means, right?

It’s your carcass on the carving board when you aren’t at these fun events – don’t for a minute fool yourself into thinking you are immune.

After a couple I know got divorced, the ex-husband told me this of his former wife, who was always very nice to everyone to their face and quite well liked:

“Every time a woman would leave the room, she’d immediately tear them down.”

“You mean right there, like at a party?” I was incredulous.  “When they are still there?”

“Oh yeah,” he said, “and boy did she hate you. You got it bad, but not the worst. The worst she saved for her ‘best friend’ and her sister. It’s one of the many reasons I couldn’t deal with her anymore.”

I suppose I knew that all along because I’d seen it myself, but I was so honored to be included in this group, even on the periphery, that I kept my mouth shut and basked in what felt at the time like the warm arms of female companionship but in fact what was only an illusion.

No, that’s not quite it.

I didn’t just sit by.

I joined in.

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Those of Us Who Fall in Line

Inside many middle-aged women like myself is a lonely and depressed 11-year-old girl, crying at home on a Saturday night because she didn’t get invited to the big party and someone called her fat on the bus.

My working theory (which may be completely wrong but at least it’s mine: do YOU have one?) is this:

Some women who were not terrifically attractive and popular growing up may find it easier to fall in line, steadfastly refuse to do the right thing, and pile on with the rest of the group.  

We long for a do-over of our painful youth.  We long to bask in the In Crowd’s glow and feel part of something special and cool and socially relevant.

If those feelings are never dealt with we grow up to form unhealthy relationships with people not based on their qualities as a human being but rather where they are located on the social hierarchy and their perceived “It Girl” status.

That’s not friendship; that’s social climbing – and it’s ugly and unsatisfying.

Then again, some of worst offenders were the “It Girls” in school who never grew up (witness the current very public battle between pop stars, former friends, and alleged adults Taylor Swift, 28, and Katy Perry, 31).  Most of them peaked in high school – maybe that’s why they talk so much shit about other people.  

The Art of Triangulation

In addition to the gossip, another interesting dynamic in these groups is the one of “triangulation.”

For example, and you may want to create a flow chart for this, behold Suzi and Deb:

Susi and Deb are great friends, but have a falling out when Deb said Suzi’s skeevy hooker-loving boyfriend gave her the creeps.  After their friendship implodes, Suzi then tries to rally the troops against Deb in a people-collection and trash-talk marathon rivaling a political campaign two days before an election.

The bulk of this effort involves Suzi’s new and sudden interest in former enemy Gail, who she knows doesn’t like Deb. Why?  Who knows?  Who can keep track of this bullshit?

Now Suzi and Gail become the best of friends and Deb is Public Enemy #1. Or is she?

What happens to Gail if Suzi and Deb run into each other and have a drunken “Guuuurllll I love you I’m sorry why aren’t we friends anymore and don’t you hate that bitch Gail?” wailing and gnashing of history?

I’ll tell you what happens: both of these fine upstanding females turn against Gail, and she is now the carcass on the board.

Triangulation is an interesting behavior but I think time proves the following to be true:

The mutual dislike of another is no basis for a friendship.

If you build a house upon shifting sand don’t expect it to remain standing for long.

Advice for Alice

Alice, I encourage you to find yourself alternative company. 

If you insist upon sharing your time with these ladies (perhaps you are a scientist conducting a social experiment?) and the conversation turns ugly, your duty as a decent and honorable person is to shut it down.

Just imagine what you would want the others to do if the Victim du Jour was Alice and then do that.

You asked me for a funny quip so try this one on for size:

Suzi and Deb, it’s not a fair fight if everyone doesn’t have access to the ring! Should we conference in Gail and let her defend herself or are you too cowardly to say these things to her directly?

It’s odd that you haven’t spoken to her in ages but you keep talking about her.

This is not a war, so what’s with all the troop recruitment going on here? Can’t you just go your separate ways without all this destruction? Perhaps therapy is in order?

Yeah, that’s not very funny, but there’s not much funny about this topic so there you go.

When you find yourself in this group and are tempted to talk about a person who isn’t there, use the following rules:

1. Don’t say anything unkind or untrue;
2. Don’t say anything you wouldn’t say to someone’s face; and
3. If you wouldn’t say it to their face because you don’t speak with them anymore or know them enough to speak with them at all, ask yourself:

Why am I talking about this person?

Mea Culpa and Good Riddance

Yep, I’ve been this person.  To admit that causes me great shame but it’s liberating at the same time.  

To also admit that the main reason I don’t run in these wild packs of hyenas women anymore is because they weren’t fond of me is also difficult – but it’s honest and real and honorable.  

That rejection was a gift that felt at the time like a sentence and led me to where I am today, so for their scorn I am grateful. I have connected with so many wonderful people since then who don’t engage in this behavior and who, when faced with it, shut it down.

Those are the people who now make up my tribe, and I am blessed to have them.

Alice, create yourself a tribe made up of people who uplift others instead of tearing them down.

If you don’t you may find yourself painted with the same gossipy, bitchy brush as the others and those good people in your life may wonder just what you stand for, if anything at all.

Readers, please sound off in the comments.  Have you seen this?  Have you done this?  And don’t forget to use those sharing buttons to spread the word!

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. NW Mama

    I quit a group like this and never went back. I still feel bad about my own participation in the nastiness.

  2. Seagypsy

    Saw something in my FB feed the other day that said, “your vibe creates your tribe.” Truer words have never been spoken. I have always encountered these situations when I worked with groups of women; gosh, the back-biting, back-stabbing, & bitchiness was just always too much. It is really hard to not get sucked into that vortex of evil. I didn’t spread the gossip, but I listened and didn’t shut it down when I could have. I feel horribly guilty about that, but try not to beat myself up over it too much. I am so very glad I am out of that type of situation now and don’t miss it at all. I don’t socialize with groups of women now; I only have a few close friends and we don’t get together in groups so it’s no longer a temptation. Most of the time, it’s just one-on-one and that keeps little old introverted me much happier.

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