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It Gets Different

On a more serious note; a break amid ring tone discussion

The Exclusion Project has brought out a bunch of side conversations, and one of the common threads through all of them is whether or not things really get better.  My reaction to slights has certainly changed, but it doesn’t mean that people don’t say or do cruel things.  My desire to be accepted has certainly changed, but that doesn’t mean I’m not conscious of whether or not I’m included.

My favourite thing I’ve read so far from this whole inane Amy Chua/Tiger Mum thing was an op-ed in the New York Times titled “Amy Chua is a Wimp.”  David Brooks points out what her children are missing:

Practicing a piece of music for four hours requires focused attention, but it is nowhere near as cognitively demanding as a sleepover with 14-year-old girls. Managing status rivalries, negotiating group dynamics, understanding social norms, navigating the distinction between self and group — these and other social tests impose cognitive demands that blow away any intense tutoring session or a class at Yale.

Growing up girl feels like a battle ground where no one is in your platoon.  You’re on the battlefield with all of these people, but none of them wholly have your back.  Aging brings with it alliances and it brings with it sisters-by-choice, but all that means is that you now have a small posse on the battlefield.  It’s not us against them.  It’s really us against us when you are constantly surrounded (overtly and covertly) by the judgment and oneupmanship.

This, of course, is the negative side.  I could write for hours celebrating female friendships, but the Exclusion Project is about the times when someone could have been kind, but chose otherwise.  And we are still doing that today to each other.  The close friendships provide a cushion that is perhaps lacking from the early years, but it’s just that — a cushion that is softening some of the vibrations that shake us down to our foundations of self-esteem.

Instead of directly telling someone that they aren’t invited to the slumber party, we covertly exclude the infertile girl by not inviting her to baby’s first birthday party along with the rest of the circle of friends.  Instead of telling someone they look ugly, we imply that they’re a shit mother.  We still covet what we perceive the other person has, only now it’s houses or marriages or children instead of toys or parents or friends.

My toolbox looks different as an adult: I can yank out comebacks and write well-constructed, scathing emails explaining my hurt.  But that doesn’t mean that I don’t curl up in the very same ball that I curled up in as a child and cry on my bed after an incident occurs.  Are things better or are the slights spaced farther apart so they don’t feel quite as overwhelming?  Are there simply more distractions so I have less time to wallow in the thoughts (though I still make plenty of time to wallow in the thoughts).

I was that girl who brought a book onto the playground.  I didn’t necessarily read it — sometimes I did and sometimes I played with other girls.  I just never knew how it was going to go down, so I brought the book with me.  And in college, my fallback coping mechanism at a party was to grab a book from the person’s bookcase and start reading, as if I just couldn’t tear myself away from this scintillating prose.  And now, as an adult, I still throw a book in my bag.  Josh calls it my security book.  And that’s what it is.  It’s is my better-to-look-busy-than-to-look-alone book.  Sometimes, I actually just want to read it and I’m hoping to grab 5 minutes while I’m out.  But other times, it’s a security book.  A prop.

What’s different now is that I like being alone sometimes.  I never wanted to be alone as a child, but now I like going out by myself.  I like having quiet time and wandering through the mall alone or eating dinner by myself.  So that has changed — not the amount of social time where I’m alone, but how I react to the aloneness and embrace it.

I do fear sending the message that it will get better because what will the ChickieNob do with life if she’s always waiting for this point in the future where it will get better?  I want her know that it might not get better, and then, what are you going to do about it?  How will you change yourself for the better since you can’t change life and you can’t completely change the way people treat you?

Maybe I need to just explain that things get different.  And that sometimes, different is all you need to take a deep breath and enjoy life.


1 Rachel { 01.25.11 at 8:29 am }

As someone who still struggles with feeling included at times, yeah, I agree it gets different and not necessarily better. Facing cliques at work and online proved that to me.

