How do I handle grad school "mean girls"?
November 22, 2014 9:38 AM   Subscribe

I feel like I'm being picked on and somewhat bullied from two girls in my program. It feels like middle school all over again. How can I handle this? Blubbering details inside.

We all just started graduate school and are all about the same age (just graduated from undergrad less than a year ago).

In undergraduate and high school, I've always been able to get along with many different kinds of people, had many friends where we shared mutual love and respect, and generally well-liked (I hate saying that because it sounds like I'm bragging, but this is what my friends and family and therapist have told me. I have horrible self-esteem issues and it's a step for me writing that down!) I'm known as the Girl Who Can Make You Laugh.

I've also been called kind, but also too nice by most people who are close to me. I know this--I'm really non-confrontational and don't like conflict and also had problems with people walking over me. It's getting a little better with therapy.

I know that not everyone I meet will like me, of course, and vice versa. But coming to graduate school has been depressing for me--mostly in terms of me feeling like I am not truly a kind person or a funny person or all the people who liked and enjoyed me in undergraduate and my whole life before was a lie.

Most of this stems from two girls in my small cohort (there are 10 of us). We were all excited about making new friends, and for the most part, we are all starting-out-friends. We hang out and have a group text and etc. We're all still warming up to each other.

I really liked these two girls (and occasionally do?) because they were funny and seemed to get my humor. But as time went by, they became closer friends and then started picking on other people in the program. I feel like a good target because I don't know what to say back. They'll say odd things to me like

"Your hair is too curly, it's ugly"
"Why is your boyfriend so nerdy"
"You're so stupid, how can you not get X"
etc. etc.

I just took it as small poke-fun-at things that bothered me, but were too small to be upset about.

The turning point was last night where I started feeling more awful about the situation. We were at a friend's birthday party, I was speaking to some people outside of our program that they didn't know yet. We were playing a game and I suggested that we gather around the table and one of them said "Shut your fucking mouth, no one cares." Everyone got quiet, I felt myself going red. Then both of them laughed and she said she was kidding. Other comments were tame but still irked me like "Why do you know so many people outside of the program? Are you trying to suck up?" (No, I just want to meet people outside of the 10 in our program.)

Afterwards, they decided to go out to the bars with one of my friends, who I introduced them to at the beginning of the party. I guess they took a liking to him, because the other girl whispered to me "He's our friend now." Which, ok, I would have laughed at if it was anyone else, but it felt weird. Like we were in middle school and they were trying to "steal" my friend away.

I thought this was all in my head, but a couple of people came up to me after the party and told me they thought their behavior was weird. So I'm not crazy!

But I don't know how to handle it. These people are the ones that might be hiring me in the future or something like that, and we're colleagues and we all have to make good impressions on each other. I thought this wouldn't happen in graduate school! This makes me more nervous because it feels like my future professional life is also at stake.

I've never been outwardly mean to them, in fact, I used to do them favors (drive them to the mall, drop them to the car dealership, pick them up when they're drunk) all the time because I thought we were friends, but I think that should stop. (At least, if it's really out of my way.)

I feel down, I feel like I'm not a person who should be liked if these girls treat me (and it feels like mostly me) like this. Last night, I was upset and thought "I should just be mean right back at them" but I don't like the maliciousness I felt when I thought that, and I don't think it would be good idea anyways. Maybe it has to be an attitude change from me? I'm in this program for two more years. How can I deal?
posted by buttonedup to Human Relations (57 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
 
I feel down, I feel like I'm not a person who should be liked if these girls treat me (and it feels like mostly me) like this.

If you are accurately depicting how things are, you happen to have landed with some people who are kind of horrible. That happens at times, and you'll need to figure out how you deal with that, but I would encourage you to not think that it has anything to do with you as a person.

You remember how people appreciated you just a year ago? That's still possible, but the cohort situation by definition puts you in position where you could land with people who simply got in by virtue of having a good written application, not because they were wonderful people.

In undergraduate and high school, I've always been able to get along with many different kinds of people, had many friends where we shared mutual love and respect, and generally well-liked (I hate saying that because it sounds like I'm bragging, but this is what my friends and family and therapist have told me. I have horrible self-esteem issues and it's a step for me writing that down!) I'm known as the Girl Who Can Make You Laugh.

You sound like a really fun person to hang out with, but I'd also encourage you to not think that your value as a person relies on personality traits that will win over everyone in the entire world. This sort of thinking leads to a lot of frustration, and a great life lesson is learning to be content with getting along well with smaller groups of people close to you who really enjoy you for who you are, and will invest in your life in a good way.

There will always be jerks in life, and it looks like you may have landed with some. Again, this has nothing to do with you, your value, or whether or not you are genuinely a funny and enjoyable person. That being said, though, I'm not sure what it means for your decisions from here on out. Cohorts tend to force something on people that are really hard to amend if you aren't happy with the situation. But see it as one of the crappy things that life give to us, not the (seeingly) inherent lack of value we have to change every bad situation into roses.

