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A Life Lesson in Friendships

In some idealized, mythical land mean girls only exist during your pubescent years, you grow up to become super hot, successful, and they grow up to become the losers.

In my opinion, this trope is overplayed. Human relationships are so much better than that, and there is more to life than classifying people as “winners” or “losers.” I would know, throughout my childhood I went through a pretty rough time with bullying by kids I grew up with. I constantly wondered what I did to deserve it, but the thing is, I did nothing. Nobody deserves to be bullied, but what separates me from protagonists in ‘90s high school drama movies is the fact that I have moved on, and realized that I cannot control what others think and do.

My own mother constantly asks about my childhood bullies, and she loves to fantasize that they’re incredibly jealous of me. In reality I have no idea what any of them are doing now. I do not think of them, and I honestly do not care if they think of me. I have started my own life, and sure many of the things I experienced growing up have forever changed my perception of myself, but that is a personal journey. I go to a good school, I’m involved in organizations, and I have strong friendships with people who like me for me.

I recently studied abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina, but due to COVID-19 my program was suspended and I had to return home to the United States. The time I did spend in Buenos Aires, though, I learned an incredibly important lesson. Although I have moved on and am relatively happy I still struggle with a lot of the lingering feelings of being an outsider as a child.

It is a part of human nature to want to be accepted. No matter how indifferent someone tries to present themself on the outside there is still that natural desire to be part of something. Coming into my study abroad I was excited to meet the other girls that were part of my program. There were nine of us total, with six of us doing an optional early start for the month of February. I didn’t expect these girls to become my best friends and future bridesmaids, but I was naive in expecting a sense of solidarity with girls going through the same process as me. I had expected to find comfort in people who would want to explore the city together, learn how to work public transportation, and possibly study together since we were taking many of the same classes.

It just didn’t end up that way. There were about 40 other international students (mostly Americans) at my university for the early start, and with such a small group all taking the same Spanish classes cliques arose. I wasn’t necessarily surprised, but I was disappointed. It hurt, at first, to realize that I just wasn’t accepted as part of the group of girls on my program. I had the natural response of wondering what I did wrong, but that response stems from the hurt I experienced in my childhood. I knew that I didn’t want to force myself into a friend group that just wasn’t that interested in me, but it still hurt that I couldn’t figure out why I had been excluded. 

My roommate at my host home noticed the cliquey behavior too, and expressed how she had been feeling left out as well. What it boils down to is those girls were just different people. They weren’t necessarily hateful, but they just didn’t want to be friends with us, and that’s OK.

My mother suggested I try to get back at them, but I didn’t feel the drama was worth it. You can’t be angry at other people for choosing to not want to be friends. Nobody owes you anything. There was no guarantee that all the girls in my program would come out at the end as friends for life. My friends back home were also upset that I was struggling and reminded me that honestly, sometimes there’s nothing you did to be excluded. For about a week I was pretty sad because I knew I was difficult to warm up to at first, but I got over it when I realized those girls are just different people and that’s that.. I could have wallowed in self-pity and picked apart every little thing I did wrong while searching for acceptance from these people, but the thing is, would I have even enjoyed myself if I had been accepted into that friend group? Probably not. 

Instead I found solace in strengthening my friendship with my roommate, getting to know my host family, and branching out to talk to other students at my university who weren’t part of the same program as me. I even began to make friends with some of the locals of Buenos Aires. Although my time was cut short due to completely out of the ordinary experiences I’m sure if my semester in Buenos Aires had continued as normal I would have had the time of my life. I already was having the time of my life after I accepted the fact that not everybody was going to be my friend. There’s no reason to get caught up in what people think of you, or some crazy plot to be accepted into the “popular” group. Mean girls and cliques don’t disappear after puberty, they just show up in different circles. It's also not necessarily a "mean girl" thing for people to not want to be friends with you. Some people are just different, or complicated, or going through something that you know nothing about. It’s important to remember though, that they have no power over you. You have the power to choose who you spend your time with, how you view yourself, and how you let yourself be treated.

If my life were a ‘90s teen drama it wouldn’t end with me becoming hot and stealing the popular boyfriend from the mean girl, because life is a lot more intricate than that. People are a lot more intricate than that. You can’t hate somebody for wanting something different than you, and although it can hurt I promise life is so much more enjoyable when you worry about controlling yourself rather than controlling others. Don't let incredible experiences pass you by because you're caught up over something you can't control.