2 Astral { 01.25.11 at 8:50 am }

I agree with you that it does get different. I believe that we take with us a little something from each life event. Hopefully we get stronger and have our coping skills to endure our lives. I thought I was the only one with a book in my bag–just in case 😉

3 a { 01.25.11 at 8:50 am }

I agree with you – I don’t think it really gets better, per se. I think we learn that people are often casually cruel and the deliberately cruel are more rare. Learning that others are simply inconsiderate of our feelings, along with learning that we are not foremost in everyone else’s thoughts provides the shell we need. We still have plenty of soft underbelly exposed, though.

Also, when we have more things going on in our lives, it costs too much energy to worry about why someone else is being such a dick. When you’re little, that’s the only thing you have to worry about (hopefully).

I guess I’m saying that it doesn’t really get better (at least, not for me. Rejection still hurts), it just doesn’t matter as much.

4 Katie { 01.25.11 at 8:54 am }

Yes – different, not better. Being excluded still hurts. Like you, I still cry in the privacy of my bedroom, but I’ve found different ways to cope in front of others. I wish it weren’t like that. I wish you could tell ChickieNob that it gets better. But I know she will learn wonderful ways to cope, because she has a strong, confident mother to learn from.

Good luck, Mel.

5 Gail { 01.25.11 at 9:05 am }

Different can be better, though. It isn’t the best that it could be, but my growing older and more mature, I am better able to handle situations and react to them differently than I did when I was 8 years old. This doesn’t mean that it hurts any less to be excluded or ignored, but it does mean that I have coping mechanisms in place to handle that hurt. I have a great circle of friends who can help me sort things out and I can also turn to my husband for love and support.

Basically, I look at it this way. When I was a kid, I would turn to my parents for love and support. But, deep down, I knew that they HAD to love me. Now, as an adult, I have a husband and friends who love me because they WANT to love me. So, no matter how bad I feel, they will be there for me. And, that is different, but also better.

P.S. I love your nickname for the “security book”. I’ve been carrying books around since before I can remember for that same reason – “Better to look busy than to look alone” and you name for it makes perfect sense.

6 loribeth { 01.25.11 at 9:15 am }

The parallels between exclusion on the playground as a child & exclusion from the mommy club as an adult did occur to me when I read your previous post, and I’m sure it did to many others here too — but since we were telling stories for ChickieNob’s enlightenment, I figured I should just stick to the playground. ; )

Yes, unfortunately, we still get ostracized & suffer at the hands of other “mean girls” as adults. It can still hurt. But as some of the previous commenters have pointed out, I think we’re better equipped to cope with it as adults. We’re better able to figure out what’s really worth the time & effort & what’s not.

I usually lug a security book (or sometimes magazine) around with me, too!! & dh & I actually call it that too. I always bring one upstairs with me to bed, even if I turn the lights out right away & don’t actually read. I just feel better having a book close by. ; )

7 Kristin { 01.25.11 at 9:25 am }

This is such a subtly brilliant post Mel. I really like what you’ve said.

8 manymanymoons { 01.25.11 at 9:35 am }

I relate to so much of this post. One thing that stood out was the fact that as an adult I really really do love my alone time. I love nothing more than wondering the stores at the mall with a Starbucks in one hand and nowhere to be. Of course when I was single this was the most depressing scene ever, but now it’s a treat.

9 Eve { 01.25.11 at 10:15 am }

Hmmm…yes, different….better to some extent even? I define myself less by what others think of me now, so it hurts less to be excluded. I have friends in a few different social circles. I assert myself if someone is being passive-agressive or outright rude. I have my husband for support, who deals with me no matter what. I have my sister for support, who deals with me know matter what. I have God. I suppose life is still (at its root) a lonely journey, and I do flash back to that awkward 11 year-old standing with my lunch tray in the cafeteria, desperately scanning for a friend to sit near….but more often I’m so glad to be where I am in life now. I guess I’m just an optimist.

