Sunday, April 27, 2008

Mean Girls

Do you remember that group of mean girls that used to stand in a cluster in the hall before school in the morning, generally somewhere between the lockers and the nearest girl's bathroom (where the mirrors were)? They were all dressed in the newest fashions, sometimes they were cheerleaders, sometimes they just had money, sometimes they were wannabes.

Remember the greeting? "Hi (insert name here)" The sickly sweet tone was like honey on burned toast. Everybody knew they weren't being nice.

If you were smart and secure with yourself, or at least past the point of caring, you'd return the greeting and ignore the giggles and whispers that followed. If you weren't any of the above, you'd detour through the bathroom to see if what looked fine in the bathroom mirror home looked any different at school. Generally, somehow, it did. But if it didn't, then you were left with the assumption that they knew something about you that you didn't. And that really sucked, because there was no way to know what it was without subjecting yourself to further snottiness.

But as you know, most of us graduate, go to college, get jobs, get married, have kids and, after a while, we all sort of blend in together and it's harder to tell the mean girls from the ones that aren't. They're still out there, but they it's not quite as easy to pick them out without the landmarks of lockers and the bathrooms and signature giggles. They go underground, they learn to keep the whispers to themselves until after you're out of earshot, and they hide it behind pleasantness.

But to be honest, I did think that this mean girl tendency passed with menopause. I reasoned that there had to be a point in life when we all arrive at the same realization that life is too short for this nonsense. We all face the same sagging body parts, and are enjoined in being afraid of the same things--losing our mates and growing too feeble to take care of ourselves. So we should all stand together and forget about boundaries. I thought this was how this went.

I was wrong.

There is this group of older men and women who gather in the diningroom just off the sanctuary at church before early services on Sunday. The men stand around the coffee pot and watercooler and talk boats, fishing, cars, sports, etc. The women (there are generally four of them) sit at a couple of long tables in the middle of the room, clustered together at a corner, near the women's bathroom. They're very well dressed and have often just come back from vacations in warmer climates.

I have always assumed that they were nice people, because that's generally a safe assumption at church.

Most Sundays our worship team practices music until just a few minutes before services so I've generally stayed where I was in the choir loft and waited for the service to begin. Lately we've been getting through our music with easily fifteen minutes to spare so for the last couple of weeks, I followed my fellow worship team members to the coffee pot before the service began.

The "spokesperson" for the group has taken to greeting me with a wide pleasant smile as I walk by, but something in her voice always leaves me with the eeriest urge to check my makeup (what little there is of it) in the bathroom mirror or worry that I'd chosen the wrong clothes (again). I've actually fretted about it a little over the last couple of weeks, and then told myself to "Get over it. Because-- what is this--high school? Those are perfectly nice ladies and you're imagining things."

Last week I joined a couple of worship team members at the same table as the ladies, though at the other end. I noticed how this group didn't make an effort to include us in their conversations, and how when one of us spoke to them, they barely replied.

I didn't mean to eavesdrop, really. One of the ladies on the worship team is a timid, soft spoken person who was trying to hand the women an invitation to some talk being given at a local senior center. They were engrossed in conversation and she had half-given up so I decided to help. I was listening for an opening.

After ten minutes I no longer wanted to help her invite them to anything for fear they'd sour the air. They gossiped non-stop, making snide comments about people (who I fortunately didn't know), their eyes watching the doors as people entered and exhanging looks, all the while wearing wide sweet smiles so no one around them would guess that what was coming out of their mouths.

So you know what I know. It doesn't fade with age--it just simply takes on another form, like some kind of strange evolution.

But I'm more at peace with the looks now because it's finally registered with me that whatever is said in those women's conversations, the unkindnesses uttered, is ultimately their disease, not my problem. How very sad that there is so little going on in their lives that they have nothing else to talk about.

Isn't it a shame we didn't have this knowledge in highschool?


debby said...

It always surprises me to see grown up women behaving like horrible, mean girls. Then I realize the horrible, mean girls learn their behavior somewhere.

jeanie said...

Although my high school experience was slightly different, I think you find mean girls - and mean women and possibly mean crones - most everywhere.

Even in church.

I have a friend who gets extremely upset by this behaviour, and I have to talk her down a bit after "they" cauterise her high school wounds.

Just remember - you are there for the spirit and not the congregation - and by looking to that and not the meanies, you find all the others in it for the same thing.

Great post.