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Thursday, March 15, 2018

I was the Pariah Girl

When I was in grade school my dad would drop me off early because it was on the way to his office.  Back then, you could just wander around the school until everyone got there.  I was in second grade and I walked down the long hallway to my classroom.  My best friend, Kristen arrived on Bus #3.  This day I decided to write her a note with a sticker I had gotten at the mall the day before and put it in her desk.  
When she arrived I couldn't wait for her to see it.  It was one of those oily stickers that you pressed on and it made all sorts of swirly shapes.    When she opened it, she folded it in half and stuck it back in her desk.
For sure I thought by snack time she would crack a smile or at least acknowledge the note.    When I returned from grabbing my milk she approached me and gave me the note back, but written in bubbly print it said: "You are not my friend and nobody likes you."
Up until this point, I had only had the wind knocked out of me while playing a sport, her words punched me just as hard. I looked around the hallway and she had returned to the group of girls in my class. They stood there giggling and whispering while I made my way to the girl's bathroom with floor to ceiling yellow tile and sobbed.
Of course, this is through the lens of my 8-year-old self.  Maybe the girls in the group were already laughing. Or maybe they didn't know about the note.  But the rest of the day, not a single girl talked to me.  It was a game they were playing that week.   At recess, I played four square with the boys.  I ate lunch alone,  (this was before buddy benches).   Luckily for me, I was a bit of a tomboy.  Many times I was the only girl invited to boys birthday parties.  I was so thankful for my knowledge of Garbage Pail Kids and Mighty Muscle Men that week.  What I didn't know was that this was a game the girls in the class had decided to play. To call out one girl and treat her like a pariah.  I don't know how I was chosen to be first, but thankfully I was the last. This game only lasted a week before everyone became uninterested.
Obviously, this had a significant impact on me.  I had trust issues with girlfriends after that. I spent most of my childhood being friends with boys in my class. Peter H., Noah G., Clint O. and Adam K., to name a few. They were fun, they played sports and they didn't play hurtful "games" like the girls did.
Eventually, I found a new girl that came to the school in 3rd grade.  As much as I loved playing football with the boys, I missed nail polish and dolls. I knew this was my opportunity to befriend someone who didn't know anyone.  It worked.   We became fast best friends.  And when you find that, you don't let it go.  Even 32 years later, we are still best friends and she was my maid of honor.
But the majority of my good friends, even today, are male.  This doesn't sit well with some women.  I get that, but they don't know my story.
I understand that even today, that some women groups still choose a pariah to collectively distrust or hate.   But if you have been the pariah, you don't participate.
I'm not perfect.  Initially, in high school, I fell into that trap.  I was popular  and with that I gained some sort of false power that made me believe that I could be mean without repercussions.  It would make me feel good at first.  But I began losing girlfriends. Then, on cue, another new girl came in.  She was beautiful, and she didn't know a single soul at this small Catholic school.  We had met at a party in 7th grade and she remembered that I was nice to her.  She gave the office my name and shadowed me all day.  When I got married 7 years later, she was a bridesmaid. 
Over time I allowed myself to trust women until eventually, I had enough for an entire bridal party!

But I carried the pain from 2nd grade around in my back pocket. It's amazing that a simple act of cruelty, even if it feels harmless can have a lasting impact.  In college, my roommate and I got into a fight and she screamed: "You are so closed off, you don't let anyone in!"   I was a theater major for God's sake, I was letting people in all the time! Or maybe I  let them see a scripted version of myself.  A predictable story. A protagonist, an ingenue, and best of all, a curtain at the end for keeping my distance.
She made me realize that I had been protecting myself and in the process, I was missing out on a lot of amazing friendships.
After I got married I decided to aggressively and proactively pursue female friendships.  Surprisingly, it wasn't that hard.  You find something you like and do it.  Eventually, you find other people who also like those things. And BOOM, you have a friend.  Then when you have kids, that makes it even easier.   Also, work-friends are a no-brainer.
I joined two book clubs. I joined mom groups, I joined CrossFit, and spinning or yoga, I took an art class, even a dog walking group.  And along the way, I was creating a little army of women who were there for each other. 
Equally, as a simple act of meanness can impact someone,  a simple act of kindness or inclusion can have an even bigger impact on someone, especially a woman.
I spend a lot of time at war with myself and I'm assuming that other women do the same.  The worn out recording of the same old crap. I'm not (blank) enough.  People think I'm (blank).   We have no business tearing other women down because chances are, she already does that to herself enough and is much better at doing it then you could ever be.

A year or so ago I found out that a woman had said some really awful things about me.  She doesn't even know me, but still thought she would go out of her way to say mean things.  Of course, her hurtful words made their way back to me. 
The funny thing is, is that when you surround yourself with army of strong women who you actively build up, they are going to go to battle to protect you.   Her effort to gain friends by being cruel resulted in having the opposite effect.

Even so, it still hurt, and it is really hard for me to forgive that person. It's like standing the hallway at snack time all over again.

I saw her recently, sitting alone in a bar that I was having a drink with one of my guy friends. I went on a 10-minute tirade about why I hated her, I also decided to call out all of her flaws.  He just looked at me in shock, he had never seen that side of me and told me it was ugly.  At that moment I was not choosing an action that was in my best interest. Or hers.  I was hurt and I was venomously expressing hatred that would carry me to a dark mean place, which made me just as bad as she was.  I figured this out the hard way after I yelled at my friend for pointing this out.  (That is another perk of guy friends, they have no problem calling you out.)

So the next week or so I went out of my way to make up for this discretion.  I friended women on Facebook who had bad ass profiles that exuded happiness and confidence.  They friended me back instantly, and I sent them messages, even though I didn't know them, explaining why I wanted to be their friend. Not just in cyberspace, but it real life.

I also started liking selfies of women friends on Instagram.  Taking a selfie takes courage. Unless they are seriously narcissistic, it's not a braggadocios act. Maybe their skin or hair or make up looks really amazing that day. Maybe their relationship with a significant other is just going super well and they want to document it.  Maybe the opposite is true, who the hell knows, but what I do know, is I am going to LIKE it. Because it takes courage to put yourself out there.  Every single time a woman  supports another woman we win.

This isn't a competition. It is a collaboration.

So what the girls in 2nd grade didn't realize is that they were teaching me a very important lesson.  That kindness trumps cruelty in every. single. situation. 

For that one day, I'm so grateful.  I was the lucky one chosen to be the Pariah.