10 Esperanza { 01.25.11 at 10:44 am }

I somehow missed the Exclusion Project when it first began, but MAN could I have written some stories about middle school and high school. 7th and 8th grade were the worst two years of my life, I still carry those scars. But you’re right, even though it does change, it maybe never really gets better. I think what gets better is how we react to it. We grow up, we learn why people do things, we learn that the glittery girls really aren’t that cool and they might even be mean or ugly inside. We also (hopefully) find at least a few people who love us for who we are. But I am 30 years old and I still write almost daily about how much I long for a really good friend who knows me as I know myself and loves me for that person. And I have a lot of friends, but none that I can really talk to, about the things that matter most to me. So I don’t know if it get’s better of just different, less painful. It’s like when you first walk around without your shoes and you feel every sharp thing as if were piercing you. But after awhile your feet become calloused and maybe that is an ugly metaphor, but it feels accurate. Because even though the callouses are hard and not particularly pleasant to look at, they protect you as your walk over the sharp points in life while allowing you to feel the wonderful things like grass and sand and waves.

11 PaleMother { 01.25.11 at 11:23 am }

Oh, Mel. I had to stop reading this post halfway through and come back to it. That’s always a sign that something hits a nerve. That … I have to go breathe for a while before I can take more in … and … this-post-is-so-full-of the-good-I-want-to-digest-it-slowly feeling.

Thanks, BTW, for that Brooks link … I saw that last week and meant to click through to it, but I literally lost the thread. Even though he is (supposed to be) a “conservative”, I enjoy his thoughtful essays. I always know I will come away with some extra clarity when I read him/listen to him. Which is what all the best writers/bloggers do for me.

I wanted to respond to your original post, but I just couldn’t tame the mess in my head enough to comment effectively. I’ve blacked out a lot of my own anecdotes, but now my fifth grader is in the throes of it all. So I’ve lived it and now I’m parenting it and it’s Where The Wild Things Are Returns; for a(n over) thinker like me, it’s quite the head trip. Wanting to be supportive, but not over involved. Wanting her to get out there and learn for herself, but wanting to save her some of the trouble with some perspective. The MommaBear. Oh. The. Momma. Bear. Not wanting ~my~ baggage to color my assvice (HA) or my interpretation of her accounts. Wanting her to develop her own people sense and her people skills and wanting to encourage her to keep to the high ground … even thought the other girls are clearly not being (effectively) encouraged to do likewise and it’s biting her in the @$$ in the short term. And then there’s the “today’s big hairy deal is tomorrow’s giant yawn” factor in kid world … which makes me flip back and forth between … she’ll handle it, pass me my Kindle (free range parenting) … and … trying to actually listen and make thoughtful suggestions (helicoptering?).

As you can see, I could write about this for days and likely get nowhere. For me, as an adult, as you say the toolbox is vastly improved and that’s worth a mint. But things like Facebook have re-opened wallowing season, reminding me of all the peripheral (and not peripheral enough) women (and some men) in our families and in our social circles that are full of the mean. And even though I have wicked good perspective … perspective is an imperfect antidote for the poison. Much, much better than no antidote at all. But still …

I think for both my daugher and myself … the best advice is to take everything as lightly as possible, especially yourself (though sometimes I think it takes a prescription to maintain that?). And to tend to your own self esteem, because that’s the only armor that’s worth a shit. But then again … the face remains … if you cut us, no matter how much inner calm we have, we will still bleed. And there is nothing that makes that alright. Period.

PS. Now I have something even better than a security book. I have a security Kindle. That whole stack of unread books by my bedside that I can’t get to? I can carry it around now! Now, if only I could make it ring like my cell phone when I set it down and forget where I left it ….

PPS There are no end of books on this subject … I just did a search on amazon with the key words “Mean Girls” (I was trying to remember the title of a book that I read last year about female aggression) … now I have the urge to load my Kindle with these titles (the downside of ereaders is … it makes impulse book buying ten times worse). Reading can cure everything, right? 😉

12 Shana { 01.25.11 at 11:28 am }

I think you hit the nail on the head with this one. I think that is one of the reasons I had a hard time contributing to the Exclusion Project, even though I have oh so many stories to choose from.

