Do You Know When You're Being a Mean Girl?

Ah, the good old days of middle school — full of awkward moments, recess drama, and the premiere of classics like Mean Girls. Watching Cady and co. scheme and plot against each other made us laugh, but also taught us timeless lessons: how to recognize that you’re being an awful friend, how to be a better friend, and how to wear pink on Wednesdays. 

Okay, maybe that last one isn’t as important, but in all seriousness, most collegiettes would agree that they are happy to leave middle school drama behind. So when tween b*tchiness carries over into college life, it can be a pesky problem — especially when you don’t realize that you’re at the center of it. Here’s how to make sure you’re only quoting Regina George, and not actually being her

YOU think like a boss.
THEY think you’re being bossy. 

“Why should Caesar just get to stomp around like a giant while the rest of us try not to get smushed under his big feet? Brutus is just as cute as Caesar, right? Brutus is just as smart as Caesar, people totally like Brutus just as much as they like Caesar, and when did it become okay for one person to be the boss of everybody, because that's not what Rome is about!” 

Well, Gretchen Weiners, we don’t live in the world of Mean Girls or of ancient Rome, but you’ve still got a point. While every friend group needs a balance of assertive and mellow personalities, being too assertive can be harmful — potentially resulting in a Gretchen-worthy meltdown that you’d probably prefer to avoid. 

“We're really talking about power dynamics,” explains Kathryn Williams, author of the book Roomies: Sharing Your Home with Friends, Strangers, and Total Freaks. “The more self-conscious members of a group, or the more introverted ones, can get steamrolled by the more aggressive or extroverted girls. Sometimes it's just an uncomfortable undercurrent. In extreme situations, it's bullying.” 

This is a problem especially prevalent in academic situations: while group projects are perfect opportunities for putting your leadership skills to use, make sure you’re not dominating the discussion so much that you miss out on useful input from other members. “I have a friend who tries to control every project and doesn’t let anyone get a word in edge-wise,” shares one collegiette™. “She doesn’t listen to anyone else, and she’s not considerate or respectful of other people’s ideas. As a result, I just shut down.” 

To avoid such an awkward situation, show everyone that you’re keeping an open mind: respond to others’ questions or comments, don’t interrupt, ask for feedback on your own ideas, and occasionally (prepare to have your mind blown) just be quiet.Pause frequently or sit back to let someone else lead the conversation for a while — people will be more likely to listen to your input if you allow them theirs as well. 

YOU find it funny.
THEY think it’s tactless. 

“That is the ugliest effing skirt I've ever seen.” 

Regina George may be a big-screen exaggeration of nasty friend bashing and other devilish behaviors, but in reality, the line between what’s funny and what’s offensive is much less distinguishable. One of the best parts of every friendship is the laughter you share, but what happens when the joke isn’t funny anymore? Even our favorite comedians (read: Tracy Morgan) have had to apologize for making inappropriate comments. While you may have the best intentions, it’s important to keep in mind that humor is always subjective. 

“Every person has their threshold for kidding around, just like every group of friends has its own dynamic,” says Jessica Rozler, co-author of Friend or Frenemy?: A Guide to the Friends You Need and the Ones You Don’t. “What's considered teasing by one friend might be taking it too far with someone else.” 

So while you may be close enough to your friend to joke around about her picky eating habits or how she looks in that new dress, your comments may result in a backfire that nobody intended. Want to make sure it doesn’t happen? Pay attention to especially sensitive subjects — the big three we joke about are politics, religion, and sports, but also avoid things you know she’s cried about, for example, or that she has sought help for. And if you’re still unsure, just ask: “hey, I know I’m no Dane Cook, but were you upset with me for making fun of your hat hair or did you just not laugh?” It may feel uncomfortable, but it beats offending her and irreparably damaging the relationship any day. 

That isn’t to say you should throw your sense of humor out the window; taking it to the opposite extreme — being unable to poke fun at each other — would probably be just as detrimental to your relationship. So how about using it to your advantage instead? “[Humor is] a good way to diffuse tension,” says Williams. “You do not always have to bring your serious face… That gets very old.” 

YOU think you’re friendly.
THEY think you’re flirtatious. 

“Irregardless, ex-boyfriends are just off limits to friends. I mean that's just, like, the rules of feminism.” 

Alas, Gretchen Weiners has enlightened us with another golden nugget of wisdom. Let’s say you’re single, social, and totally ready to meet the next guy. Kudos, collegiette! The (dating) world is your oyster — but it does not include your friends’ boyfriends. While you may be in flirtation mode, and while it’s always gratifying to be buddy-buddy with the cool new boyfriend, your actions won’t seem so innocent, even if your intentions are. Keep the mingling PG and your friend’s best interests in mind: avoid excessive touching, crude dancing, and suggestive comments or texts, and never speak badly of your friend, even if they’re fighting. Simple enough, right? 

But what if your intentions aren’tso innocent? What if, for whatever reason — jealousy, attraction, or otherwise — you know you’re causing trouble for your friend’s new relationship? One anonymous collegiette says of her best friend, “She doesn’t even realize what she’s doing but she’s overly flirtatious with everyone. I once took a crush of mine to a formal where she totally flirted with him the whole time. It was inappropriate.” 

Be logical, collegiettes. Will being inappropriate with her guy really change anything between them? They’re together because they like each other and what you do won’t change much — except make you look bad. If your feelings are overwhelming you “Jesse’s Girl”-style, confront the issue by having a chat with your friend; otherwise, leave the relationship-sabotaging to our favorite 80’s hits and bad romantic comedies. 


Sarah Kismet is a member of the class of 2014 at Kenyon College, a surreal little place that compensates for its geographical solitude with magic, smiles, and bands you’ve never heard of. There, she edits the Kenyon Observer and tutors Economics. Sarah hails from New Albany, Ohio but is of Syrian origin. When she’s not obsessively writing to-do lists or hustling to complete them, she can be found running at the athletic center, reducing the worldwide candy population, asserting her opinions, or giggling uncontrollably.

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