I haven't had a lot of experience with "mean girls." Growing up with two older brothers, I guess I just didn't understand all the catty drama that seemed to shroud girls my age. As much as possible, I shied away from girls who acted shallow and petty and I was drawn to the few who exhibited authenticity and depth. These became my tight-knit circle of trusted girlfriends and I didn't need anyone else.
But starting over in a new place has taught me a few things about the evolution of relationships. When my husband and I first moved, I quickly sought out ways to submerse myself in my community. And I quickly saw that the ease I had felt with my friends back home was something I would have to rebuild from the ground up with new people in a new place.
So I was pleasantly surprised when one girl seemed to embrace me right away. My casual invitation to "stop by anytime" was actually accepted and before I knew it, she was frequenting my house for movie nights, Bible chats, and just casual girl time. I didn't feel like we would be best friends, but I also wasn't going to write her off - who knew what The Lord could do if I stayed open to Him working in our relationship? I wanted a friend and she was as kind and giving as I could have ever hoped for.
Until the day she left me in tears. It had started as any usual visit. We traded life updates and feeling like our weeks together so far had built a mutual trust, I decided today would be my day to be truly vulnerable and share something difficult the Lord had been helping me through. She let me babble and I felt relieved to get everything out, even if she didn't seem to have much to offer in return at that moment. She seemed sidetracked, distracted by her thoughts - and soon I knew why.
About fifteen minutes later, she was gone and I stood in a puddle of confusion, my head pounding, heart aching, and my entire identity in shambles. A brief confrontation over what I had deemed a silly misunderstanding the week before had suddenly been rehashed and left me dumbfounded, apologetic, verging on defensive, and secretly wounded. Whether she intended to or not, her questions concerning my actions and character had made me feel belittled, manipulated, and even a little scolded. Her sweetly worded questions had picked apart my character while my walls began to rise and now, alone in my living room, I felt myself crumbling behind them. What had just happened? I had heard her out, stayed civil, humble even as I tried to really see if what she was saying about me was true. Somehow, I had conceded that I was in the wrong and I would try to do better next time but as fresh tears began to flow, I realized I had no idea what I had done wrong.
In reality, I was blameless and she had merely twisted the situation and crafted her words in such a way that I felt I must surely be a terrible person. Was this her intention? To this day, I have absolutely no idea. Knowing how my own insecurities can cause me to perceive attacks where none are present, I did not feel it fair to label her a clever manipulator no matter how manipulated I felt. Who was I to call someone a "mean girl" when I did not know for certain the intentions behind what she had just done? But one thing was for sure - I had some serious lessons to learn through this situation.
Lesson 1. My identity should not be shaken by the criticisms or attacks of others.
I was having a rough day to begin with. I chose to be vulnerable. And then it felt like I had that transparency thrown back in my face. I had tried to stay strong through the confrontation, but I found she had slowly chipped away my sense of security in who I was, which showed me I wasn't really very secure at all. She left with a huge smile on her face, saying she felt so much better after our discussion - but I shut the door and collapsed in tears. Later that evening, I was forced to ask myself if the person she had made me feel like was my true self. I knew it wasn't, but that knowledge was quite obviously not rooted very deep. This scared me and I knew I needed to remind myself daily of my identity as a daughter of the King so I didn't wimp out so easily under future attacks. There's nothing wrong with the occasional heart check and honest self assessment, but a foundation that cracks so easily under pressure just isn't healthy.
Lesson 2. Trust must be earned.
And even then, it can still hurt like heck when it is broken. In its healthiest form, trust is partnered with boundaries. This is where I had failed. I've always felt it was a strength of mine that I trust so easily. I always try to see the best in people and give them the benefit of the doubt. But now I had gone too far. I had forgotten that just because it was safe to wave at strangers didn't mean I should get in the car with them. My friend deserved the chance to be trusted, but I judged her readiness to protect my heart in relation to the time that had passed between us rather than the depth we had reached within that time. Looking back, we hadn't reached that place of intimacy in which you can just casually spew out all your fears and failures. In my longing for a confidant, I had promoted her to a level of trust she had not yet earned and I had set myself up for pain in the process. I won't be naive and pretend trust even in its best state is void of risk - of course, anytime we love or open our heart there is risk involved. But we can save ourselves some sorrow if we learn to respect ourselves enough to build relationships that are trustworthy havens instead of hastily constructed mud-huts.
Lesson 3. Decide when to end the battle.
If I wanted to, I could have brought the issue back up, argued my side of the story, and told her how manipulated she'd made me feel when I had done nothing wrong. Wouldn't it only be fair to her to let her know we had this barrier between us? Was it right for me to secretly have an issue with her? As I verbally processed these musings to my husband, he asked a wise question in response. "If you bring this back up, is it going to help her?" In my present pain, all I really cared about was feeling better. It seemed if she could see how much she had hurt me, I could somehow recover. Yet I knew this would either make her feel the same manipulation and blame I had felt or it would break her spirit and layer shame upon her. I wanted neither for her because beneath it all, I knew she had her own issues to sort through or she wouldn't have acted like this in the first place. I knew that I had the chance to be a powerful person and make the powerful choice to let the matter drop whether or not I had "won."
Lesson 4. Hurt people hurt people.
How many times have we heard this? If a girl wounds another girl, it's usually because she too in some way is broken. I had seen shadows of my friend's flaws before even though her genuine kindness and obvious desire to be a good person had concealed them relatively well. I still knew she had things to learn, but I also knew that pointing out her weaknesses out of my own place of pain was not a lesson I was meant to teach. If she was going to grow out of her shortcomings, it was going to be because God showed them to her and offered to replace them with His strengths - NOT because I made her feel bad about them.
Lesson 5. Keep your love on.
One of my favorite teachers, Danny Silk, uses this phrase in the context of what healthy relationship looks like. In this situation, I decided whether or not this issue would create a barrier between me and my friend. I decided if I was going to have an issue with her because of it. And I decided if I was going to alter my behavior towards her because of what she had done (intentional or not). I could feel the temptation to treat her differently even in things as petty as a smiley face in a text message. I didn't feel like smiling or being as warm around her as I used to be. She had hurt me and I wanted to recoil out of my instinct of self-preservation. No one could blame me for that. But though I may have a right to be cautious, the love of Jesus left no room for offense in my heart. I knew if I was truly going to remain powerful in this relationship, I had to set boundaries - not build walls. I had to be unoffendable. And I had to refuse to let her behavior affect my own. I had to love her no matter what and treat her as though nothing had happened, as hard as it would be to do so. Only then would my scabs heal instead of turning to scars.
I can't really label my friend a mean girl - because I know she's actually a sweet girl (I hate labels anyway). I know she has Jesus in her heart and wants to serve and love others well. But just like all of us, she had what came across as a mean moment. She became the mean girl I never saw coming, just like the mean girl I've seen in the mirror on rare occasion when I snapped at my husband, gossiped about a friend, or just got downright bitter and sassy for no good reason whatsoever. She may not have ever meant to be mean and I have to live with the fact that I just don't know what her intentions were when she confronted me that day. I may never know. But I do know who I am. I do know what real friends look like. And I do know the kind of friend I will be. I suppose, in the end, that's what really matters most.
Written by: Anna Wright