This is why I don’t do facebook, I don’t do twitter, I don’t try to be a blogger of note, and I have more or less given up on chat forums. Because in so many ways, even thought I graduated from high school 20 years ago, I sometimes feel like people by and large behave like by a bunch of 13th graders – pulling the same stupidity but in a different venue. I simply don’t have the energy or patience to put up with this kind of drama at this stage of my life.

13 Hope { 01.25.11 at 11:30 am }

Well, in my case, things certainly got better. As a kid, I was stuck with my classmates, even when I wanted to be alone. And wanting to be alone was one of the things they got on my case about. As an adult, I have a lot more freedom to simply avoid situations where I don’t get along with the people involve, or on days when I would prefer to be alone. Granted, I still have some social obligations to fulfill, but I think there is less pressure on me as an adult (although if I wasn’t a stay-at-home-wife, that might be different).

I do agree that the playground issues of childhood continue into adulthood under a different guise, and that the slights come less frequently, and getting breathing time between them helps. Maybe I have learned some coping skills. Maybe it’s the friendship cushion you mentioned–I do have trusted friends now. At any rate, I felt trapped among my peers as a kid, but as an adult, I find that I have a great deal more freedom to choose my friends, acquaintances, and associates. This freedom to choose who I interact with is what helps the most for me. It’s a large part of why I can’t imagine myself ever wanting an office job. I don’t want to go back to being trapped with the same set of people day in and day out–too much like going back in time for me.

14 Erica { 01.25.11 at 12:46 pm }

I don’t know if everything gets better, but I think *we* get better at social relationships and negotiations. Part of this for me has just been the realization that high school was not the entire world – I loved being in college and meeting different groups of people and finding groups I could fit into. Groups, plural – it was like a smorgasbord of people! And the people I liked tended to like me, which was surprising and fun and wonderful.

I think part of it getting different (and often if not always better) is my ability to see that when people are mean or thoughtless, it usually really isn’t about me, or because something is wrong with me. It’s about them. Knowing that means I can feel sorry for them, or try to help them, or excuse myself from their drama altogether without beating myself up too much. (That sounds wonderfully evolved and self-aware and I freely admit that normally it’s not that easy, but sometimes, now, it actually is.)

15 Michelle { 01.25.11 at 12:48 pm }

I agree Mel. It’s all about learning how to cope with what we are given, in any situation. And sometimes, it doesn’t get better. Sometimes, it gets worse.

So at that point, like you have suggested, it has to come from within. How we react to situations/life, will dictate our outcome. Nobody plans on shit happening, and sometimes it keeps raining on your parade. Eventually, I like to think that we, maybe me, reach an ‘enough is enough’ stage, and take control over a crappy situation and come to peace with it. Not because someone else did something, because WE did something to change our perception of the situation.

Of course, this is on-going, tough work. I need reminders constantly during my battles of loss and frustration with the adoption process. I’m the one that has to figure out how I want this to go for us.

Poor ChickieNob. Better to have the discussions with her now and help her prepare her toolkit. I think you’re right on this one. Sometimes it doesn’t get better, we just have to figure out how we’re going to handle it.

I think that this conversation is soooo constructive for not only, ChickieNob, but for our ‘battles’ as well.

I love your ‘smarty pants’ ways!!!

16 Somewhat Ordinary { 01.25.11 at 1:03 pm }

I have been trying to weigh all this in my head since reading the first post. It is different as we get older-I’m not sure if it is better, but we learn how to deal with it better. Over the summer I had a falling out with a friend/neighbor that came out of left field. I’ve never gotten involved in girly cattiness as a child and I sure as heck don’t do it now, but it found me. We have a very tight knit neighborhood and several people have told this “girl” that she is out of line. She actually agreed when one of my closest friends talked to her about it so I thought I would be the bigger person on 3 occassions and try to reach out to her. She will still not really speak to me UNLESS other neighbors are around and then she acts like nothing in wrong. It is childish and drives me crazy, but really at this point I could take or leave her friendship. As a teenager I would hve been heartbroken over the situation, but I can see that the whole thing is ridiculous and I hold my head up high.

