Lessons for Girls 7: It’s okay if not everyone likes you

Historiann and Dr. Crazy and others have started this meme, and it’s a perfect meme to follow up on Mother’s Day.

My lesson is about the striving to be liked that starts, I think, way too early. I spent this weekend going to a school fair and then to a soccer game, where I had the opportunity to watch my daughter (9) interact with her friends. Although she seems a bit unsure of herself at times, she seems to be trying to find her way in positive ways. She’s not worried about being just like her friends in either looks or actions. I do my best to support her social explorations, trying to reinforce important lessons, making sure she knows she can stand up for herself when she’s in a bad friendship. Things are going to get really, really tough in a couple of years, though, when she hits middle school.

I’m not sure where this came from, maybe my mother, but my father has also commented on the way, especially during my teen years, that I wanted to be liked by everyone. This meant that I did things that were not healthy, sometimes physically. I still have this impulse sometimes of not rocking the boat, of wanting to please everyone. In middle school, you’re thrown in with a bunch of people you don’t know, the hormones kick in, and suddenly, it seems like you have no friends. People change. You don’t see your old elementary school friends anymore and you suddenly feel that you’re in competition for new friends. Everyone thinks it’s a zero-sum game. It becomes especially hard when the most popular person in school decides they don’t like you or your former best friend tells you they can’t be friends anymore. It’s devastating. I’ve told my daughter stories about these kinds of situations and how painful they were. And I’ve told her that what I’ve come to realize is that it wasn’t about me. I wanted to be liked and when I wasn’t, in most cases as a result of doing something different, independent, I felt like I’d failed. But I hadn’t. In fact, I’d succeeded by differentiating myself, by saying this is who I am and if you don’t like it . . . . But I couldn’t get to that point when I was 12 or even 16. Instead, I walked around depressed or I tried to reconform to win back those lost friends. And I abandoned some interesting people because they were too off the norm.

So, I will tell my daughter to find the friends who like you no matter what, who like you even if you want to write science fiction or collect rocks or wear weird clothes or be friends with the odd girl in the corner. I will tell her not to do things simply because a friend told her to because she’s afraid of not being liked, of losing that friend. Friendships based on mutual support are longer lasting and healthier than those based on weird co-dependent feelings. I see too many of these among girls, many based on this need to be liked.

I think understanding that not everyone is going to like you leads to other positive actions along the lines of what the other bloggers have written about. One is able to opt out of bad situations and arguments (a la Dr. Crazy); one starts to trust your own instincts instead of someone else’s; it means you don’t have to feel sorry for someone and try to save them; it is a step toward independence; it means not apologizing for who you are; and it means, it’s okay to get angry.

What are your lessons that you’ve learned or that you will pass on to your daughters?

Mean Girls Start Early

For the last few weeks, Geeky Girl has been dealing with a mean girl who also happens to be her best friend. Now we’ve never been particularly fond of the best friend. She’s kind of bossy and whiny, but we wouldn’t have put her in the mean girl category. At the parent-teacher conference in early December, however, Geeky Girl’s teacher discussed the problem with me, explaining that at least once, MG had said something mean enough to make GG cry. So we started talking to GG about MG, just asking her if they got along, asked her about the incident described by the teacher and talking about strategies. And now, we get a flood of information. And we’re not liking what we’re hearing. Regularly, MG tells GG that she’s not going to be her friend if she doesn’t do X or if she plays with someone else. Yesterday, she made “angry eyes” at GG during math. And then, I also heard that she regularly lies and as GG says, “I don’t like people who lie.” We had MG over over Christmas and she pretty constantly tried to manipulate GG, telling her what to do. I stepped in and said GG could do whatever she wanted.

I have a couple of theories about why MG behaves this way. One theory is that she has an older sibling in high school and she must hear her and her friends behave this way. The other theory, more likely I think, is that she’s not adjusting to the new school very well and her way of dealing with her insecurity is to try to control the one thing she can: GG.

We’ve explained to GG that she doesn’t have to be friends with MG and that we’d be happy to have anyone else from her class over for a playdate. We’re also trying to help her come up with what she can say in response to the mean things MG says. The teacher has encouraged us to role play with GG so that she feels confident saying what she needs to to MG. The thing is the meanness is subtle most of the time. She uses a quiet and pleasant voice when she’s being manipulative. So I think that GG has recognized that she’s not on the up and up, but hasn’t been able put her finger on what’s going on and hasn’t really known what to do about it. I had some very unpleasant mean girl experiences in middle and high school. It seems it’s a rite of passage, but I really don’t want it to be. I hope we can give GG enough confidence to deal with these situations and not feel beaten down by them. I can’t believe we’re dealing with this at the tender age of seven! On the bright side, it gives us time to deal with it. On the down side, it could be a looong road to the end of high school.