Good luck to you.
posted by SpacemanStix at 9:50 AM on November 22, 2014 [7 favorites]


I've never been outwardly mean to them, in fact, I used to do them favors (drive them to the mall, drop them to the car dealership, pick them up when they're drunk) all the time because I thought we were friends, but I think that should stop. (At least, if it's really out of my way.)

This is WHY they single you out - because you come off as easy to manipulate.

It seems like everyone else in the program is on to these crazies, so what you need to do is just shore up your relationships with everyone else.
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:50 AM on November 22, 2014 [47 favorites]


Don't confuse standing up for yourself with being malicious. You don't have to be mean at them or stoop to their level. Just be calm and assertive. For instance, if one of them tells you to "shut the fuck up," you can reply, "That is uncalled for. Don't speak to me like that." You can call people out on their bad behavior without being rude or mean.

Chances are these women are being cruel to you because they sense that you are a kind person and they can get away with it. It's not about you being weak; it's about them taking advantage of the fact that you are kind and generous and don't want to stoop to their level. And while I always hated the "they're just jealous!" talk I got from parents and other adults, it's possible that they are jealous of the fact that you are kind and socially skilled - because they are not and so they want to undercut you. Some people feel like there are not enough goodies to go around - whether they are job referrals or friends or what have you - and they want to push others away from the table in order to get their share, because they feel that they don't have what it takes to get the goodies on their own.

I would also surmise that the rest of the people in your group are uncomfortable with these women as well. Nobody wants to be on the receiving end of cruelty. I doubt that these women are going to make themselves liked - if that is any consolation. I certainly wouldn't give a job referral to someone who has shown themselves to be snotty and cruel.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 9:52 AM on November 22, 2014 [16 favorites]


Those women are assholes. Definitely stop helping them with their errands - there is no reason you need to be anything but professionally polite and detached with them, not least since you have been perfectly successful in making friends outside your school cohort.
posted by janell at 9:53 AM on November 22, 2014 [34 favorites]


These people are the ones that might be hiring me in the future or something like that

My money says this is wildly unlikely. I know really well that grad school is 'cotillion for eggheads,' but the people you want to network with are typically so much more professional than these women that I think you can safely withdraw from many though unfortunately not all direct interactions with them. You have work to do: it's not just a great excuse--it's probably the truth.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 9:53 AM on November 22, 2014 [34 favorites]


Your impetus to meet people outside of your program is a good one. Keep doing that. It sounds like you're nice and fun and have lots of good qualities and I don't think you'll have a problem making friends.

Grad school is a job. It's a job. Socializing with people at work is fine but after multiple terrible life experiences involving my own grad school "friends" I learned never ever to make friends with people at work. Cordial, lets go out for drinks after a long day of classes, oh sure we can share a room at a conference type friends are GREAT to have at work. But no one I work with will ever know anything secret or anything really personal about me ever again.

I'm sorry this is happening. Disengage, do great work, don't go to anything social with people from work that faculty aren't also invited to (and preferably going to - an exception can be made for happy hour if you stay only about one hour and only have one drink, and in my department faculty came to happy hours), and keep cultivating friendships outside the department. You'll be fine and much happier this way; at least I was. It may take a little while to get over the sting of losing that aspect of your social life, so take the time it gives you to pick up a new solo hobby or social activity.

Best of luck to you.
posted by sockermom at 9:59 AM on November 22, 2014 [7 favorites]


I would wrap your head around this:

These people are the ones that might be hiring me in the future or something like that, and we're colleagues and we all have to make good impressions on each other. .... This makes me more nervous because it feels like my future professional life is also at stake.

Based on what you have observed from either of them, would you hire one of them to work for you? To work with clients? Would you truly want to work for someone like this?

I do think that it is good to try to have professional/respectful rapport with people - as in they might be as you mentioned a coworker, friend, someone you can learn from - but if your description is accurate, these are not people you should invest time with.

I would be polite, but distant with these two. No more favors ("Sorry, can't do that).

These two sound obnoxious. You know what they are now. It is a gift, stay away, expend your energies somewhere else. Invest any time and energy in learning the material that you are there to learn in grad school, getting to know other people in your grad program, grad students in other departments, and people in your community.
posted by Wolfster at 10:00 AM on November 22, 2014 [14 favorites]


Oh and also I no longer do favors for people from work unless I derive clear benefit from it (like sharing a room at a conference). Favors are for friends.