Where I get emotional though is when it involves my child. She has 2 boys that my son loves to play with. Not a week goes by since this whole situation happened that he doesn’t ask about them even this morning. He went from playing with them almost daily to maybe once a month if there is a neighborhood event. I actually have cried because I knew all the little boys in the neighborhood were at her house one day for a playdate. I know my son is too young to even know the playdate was going on, but I knew and it broke my heart that he wasn’t included. I dread the day that he realizes he is the only one not invited to things at her house. His birthday is coming up and my husband thinks I should be the bigger person and invite her kids. I’m still not sure where I stand with it.

So, that was a roundabout way of saying that it is different and most of us just handle it better!

17 HereWeGoAJen { 01.25.11 at 1:27 pm }

Hmm, excellent points. For me, it did get better. For one, when I found my Matt, I gained a lot in confidence. That made it a lot better. And I think, both as an adult and a psychology nut, the slights no longer matter as much to me. I no longer see them as a slight against ME as much as I can now see the insecurities of the people making the slight.

Probably a lot of it though, is that I am more of a hermit now than when I had school/college/work. I see a lot fewer people on a daily basis, so I’m not put in the situations as often to be slighted.

18 nh { 01.25.11 at 4:08 pm }

‘Maybe I need to just explain that things get different. And that sometimes, different is all you need to take a deep breath and enjoy life.’

I think that you have written some amazingly true words here. Maybe it doesn’t get better, just different, and we learn to deal with different. I hope that at some point the future ChickieNob will look back at the experiences that have been written and sit and say ‘yes, it got different and that in getting different, it became easier’.

19 mrs spock { 01.25.11 at 6:41 pm }

I still carry a security book too. Started way back when the other kids wouldn’t sit next to me at lunch.

And it’s probably why I still like keeping my blog small and my topics non-controversial- and now am going private now that I feel like a have a nice sized, loyal group of friends and supporters. I do not need internet bee-atches in my life.

20 Toni { 01.25.11 at 7:45 pm }

Excellently put. However, I do think it got better. Maybe the distinction is bullying vs. just feeling left out/excluded? For some girls there’s severe bullying, day after day of hurtful events that hopefully one day end. That girl gets friends who care and a husband who loves her and a life that’s no so bad. In that case it does get a hell of a lot better. Will there be times where she feels excluded or hurt? Yeah, but on the whole it’s not like it was when there was a constant flow of abuse.

Here’s the most important lesson I learned and why it got better for me. I learned to love myself and embrace who I am. I spent a lot of years trying to be something I wasn’t, pleasing others in the hopes that they’d like me. My entire self value was riding on what others thought so when I got excluded, the pain was immense.

Do I still doubt myself? Am I still a major people pleaser? Most definitely. The difference is I now have a great deal of self worth. I believe in who I am; I like who I am; I don’t need others to tell me I’m wonderful, and I’ve embraced myself, flaws, weird habits and all. I still have moments of insecurity, lack of confidence, and for sure girls are still girls even in your 30s and say and do mean things, and yes, I get hurt at times, but it’s better. Much, much better.

So ChickieNob here’s the key: No matter your age there will be hurtful people, there will be pain, but you need to be you. Don’t deny it, don’t hide it, and be proud of it. Take the time to figure out who you are, what you like, and what interests you. Discover new things and don’t be discouraged because you’re embarrassed or afraid. That’s easy to say at my age, but that’s how it gets better. You stop sweating all those crazy insecurities and self doubts and start living a little more. And that life you build outweighs all of those bad moments.

21 Mali { 01.25.11 at 10:04 pm }

Lovely post. Things do get better. We can rationalise and understand our exclusions, which makes the hurt go away sooner. Out in the big wide world, we can also choose our friends. They’re not friends just because of proximity, but because our hearts speak to each other. And that makes life easier too.

