Dealing with a bully
December 18, 2018 12:56 PM   Subscribe

I have been friends with a group of girls for the last 15 years. Most of them are nice, some are ok and one is a mean girl bully type. She puts me down in subtle dig ways and I have no idea why me. For example when everyone turned 21 there were lots of parties. As a student from a relatively poor family, I didn’t have much money for a constant stream of new dresses. So I used to sometimes wear one I’d worn before. The mean girl, let’s call her M, would say something like “oh I recognise that dress, that’s the one you wore to Xs 21st” in a big loud voice that everyone could hear.

21sts are a long time ago now as we are in our mid 30s but M hasn’t changed - still full of bitchy subtle digs whenever I see her. The others keep inviting her to things - heavens knows why. I’m going home for Xmas and to a catch up with some of the group - M has said she’ll try and make it (her father has been sick)

If she turns up and makes one of her bitchy comments to me, what is the best way to handle that? I don’t want to start a fight but I’m really fed up with her being so nasty to me.

Just a note, M is not socially inept/autistic/any of that, in fact a bit the opposite- she definitely does this stuff deliberately. My sister, who also knows these girls, agrees she’s a cow but M does not pick on her the way she does with me.
Thank you!
posted by EatMyHat to Human Relations (35 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
Good news, you are in your thirties and you can definitively leave all this nonsense back where it belonged!

If M says something to you that is unpleasant but has vague plausible deniability, give her a cold look and ask "Why would you say that?" That will probably trigger a chain of conversation that you get to end with, "No, I don't think that was funny at all. Excuse me," and turning away to talk to someone else.

If M says something to you that's blatantly rude, say, "Excuse me?" If she repeats it, say, "That was extremely rude. I won't be spoken to like that," and turn away to talk to someone else.

In neither case do you let her engage you afterwards. She may attempt to engineer some drama around this. You just shrug your shoulders and stick to short declarative sentences if your friends try to intervene. "No, I don't care to continue that conversation." "No, it's not up for debate." "No, I'm having a lovely conversation with Q here, thank you."
posted by praemunire at 1:02 PM on December 18, 2018 [26 favorites]


she sounds awful - how about prepping some good comebacks? like:

"aren't you a bit old for the whole schoolyard bully act?"

"have you seen the movie mean girls?"
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 1:03 PM on December 18, 2018 [6 favorites]


praemunire's advice here is solid, but I would suggest not directly asking her why she is saying something rude, because that is an invitation to her pretending to be the wronged party. I would say "That's an odd thing to say." in your flattest voice possible, and then turn around to engage with someone else.
posted by Automocar at 1:05 PM on December 18, 2018 [45 favorites]


Ask her to repeat herself. Then put a puzzled expression on your face and say, "Huh:::::pause::::: I thought so. Some things never change." Then walk away or turn to someone else and change the conversation.
posted by IndigoOnTheGo at 1:05 PM on December 18, 2018 [4 favorites]


“Are you jealous?” tends to halt this behavior in my experience. Because that’s what it amounts to.
posted by Young Kullervo at 1:12 PM on December 18, 2018 [4 favorites]


I think everyone has their own way of dealing with this, and there are some excellent ideas above. The main thing is to find a way that feels authentic to you. I generally avoid these people in my life and curtail unsupportive "mean girl" faux-friendships. When I've been forced to socialize with people like this and they make remarks like this, my personal response is to make a face as if I've smelled dog poop, look them up and down, and say, "Gross." - and then continue doing what I was doing before. I've not had a bully try this more than twice with me, and I've not had one ask me what I'm reacting to. They know what they're doing. And it's gross.
posted by pammeke at 1:13 PM on December 18, 2018 [16 favorites]


One way to highlight the meanness of these comments without letting them appear to be working is to accept them at face value, treat them like compliments, and then double down on them:

"oh I recognise that dress, that’s the one you wore to Xs 21st!"
"I'm so glad you remember it! Isn't it just amazing? I found it at this adorable thrift store on 49th and I just love it!"

Doesn't work all the time and does require that you're able to think of comebacks on your feet, but it does tend to show bitterness into sharp relief.
posted by jacquilynne at 1:24 PM on December 18, 2018 [58 favorites]


praemunire's advice here is solid, but I would suggest not directly asking her why she is saying something rude, because that is an invitation to her pretending to be the wronged party. I would say "That's an odd thing to say." in your flattest voice possible

Intonation intended is "what a weird thing to say," as if you are literally baffled as to why anyone would put those words in that order, not "why would you say such a mean thing to me," but yours is solid, too, and probably requires less control of tone in an anxious moment.
posted by praemunire at 1:33 PM on December 18, 2018 [6 favorites]


As a kid, one of my (adult) neighbors would respond to offensive remarks by raising her eyebrows and saying, "Excuse me?" It was extremely effective.
posted by easy, lucky, free at 1:50 PM on December 18, 2018 [1 favorite]


The thing is her dad is sick so defending yourself against subtle bullshit may backfire. Just ignore it, or if you can, find an ally among your friends to sort of roll your eyes at when she Does It Again.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 2:32 PM on December 18, 2018 [3 favorites]