The other students in your cohort will have little to do with your job prospects and hiring decisions. I promise. Your work matters so so so much more. Do great work; nothing else in grad school matters.
posted by sockermom at 10:02 AM on November 22, 2014 [5 favorites]


Graduate school is your professional life. You need to cut these girls out of your personal life, 100%. When dealing with those two horrible people in your program--make the interactions all professional and curt. Do not engage in the immature bullshit. You are not friends with those two girls and you will never be friends...and that is a good thing.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 10:03 AM on November 22, 2014 [23 favorites]


"Your hair is too curly, it's ugly"
"Why is your boyfriend so nerdy"


Ugh. Just stay away from them.
posted by hal_c_on at 10:14 AM on November 22, 2014 [3 favorites]


My advice:

Keep it classy. Say hello to the group when you enter the room, be pleasant, and try not to build a lot of anger up against these two or gossip about them. That just makes you the victim and will make you miserable. Do not allow yourself to be overly invested in what they are doing as friends and whether they're excluding you. They aren't your friends and that's okay. Like you said, we can't be friends with everyone and people will dislike us for all sorts of reasons.

Gather the courage to stand up for yourself in a dignified way. You should not adopt a "you against them" mentality or see yourself as "better" than them. You just have to believe that you don't deserve this kind of treatment (nobody does) and say something about it. Some examples:

"Your hair is too curly, it's ugly"

"Nobody asked, but thanks for sharing your rude opinion on my hair."

"Why is your boyfriend so nerdy"

"What are you talking about?" scoff and walk away.

"You're so stupid, how can you not get X"

"No need to be insulting."

Then both of them laughed and she said she was kidding.

"Well, you don't know how to kid properly or we'd both be laughing."

Actually, an uninterested "I don't know what you're talking about?" and walking away might be a good reply to any of the above insults.

Don't hesitate to call them out on their bad behavior. Swat them away like they're an annoying mosquito. Don't ask what their problem is, or try to suck up to them, just cooly and calmly point out when they're being rude. Be yourself, enjoy the rest of the group and treat these two as colleagues. Sometimes colleagues are tools. Keep it professional and be busy when they ask you for another favor.
posted by Fairchild at 10:19 AM on November 22, 2014 [21 favorites]


Thank you for the quick answers so far! I really appreciate it. There is very helpful advice that I'm mulling over.

This:

This is WHY they single you out - because you come off as easy to manipulate.

Oh, this strikes a cord because this is not the first time I have heard this. I need to figure out how to fix this.

An added note: by no means am I some ball of kindness all the time, I hope my question doesn't portray me like that. Maybe they don't like me because I'm "too nice" (ugh, I hate that phrase) and that's annoying to them. I'm sure I can be annoying to people. Maybe I need to toughen up.
posted by buttonedup at 10:22 AM on November 22, 2014 [5 favorites]


It's harassment. The school has a policy.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:23 AM on November 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


These people will not be critical to your future career, I can pretty much guarantee. So treat them the way you'd treat any other acquaintance you'd decided was not good for you to be around. Do a no-drama fade. Minimize your interaction with them, don't invite them places, don't tell them things, don't run errands for them. If they call you, you don't have to answer.

Hang out with other people who are not jerky.
posted by shattersock at 10:24 AM on November 22, 2014 [15 favorites]


They're jerks. Aside from cutting them out of your personal life, you absolutely have to find SOME way to stand up to them next time and take the power back. I'm one of those easy target kind of people too so I get how hard this is but don't let comments like "your hair is ugly" or "shut your fucking mouth" go unaddressed. It kind of doesn't matter what you say, as long as you say something:
"That's harsh"
"What's wrong with you?"
"That's rude"
"Why would you ever say that to someone?"
I find that the best thing to say is to repeat back what they just said to you:
You're so stupid...
"Are you calling me stupid?"
Most people will back down. They will say they are just kidding but will think twice about saying that crap to you.
posted by biscuits at 10:26 AM on November 22, 2014 [18 favorites]


These girls are the worst. Their little duo will break up once they have to start competing with each other for internships, fellowships, so I would actually worry about them buddying up to you, the nice girl, down the road.

Everyday look at them and say to yourself 'they told me to shut.my face. They are not worth cultivating as friends or colleagues" You don't have to be liked by assholes.
posted by charlielxxv at 10:26 AM on November 22, 2014 [6 favorites]


Having been through this myself, the most effective solution I came across was avoiding the mean girls when I could, and telling them to fuck off when I couldn't. They were so startled by me telling them they were losers that they left me alone pretty quickly. YMMV.
posted by Hermione Granger at 10:28 AM on November 22, 2014 [2 favorites]


Quite honestly? I believe that if people are approaching YOU with their observations regarding the grand marshals of the immaturity parade than you have been doing everything right all along. You are funny, and kind, and people wouldn't share their thoughts with you about the situation if they didn't think of you favourably.

Good news for you is that you've been handling the situation with grace (stay strong when you want to get malicious!), and that that can only paint you in a good light. The bad news falls on their side, because the more they carry on treating grad school like a middle school popularity contest (and thinking that they're the cool kids), the more people they're going to alienate... and the more people they alienate, the smaller their network gets.

