Ask Philip: Queen bees and wannabees, the post-grad years

Dear Philip,

I had a falling out with a woman I’ve known socially for years, and now she’s getting our mutual friends to put pressure on me to apologize and make up with her. The problem is I don’t want to. I’m relieved to have her out of my life. She’s a bully and has always been one, and our fight arose when I finally had the nerve to disagree with her on something, and then didn’t back down when she told me she felt “attacked.” In the past, I’ve always gone along with whatever she wanted, because it was easier than listening to her complain when she didn’t get her way.

It’s very upsetting that women I call friends, who I know think she’s a bully, are taking her side and treating me like I’ve done something wrong. It’s like high school. How can I make them either see my side or stay out of it?

Frozen out

 Dear Frozen,

It’s easy to feel like high school never ends. Even as an adult, you find yourself sitting in the cafeteria, watching with dread as the mean girl rallies her troops. Any minute now, you can expect nasty, anonymous notes to be pushed through the vent in your locker. (Note to my younger readers: pre-internet, that’s how we rolled. Nasty, anonymous locker notes are ‘old school’…literally.)

I would humbly suggest, though, that this kind of situation predates even high school.

Quick story: when my daughter Anna was five, she used to play with two little girls, one of whom had a favorite game she called “The princess and her handmaidens.” That girl, of course, was always the princess…or else. The other little girl, like Anna, went along to get along, at first. When they finally got tired of their supporting roles as Handmaiden One and Handmaiden Two, they rebelled as five year olds will, with tears and calls for the moms to come intervene. When the princess’s mom sussed out the source of the unhappiness, she explained a basic truth to her daughter: friends share, take turns and respect each other. Then she added a rule: you’ll share, take turns and respect your friends, or you won’t be allowed to have any come over.

Your bully could’ve used that mom, Frozen, and while I totally agree that you should continue to cut her out of your life as much as possible, make sure that among your feelings for her you find some sympathy. As we all figure out in high school, bullies are bullies because they’re desperately insecure. For someone like the woman you’ve been dealing with, even being disagreed with must be wounding: she isn’t kidding when she says she feels “attacked” by your unwillingness to let her have her way on everything. It’s not your job to provide the lessons she clearly never learned on how friendship works, but having a little empathy for her obvious internal misery might make any incidental contact you have with her a little easier.

Don’t let your mutual friends off the hook, though. What they’re doing is cowardly and selfish: they’re letting on that she’s bullying them even more than usual, now that you’ve abdicated your duties as a suck-up, and they’re looking to you for relief when they should be growing spines.

You asked how you can make them see your side. You don’t need to, because they already do. Your side doesn’t matter to them in the least. What matters is that the Queen Bee is abuzz, she’s making them miserable and — directly or indirectly — letting them know that they have to get you back in line, pronto.

Friendship allows lapses: calmly tell any of the mutual friends who pressure you on behalf of the bully that it isn’t their business. If they accept that, forgive them their momentary cowardice. If they don’t, ask yourself if your friendship with them meet’s Anna’s playmate’s mom’s threshold…especially the ‘respect each other’ part. If friendships remind you of the worst parts of high school, then maybe it’s time to graduate.

Yours in playing nice,

Philip

Philip Van Munching is a New York Times bestselling author of advice books, including “Actually, it IS Your Parents’ Fault: Why Your Romantic Relationship isn’t Working, and How to Fix It.” Email your questions to philip@askpvm.com.