Though if I’m entirely honest, perhaps because I grew up in another country in a small rural area, there was a strong emphasis on community and on getting on with each other, and I can count on one hand any really unkind incidents at my schools. Incidents like the ones people have recorded here just wouldn’t have been tolerated. Perhaps I was naive. Or perhaps I’m showing my advanced years!! That doesn’t mean though that we didn’t still feel excluded from time to time, that there weren’t little hurts, that build up and affect our confidence longer term.

I carry a security book – though these days it’s an e-reader. I hate feeling self-conscious.

22 Baby Smiling In Back Seat { 01.26.11 at 1:26 am }

It does get better because early adolescents, esp. the girls, are jerks.

But it also gets better when you stop caring so much what other people think. Not completely, but most of the way.

23 Bea { 01.26.11 at 4:44 am }

I couldn’t think of a good enough example for the project, but of course we’ve all been there.

Different, not better? No, I think it does get better. As others have said, you learn to cope, and you have more freedom to arrange your social circles. It doesn’t mean you’ll never, ever be excluded again, but “better” doesn’t mean “perfect”. Hopefully it means “good enough” – with the proper attitude and techniques.

I think you have every reason to give Chickinob hope for the future, but a few pointers in terms of how best to grow comfortable with people’s shittiness won’t go astray, either.


24 Kerry Johnson-Smith { 01.26.11 at 4:51 am }

I’ve been the girl with the book my whole life, at times books have been my best friends. I have a 13yr old daughter and she is the girl with the book, she takes a book or her Nook to sleepovers, out to dinner, and even ballet. I have homeschooled her for the past 2 years for various reasons, one being that middle school sucks the other being that she is a hardcore ballerina in the making. She has learned to remove herself from tween girl drama, to step outside her comfort zone, and be true to who she is. There were tears, hurt feelings, and envy sometimes, but she is comfortable with who she is and she has a remarkable ability to reach out to others that are on the sidelines. It took me about 30 years to figure all that out.

25 Betsy { 01.26.11 at 10:36 pm }

“Different” is good wording. I like that. There will always be times when things royally suck, but there will be good days as well!

26 Kir { 01.27.11 at 2:57 pm }

I read that last paragraph about 5 times and my eyes are welling…and I think THAT words are exactly the way you should tell her. That SHE will be different if only because she is your daugther and she all of us as “Aunts” to let her know tha we can’t protect her from the mean but we can help her navigate , find herself again inside it.

I printed out those words from that paragraph and have them hanging here in my office, to remind me that it’s just different.


27 CoffeeBlue { 01.28.11 at 8:43 am }

I have to say, you found the answer:
“…but now I like going out by myself. I like having quiet time and wandering through the mall alone or eating dinner by myself. So that has changed — not the amount of social time where I’m alone, but how I react to the aloneness and embrace it.”

We can’t change the world. All we can change is our perception. I too was the kid on the playground with the book. And I wish little me had known 1) how scared and hurt those other girls were too, even the popular ones, 2) how it wasn’t their opinion that mattered, but mine, and 3) and how I should just enjoy me and what I like to do (I love to read by myself!) and I would find like minded people along the way.

I’m pretty much a lurker (see: I love to read by myself!) but wanted to say thanks for your website and all the great communities you build 🙂

28 coffeegrl { 01.30.11 at 7:29 am }

Truly I may be oblivious or naive, but I do think it gets better with age and that fewer people are miserable and exclusive as we age and better understand how our actions affect others. Having said that….I still find new ways to feel excluded. For example, I find myself the only foreigner in most situations for 6 months out of the year. And Japan doesn’t rate really high on the “welcoming foreigners in a meaningful way (everyone is very polite on the surface) and helping them to integrate into society”. Also, I worry about what my daughters will encounter as they go through childhood and adolescence and I essentially watch them experience all this stuff all over again. Huh.

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