This too shall pass, and a year down the road when they've only got each other and their mean jokes? You won't be worrying about who's going to be hiring who.
posted by rideunicorns at 10:31 AM on November 22, 2014 [6 favorites]


"Your hair is too curly, it's ugly"
"Why is your boyfriend so nerdy"
"You're so stupid, how can you not get X"


What kind of adult says shit like this? Actually - are you the kind of person who can say something like that out loud, the next time one them says something like that? If so, try that. If not, try meeting the remark with a blank stare and a moment of silence, and then name their behavior: That's rude; stop saying things like that to me. Or, That's a mean thing to say; stop addressing me that way. Don't apologize, don't soften your remarks - just be direct.

Being direct, stating what you want, and naming the crappy things they do is not obnoxious or rude or overreacting. You do need to make it clear sooner rather than later that you won't put up with this shit for the next however long the program lasts. Sorry you're going through this.
posted by rtha at 10:33 AM on November 22, 2014 [14 favorites]


It's harassment. The school has a policy.
Do NOT involve your school in this. They will not help you. Your advisor will not help you, your department will not help you, and you'll really hurt yourself if you talk about this with your higher-ups. I had similar (although more egregious) incidents when I was in graduate school and talking about them only brought me harm. There is nothing they can to do help, and nothing they will do to help even if they could.

I suppose involving the school might make sense if these women were making death threats or stalking you but... in my case everyone higher-up just washed their hands of it; I could see them doing it literally while I was telling them about my situation.

In terms of being "easy to manipulate" or "too nice" the only thing that got me to stop being so nice was getting hurt really profoundly multiple times, in ways that just forced a changed view of the world on me. I hope that you do not get to that point because it was a very hard road to travel to learn the lessons that I needed to learn. I would suggest perhaps therapy with a focus on mindfulness and journaling about your motivations for doing people favors and for doing other things that are "too nice". For me, I found that I did people favors because I really like to feel needed. But that also lets people take advantage of me. So now I am careful about who I do favors for and I don't always just say "yes of course that would be so easy no problem at all!" when people ask me for favors, and I also don't offer favors anymore that weren't even asked of me in the first place (I seriously would contact people to ask if they needed an airport ride - which is 45 minutes one way for me - if they had recently mentioned flying somewhere).
posted by sockermom at 10:38 AM on November 22, 2014 [7 favorites]


You are fine, they are shitty moron asshole babies. Next time one of them says something shitty to you, it is 100% appropriate to respond by saying "what the fuck is wrong with you" and then just staring at then like they took a shit on the floor. Don't introduce them to your friends, why would you want anyone to know them?

ugh i'm so irritated, i want to make them cry.
posted by poffin boffin at 10:44 AM on November 22, 2014 [51 favorites]


I'd just try to cut them out of your life as much as you can. Try not to engage with them when they say shitty things. Focus on building good relationships with the other 7 people in your cohort, as well as people outside it. (Sounds like you're doing a good job with that, if you're talking to outside-the-program people at the party and people are confirming to you that those girls are acting weird.)

To take things to the next middle school level, it sounds to me like they're acting like jerks because they're jealous of you and your good social skills! Otherwise why would they make fun of you for getting along with people outside the program and criticize you for asking everyone to gather around the table? I bet they are afraid they will lose you as a friend (and favor-giver--cutting down on that is a good idea) to other much nicer, cooler people and that's causing them to act out.

You sound so much like a person who should be liked! A couple of mean people can ruin your self esteem (ask me how I know) but try and heed this internet stranger's advice not to take it to heart, and work on shoring up your other, better relationships.
posted by ferret branca at 10:46 AM on November 22, 2014 [2 favorites]


School is work now, not for socializing. Cut them out of your social life and do not look back.
posted by yarly at 11:02 AM on November 22, 2014 [4 favorites]


These people are garbage, and if you associate with them your reputation will be garbage by association. You could very well lose professional opportunities in the future because of their behavior and the bridges they are burning.

"What is wrong with you?" is a perfectly good response to everything coming out of their mouths. If you can't even manage that, just look confused and walk away. Because it's not how neurologically healthy adults behave.

What's the reward in wanting to be liked so badly by horrible people? I really think you need to clear the decks of anything else you're working on with your therapist and make this the crisis-level number-one priority. Women die from being this needy for approval.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:14 AM on November 22, 2014 [19 favorites]


Everyone's advice so far is good, but I'll add that it'll get easier as time goes by, particularly around the 1-semester or 1-year mark. My first-year grad cohort also did the "let's ALL be friends!" and there was plenty of weird toxic bullshit that happened, and then it eventually settled out that everyone got more choosy about how and with whom they spent their time (especially since grad school isn't exactly a leisurely lifestyle), and life got a lot better. This sounds like the beginning of that settling-out process.
posted by kagredon at 11:17 AM on November 22, 2014


Lots of good advice here (yeah, stop socializiing with these jerks); I just want to emphasize one thing that hasn't really come up: grad school is hell. Maybe not always, and certainly not always to the same degree, but it's very common that the pressures are so intense they can crush a normally resilient person and cause even sociable people to start spending all their time in their carrel at the library and avoiding human contact because there's just no mental energy left over to deal with it, even with people you like. My point is that you should start the triage process now, before you're forced into it and it becomes more difficult (because your brain is sparking and fizzing and shutting down at random intervals). Don't try to be pals with everyone, even people who aren't such jerks; find yourself a cohort of people you really get on well with, people you know won't be angry at you if you say "Sorry, I'm busy all weekend" and will be glad to deal with your wee-hours angst (as you will with theirs). Those people are precious, and you will probably maintain your relations with them long after grad school. The rest is distraction. Stay safe and sane out there!

