The Mean Girl Complex


Someone once told me “you know why you’re mean? Because you think being called nice is an insult.” Isn’t it? Isn’t that what you say about someone when their personality is so unremarkable that, when pressed for an opinion, all you can think of to say is that they’re nice? Isn’t that the polite way to tell your mother that you had the most uninteresting date ever with the guy she set you up with? “He was nice.”

All too often, after I’m safely past the first few impressions with someone, they will get too drunk and rhetorically ask, “can I tell you something?” which inevitably follows with the confession “I thought you were such a bitch when we first met!” After years of reluctantly entertaining this conversation, I’ve learned it mostly has to do with my face. I have that perma-judgmental mean girl face – whether I’m actually judging you, trying to focus in a meeting, or find you really hot.

The mean girl complex comes with a love hate relationship with the label. Some days I accept it with pride and a sinister grin, but more and more I resent it as the lazy label that it is. If a “mean” person is conventionally offensive, selfish, and malicious, then sure I am mean some days, like most people, but those are not traits that define me.
After recently being indicted as a mean girl for telling someone I didn’t want to meet their friend because her favorite artist was Fergie, I thought more about my mean girl label. I realized that some of the traits that do define me are too often conflated with “meanness”.

I’m picky about the company I keep. I’ve been on this earth for 20 something years now, and I know that a guy who texts me at 8am the morning after we met saying, “thinking about your smile… J” is just not a guy I’m interested in. On a Friday night, I’d rather lie and say my parents are in town than go to a club for a girl’s birthday who I went to the beach with once in college. Is that mean? No. Antisocial? Probably.

I’m cynical. I know lots of genuinely nice people, some close friends. But I probably know more nice opportunists. That part-time friend who didn’t show up to your birthday but then wants to catch up because “it’s been like forever!!!” and casually mentions over drinks that she wants you to submit her resume to your boss. She’s not a mean person, but I’ve come to expect a lot of “niceness” to be motivated by self-interest. I’m guilty of it too. And actually we all are – it’s human nature.

I’m candid. I say what I think. Sometimes in regard of your feelings, sometimes not. I tend to have either the sarcastic genre of candor that amuses people, or the “thank me later” genre that burns now, but makes sense later. But my intentions are (mostly) pure. If I tell you that you have bad taste in men, it’s probably because you keep picking guys that only call you after 1am, because you keep answering.

I’m competitive. I like to get ahead. If someone at work is going out of their way to make me look like a slacker, I’ll retaliate in my own special way. And sure, if it looks like I’m competing for a guy’s affection, I’m prone to make passive aggressive insults about other girls in his company, and brainstorm creatively insulting epithets with my friends behind her back. Most women do this; it’s just part of the emotional hygiene of being a 20 something.

I don’t use exclamation points without irony. Too many people use too many exclamation points. And too many people get insecure if you don’t reciprocate. If you ask me out and text me “so excited for dinner!!!” I’m likely to respond something short like, “me too. See you in a bit.” The absence of an exclamation point, or three, does not undermine my excitement – but the conversation might.

When people call me “mean”, they tend to deliver the news in this apologetic tone like there are only a few of us out there – like I’m part of some minority group. Like somehow my cynical humor and punctuation preferences marginalize me. There still seems to be some pervading myth of this species of “nice” people who walk around smiling, emanating their bright aura of magnanimity. From what I’ve noticed, it’s an endangered species – at least in New York.

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image – Mean Girls