/a grad school survivor (ABD)
posted by languagehat at 11:18 AM on November 22, 2014 [14 favorites]


These people are the ones that might be hiring me in the future or something like that, and we're colleagues and we all have to make good impressions on each other.

Nthing that it's highly unlikely that they will be in a position to hire you in the future. Chances are good you'll never see these folks again after you graduate. As for making a good impression, I wouldn't worry about their opinion because they're assholes. Just focus on dialing way back on the acquaintanceship to only what is needed to accomplish whatever tasks you are assigned with them in your classes.

It might be worthwhile to also view this experience as "practice" in dealing with the very difficult coworkers you will meet in your career (hopefully few and far between). Stand up to them when needed, be strictly business when you need to work with them to accomplish some task, and otherwise avoid/ignore. The people whose opinions matter will see and value your professionalism.

I'll also add that sometimes folks can have negative opinions of us that are unwarranted. You may not be able to turn this around, and in fact that may just make things worse. When I've been in these situations, it's been a lot better for me to just stop caring what they think and put my focus on the work: what do I need to do here, how do I need to work with these folks (if at all) to get that done.
posted by jazzbaby at 11:23 AM on November 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


These people are the ones that might be hiring me in the future or something like that, and we're colleagues and we all have to make good impressions on each other.

Think about how delicious it would be if you are the one who winds up in the position to hire one or both of them.

You have gotten a lot of good advice. They are asshole jerks. Keep the relationship professional, and keep as much distance between them and yourself as possible.
posted by Dolley at 11:32 AM on November 22, 2014


Just to add on to the comments about not doing these jerks any more favors (rides to anyplace, running their errands, or anything else): when you tell them some variation of "No, I can't do that for you" do not explain further --- stick with a bald No, I can't or No, I won't. And just keep repeating that as many times as its needed, over and over and over.

The problem with giving them an explanation is that it leaves an opening for them to squeeze in, and to beat you into submission:
Take me to the mall!
No.
Oh c'mon, you're not busy.
Yes, I am.
Doing what?!?

.....and now you're sucked in, and the jerks win.

It's better for you if you just keep saying NO:
Take me to the mall!
No.
Oh c'mon, you're not busy.
I'm not going to the mall.
Why not?!?
Take the bus.
It'll just take you a few minutes.
I'm not going to the mall.
Why not?!?
The bus stops right at the corner.

..... and so on. And frankly, if these two think you're 'not nice' because you won't do them favors? So what! Who cares what a couple of foul-mouthed jackasses like these two think of you? It's obvious everyone else aready sees through their little mean-girls routine, so just keep it classy, and you win in the end.
posted by easily confused at 11:38 AM on November 22, 2014 [4 favorites]


Grad school is insular and competitive. Sometimes it's even worse than 3rd grade!

You should not be nice to them. They are in the wrong here. This is your typical bullying situation and they are bullies.

First option: Ignore and avoid them. 50/50 chance of working. May make them get bored. May make other people stand up for you in your defense. May also backfire and make you look weak or encourage them.

Second option: politely ask them to stop. Pretty low chance of working. They're nasty people, nasty people don't respond to politeness.

Third option: rudely ask them to stop. Has a high chance of getting "you're overreacting" but a better chance of working. Snap "shut up" at them and snarl, that kind of thing.

Fourth option: report to authorities.

Fifth option: give them a snappy, bitchy dose of their own medicine. Requires being clever, fast reflexes, but may work well.

Sixth option: make other friends and turn the crowd against them. This is a fantastic option but hard to pull off, especially if they are powerful/important resource holders in your program in any way. But there is strength in numbers, as they well know, and two of them and one of you.
posted by quincunx at 11:45 AM on November 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


You can still be a good person if you tell these two to go fuck themselves. Because seriously, that's not how you treat a colleague, and they don't get to play it like they're adhering to standards of normal, mature adult discourse.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 11:55 AM on November 22, 2014


I'm really non-confrontational and don't like conflict and also had problems with people walking over me.
I feel like I'm not a person who should be liked if these girls treat me like this.
____________________________________________________________
I'm "too nice" (ugh, I hate that phrase) and that's annoying to them. I'm sure I can be annoying to people. Maybe I need to toughen up.


It looks to me like you originally felt that this was a problem with you, then just read 10 people's opinion that this is other people's problem, not yours, and responded with "hmm, I think there's something wrong with me."

I don't think you need to toughen up, and I definitely don't think you need to be less nice - the only issue here is self esteem, don't change a single other thing! Focus less on what's wrong with you and more on what's wrong with them. Just avoid them as much as possible, keep being your nice and friendly self, and hang out with people you like.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 12:25 PM on November 22, 2014 [17 favorites]


I have all kinds of comebacks and heckles for situations like this, many impolitic, but just a blank stare until they leave does wonders. Treat these dips like they're on stage and always have something else you have to do instead of doing them favors. Seriously, that party behavior is just shitting in the punch bowl material.
posted by rhizome at 12:29 PM on November 22, 2014 [2 favorites]


Don't get led astray by the idea of networking, that these people will get jobs/connections for you if you can only be nice enough to them. Aside from the fact that I wouldn't work for someone like that if they offered me a job, they're too mean to help you anyway. If someone is willing to be that rude to your face (when you've done you best to be more decent to her than it sounds like she deserves), the chances she'd go to any effort to help you are slim to none. Consider honestly, if you were at a company and there were three equally-qualified candidates, one of which was her, could you honestly advocate hiring her? The purpose of networking is to connect like-minded people, not just people who had classes together; the purpose of hiring an old classmate is that you share a background and work well with each other; an employer would be inviting drama to hire the frenemy of a current employee.

Don't try to keep these women happy. For one, it's a losing battle to try, and for another, it wouldn't do you much good in the bigger picture. It sounds like other people in the program are becoming aware of the simmering meanness in these women; if you could wave a magic wand and have them "like" you, you'd be in danger of having your other colleagues assume that you're just as bad as they are.
posted by aimedwander at 12:33 PM on November 22, 2014 [2 favorites]


"It's comments like these which mean that you ladies are getting a nasty reputation in the program and beyond. Boy, is the word out. Good luck getting hired...ever."

I would not try to be nice and I would not compel them to think about how it hurts you, they don't care. What they WILL care about is how it hurts THEM. So make it clear they are damaging their future job potential. If you care about making connections, they do too. Use it. Make it seem like everyone is talking about them and they are the ones on the outer and need to worm their way back in.
posted by Jubey at 12:55 PM on November 22, 2014 [5 favorites]


"Everybody likes me" is not a good attribute to hang your self-identity on, not least of all because it hinges on others to give you value. So stop that.

Who the fuck cares why they don't like you? do you really want to "fix that" to be more palatable to people who are such HUGE ASSHOLES?

Learn to say "Why would you think it's OK to say that?" Call them out because IT IS NOT OKAY.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:10 PM on November 22, 2014 [5 favorites]


So no one seems to have mentioned this, but grad school is completely different from undergrad. I'm sort of surprised you have time to get out with friends at bars etc. - most people spend their whole time in the library. Not that I'm saying you should do this or that it's the right way to do things, but grad school isn't really supposed to be about socializing though you can use it to make professional connections. So why not make friends as you would in life outside your program, try to make professional connections for the future within your field and stop spending time with these folks and oh, yeah...spend your time studying and working towards your degree!!!

Also if they pull another one of these rude off-handed one-liners the proper response to to have a flat affect and stare blankly at them. It'll be more embarrassing for them and people will notice.
posted by Toddles at 1:31 PM on November 22, 2014


First of all, X these idiots out of your life. Avoid them like the plague. Unfriend them on social media, for sure. Don't invite them to things with nice people, who have basically been telling you, "these two are losers why are you associating with them?"

Nod politely at them if you see them in your program, but not study groups with them, or any other help. They're on their own.

Also, it's entirely possible that one or both of them will end up dropping out or failing out within the first year.

You are perfectly fine, these two are horrible.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:32 PM on November 22, 2014 [5 favorites]


Wow. Yeah, this is not any kind of reflection on you, these women are seriously messed up. I actually yelled "WHAT!" at the screen when I read the "Shut your fucking mouth, no one cares" comment.

These people are the ones that might be hiring me in the future or something like that, and we're colleagues and we all have to make good impressions on each other.

I would not worry about these people being in a position of power over you in the future. All the fucked up behavior you're describing is the way people act when they are emotionally and personally circling the drain. The fact that they have called you to bail them out and pick them up when they're stranded somewhere drunk? That is not an insignificant detail. These women's lives are falling apart in ways that you are not privy to, and they're trying to desperately save face and make themselves feel better by shitting on you. If they're already buckling under the pressure of graduate school so much they're going out and getting shitfaced and resorting to elementary-school level insults like "your hair is too curly," I doubt they have the mental and emotional fortitude to keep up with your program. This is a learning opportunity about how to distance yourself from toxic people. Cultivate friendships with the other members of your cohort, who are probably all aware that these two are fucked up. Don't let them have power over you, and don't let them drag you down with them.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 2:18 PM on November 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


These people are the ones that might be hiring me in the future or something like that, and we're colleagues and we all have to make good impressions on each other. I thought this wouldn't happen in graduate school! This makes me more nervous because it feels like my future professional life is also at stake.

For the sake of your future professional life, you should distance yourself from them. They are assholes. People who don't like assholes will also avoid you by association, because they're going to be afraid you'll invite them along to parties and to the side projects you work on together. This would have the effect of keeping you from networking with people who will treat you well. You need to be around people who will treat you well if you want to succeed in your chosen field. Graduate school is hard enough with being around people who actively try to bring you down.

You don't need to change who you are. Don't be malicious or vengeful if that's not in your nature. Instead, change your perspective on who they are and treat them accordingly. They aren't friends, potential employers, or future colleagues. They've burned that bridge with you and with any decent person who sees how they treat you. I wouldn't want to work with jealous, petty bullies even if I wasn't their target. They've just failed at networking.
posted by rhythm and booze at 2:26 PM on November 22, 2014 [5 favorites]


Oh, man, I already hate those two. It would be hard for me not to tell them to fuck off, honestly.

Just ignore them as much as possible but with an attitude of "you are acting like dumb kids" and not like "I am going to stay here, safe in my little corner", do you know what I mean? Be brave, make eye contact, INSULT THEM TELEPATHICALLY. Like, "talk to hand bitch, grow up, I don't have time for this" (Sorryyyyy I just can't stand this kind of people, I become a monster haha)

When they get waaay out of line, with "shut the fuck up" stuff, you should really stand up for yourself and say something. Be calm. You know you are right. Hopefully one day they'll apologize to you.

I also hope your other classmates say something!
posted by divina_y_humilde at 2:36 PM on November 22, 2014


We were playing a game and I suggested that we gather around the table and one of them said "Shut your fucking mouth, no one cares."

The only response to that is
"Hey! Fuck you!"

Well not the only response. If you want to be polite, you say:
"Well that's a rude thing to say! Who taught you manners?"

These girls have made you the runt, and they are shitting on you because they can.

I understand the desire to be kind and it is a noble one. Consider the thought that you are not doing them any favors by allowing their continued behavior however.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 2:57 PM on November 22, 2014 [3 favorites]


There's a similar dynamic in my grad school cohort. What has helped me is to accept that we are very different people, and that the best thing I can do to maintain a professional relationship with them is to limit contact. Besides, they have each other. They certainly don't need me for social support.

And I'll second sockermom: this is a job. Success in this environment depends on your work and working relationships. It does not depend on people's personal opinions of you.
posted by MrBobinski at 4:06 PM on November 22, 2014


Captain Awkward (an awesome advice site) has similar situations, e.g. "How do I get my brother-in-law to stop making me feel like crap" or "My old friend has gotten mean", that may help with responses that feel doable for you. One favorite is a simple "Wow" that shows your disapproval without requiring you to come up a full comeback. The comment section has fantastic suggestions too.
posted by spamandkimchi at 5:15 PM on November 22, 2014 [6 favorites]


I'd also like to encourage you, and others, to respond when someone is being picked on or belittled like this.

For example, at that party where someone said, "Shut the fuck up." I would be shocked if that were directed at me and perhaps speechless. I would hope someone else might say, "Hey! Uncool!" Because by the rest of us not saying anything, the jerks think we're condoning their poor behavior. So just was we call out sexism, racism and other crimes against a peaceful planet, when people are mean and disrespectful to others, we owe it to humanity to make them understand that bad behavior is socially unacceptable.

So, if you see them pull this shit on someone else, feel free to correct them.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:40 PM on November 22, 2014 [7 favorites]


These are supposedly academic colleagues and they are behaving like 9th graders.

Do not allow yourself to be dragged down with them. Behave like the academic you want to be and leave these asses far behind using the great advice above.
posted by Sophie1 at 6:17 PM on November 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


My grad program was riddled with assholes like these. Come to think of it so was middle school, high school and undergrad. It's usually the ones who feel really subpar, in general but also academically. They're weak. Remember that and hold your head up high. Ignore them altogether if you must.
posted by BestCoaster at 7:12 PM on November 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


You sound terrific, to echo what everyone else has said. Learning how to deal with mean and jealous people is a good lesson to learn early in your professional career. Otherwise there is a temptation to make yourself small, to avoid the bullies. It helps, too, to be self-directed rather than to try to please other people.

And don't say I'm sorry when you turn these women down for favors in the future.
posted by marguerite at 7:29 PM on November 22, 2014


You don't have to participate in-- or even be a recipient of-- this drama from Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee. Graduate school is your JOB. You don't have to socialize with these people. Being colleagues does not make you automatic buddies. And if you stop being "friendly" to them and the harassment continues, you should really talk to your advisor or graduate programs manager about it, because it is unprofessional on their (the Tweedles') part.

You are only required, and expected, to interact with them PROFESSIONALLY. For example, during program-sponsored events in which you are both participating, in classes where you are assigned to a group with one of them (although, if I were you I would speak to the professor immediately to request reassignment), and so forth.

It sounds like you might have each others' numbers. Block their numbers if your phone has that capability. Do not answer texts or calls from them. Do not answer personal emails from them. Drop them like rocks on facebook or any other social media.

For in-person interactions, just go Miss Manners on them:

"Oh buttonedup, could I get a ride with you to the bar where everyone is meeting?"
"Tweedle Dum, that won't be possible."
Repeat until the question stops. THAT WON'T BE POSSIBLE.

"Oh buttonedup, that color looks awful on you!"
"Why would you say something like that, Tweedle Dee?"
And walk away. JUST WALK AWAY. THIS IS NOT A REQUIRED PROFESSIONAL INTERACTION.

Listen, I'm currently in the position to influence hiring. I can smell the artificial and juvenile Tweedles a mile off. I will not be getting them hired. I guarantee that unless they have a truly dramatic change in personality involving regret for being such poor human beings, these people will never be in the position to turn you down for a job. It's just not going to happen!

If anything, what may hurt you professionally is allowing the perception that they are your friends. Don't let your colleagues-- who include your professors, staff, and other grad students, think that you are like them. And hanging out with them is something that makes it look like you are like them! You seriously need to cut these people out of your life.
posted by zennie at 7:57 PM on November 22, 2014 [9 favorites]


Oh, this strikes a cord because this is not the first time I have heard this. I need to figure out how to fix this.

Practice saying "Go fuck yourself" until it's second nature.
posted by Jacqueline at 12:02 AM on November 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


Next time this happens use three words in a stern voice--best if there are observers nearby: "Shame on you."
posted by CincyBlues at 6:23 AM on November 23, 2014 [2 favorites]


This is so familiar to me... and I am a 36-year-old professional. Assholes know no age. And you should never consider them people you would work for. They do not sound like they have leadership potential, and even if they did, for quality of life purposes, you should steer clear of them when you're through with school.

I have found this to be a helpful site:

They will eventually get bored with bullying you, and are actually likely to turn on each other. When this happens, they could very well try to suck you in by baiting you with compliments or barbs about each other. DO NOT TAKE THE BAIT. Women like this thrive on putting others down to give them a sense of importance and worth.

Another resource: a book called Women's Inhumanity to Other Women. A longer read, but insightful.

Rise above!
posted by hippychick at 7:47 AM on November 23, 2014 [3 favorites]


http://thoughtcatalog.com/keay-nigel/2013/07/15-reasons-why-your-haters-hate-you/
posted by hippychick at 7:47 AM on November 23, 2014


But I don't know how to handle it.

While poffin boffin's response would be the ultimate fantasy for me if I were in this situation, I'd keep it classy with a "wow" and an expression that says "I can't believe you said that" OR just a plain, blank expression with "I can't believe you said that". Alternatively, a scowl with no response is a good response too. And then, exit.

If you use the language they have been using with you then you have stooped to their level. Then there is no difference between the two sides, and it doesn't matter who was on the right side when it started. This experience is excellent practice for developing the skill to deal with idiots.

Also, don't hang out with them. No personal stuff whatsoever.

These people are the ones that might be hiring me in the future or something like that, and we're colleagues and we all have to make good impressions on each other.

The planet, thankfully, really isn't that limited in scope! Making a good impression on your classmates should not be the top priority in grad school. Faculty, yes. Focus on your work and discern who is worth making an impression on to begin with...not just in grad school but at any stage in life.
posted by xm at 7:54 PM on November 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


I am going to come down firmly on the side of NOT being polite.

The only thing that is going to stop this is a few very well-placed, very emphatic, very cool and ideally very public "What the fuck is wrong with you?"s.

You have my permission to outright hate these people and be as huge a bitch to them as you want.

If one of them asks you for a favor, "Are you fucking kidding me, you fucking c&$@?!" Is the only possible response. Trust me, I am in favor of civility in 99.9% of all social situations but it just doesn't work with bullies.

I am sorry to say this but they DO view you as weak and victimizable. You need to disabuse them of this notion as soon as possible.
posted by Jess the Mess at 3:26 PM on November 24, 2014


Alternatively the next time they ask for a pickup, just don't show up and don't answer your phone. Say you had something better t do when they ask, eg washing your hair or hot date or 'something came up'
posted by zia at 10:04 PM on November 24, 2014


@zennie here has the exact right idea:

"If anything, what may hurt you professionally is allowing the perception that they are your friends. Don't let your colleagues-- who include your professors, staff, and other grad students, think that you are like them. And hanging out with them is something that makes it look like you are like them! You seriously need to cut these people out of your life."

Distancing yourself from their toxicity and social undermining is going to be critical for you. Continue to cultivate other friendships and maintain a social life completely separate from these two. The good news is you see how they are now, and won't be fooled again.
posted by hush at 11:41 AM on November 26, 2014 [3 favorites]


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