Like, if she’s socially competent and a bully she’ll just start crying and ask why you’re picking on her while she’s having such a hard time etc. Confrontation in this context is a fast way to turn an annoyance into an isolating and stressful fight. Make peace with the fact that this asshole can’t drive you away or make you snap. At most, walk away.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 2:37 PM on December 18, 2018 [8 favorites]


"Never change, M."
posted by roger ackroyd at 2:42 PM on December 18, 2018 [24 favorites]


I agree with Rock 'em Sock 'em: an overt, in-your-face type of comeback after tolerating her for 15 years will likely end up with her twisting things around and making it seems like you're the asshole. I suggest just stifling a laugh at her when she makes comments like these, like the way you laugh a stifled laugh at someone who deserves a "Kick Me" sign on their back- the kind of laugh that makes it clear that you're not going to be telling her WHY you're laughing at her, the kind of laugh that makes it clear that you're embarrassed FOR her, not BY her.
posted by 23skidoo at 2:49 PM on December 18, 2018


I like to use a nice, flat "Wow." Then, depending on your personal chutzpah levels that day, either placidly look her in the face waiting for her to dig her way out, or simply walk off and join another cluster of people. (Or, shit, consider dropping this group altogether. Y'all are old enough to take out mortgages and they're tolerating this?)

Her father's illness is a red herring. Lots of people handle the pain of family illness, death, financial crisis, whatever, without resorting to playground insults lobbed at childhood acquaintances. I mean maybe don't shout her down in front of the group, but someone's personal issues never, ever mean you're obligated to put up with whatever abuse they might sling at you. My goodness.
posted by TinyChicken at 2:55 PM on December 18, 2018 [6 favorites]


My personal go-to in such situations is "Okay......" and a look that says "Really?".

But I agree with everyone who advises you to be cautious this time; keep the comeback short, don't get dragged into an argument and don't involve others - sick dad might mean people will cut her an extra- amount of slack.
posted by sohalt at 3:01 PM on December 18, 2018 [4 favorites]


Her father's illness is a red herring. Lots of people handle the pain of family illness, death, financial crisis, whatever, without resorting to playground insults lobbed at childhood acquaintances. I mean maybe don't shout her down in front of the group, but someone's personal issues never, ever mean you're obligated to put up with whatever abuse they might sling at you. My goodness.

My point was that it's bad timing because of the social dynamics, although, frankly, I do think that a lot of satisfaction can be gained by graciously & nobly (& smugly) allowing other people's dickish behavior to invoke pity instead of anger.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 3:08 PM on December 18, 2018 [1 favorite]


Whisper really sympathetically to your sister and other friends, but loud enough that this girl can hear you, not to blame her. Some people just weren’t brought up with manners and social skills and it’s not her fault. Then look at the girl and say it’s ok, I forgive you! And give her your most pitying smile, like you pathetic socially inept wretch. Being the subject of pity and embarrassment will drive her crazy but she won’t be able to attack you because you’re being the bigger person. Then offer to get her a drink.
posted by Jubey at 3:22 PM on December 18, 2018 [2 favorites]


Just treat everything she says like a giant joke. Because it is.
posted by 41swans at 4:46 PM on December 18, 2018 [4 favorites]


Yes! Be blunt. People who are used to running rings around people with plausibly deniable, passive-aggressive bitchiness (for lack of a better, non-gendered word) are stopped dead if you just fucking call them out bluntly. Break that social contract! It'll be like they just ran into a brick wall at full speed.

If you don't know exactly what to say in the moment, one thing that works great is to just give them a blank stare, pause for half a beat, and then say, "Wow." Just "wow," a little louder and more emphatically than strictly necessary, then hold their gaze for a moment longer and turn away or walk past them to something else. "Wow," as in, "Wow, what a horrible thing to say," or "Wow, you are a very rude person." If you can't think of anything else, it works a treat.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 5:28 PM on December 18, 2018 [5 favorites]


Do remember that the most brutal comeback will be utterly, totally polite. Kill her with kindness.
posted by sammyo at 5:40 PM on December 18, 2018 [1 favorite]


“Wow, you’re a little old to still be trying all these desperate pleas for attention. It’s not cute anymore.”

Alternately, don’t say anything, just roll your eyes in an extremely exaggerated manner, while turning away from her and back toward whomever you were talking to, and then continue your conversation with them as if Mean Girl were invisible.
posted by MexicanYenta at 8:51 PM on December 18, 2018 [2 favorites]


oh my god just laugh in her face and say "eat shit you tiresome bitch, no one cares that you think you never left high school" and then ignore her for the rest of your life.
posted by poffin boffin at 9:33 PM on December 18, 2018 [10 favorites]


like seriously. you don't NEED to be reasonable to someone who has treated you like shit your entire life. you don't NEED to turn the tables on her and start some infantile whisper campaign. you don't NEED to act out some elaborate smug conversation where you suddenly have the upper hand. you don't NEED to take the high ground so you'll be better than her, you are already better than her. she is NOTHING. she is a sad loser whose motivations for her shitty behavior are unimportant and stupid.
posted by poffin boffin at 9:36 PM on December 18, 2018 [5 favorites]


Ugh what a tiresome bitch. I don’t like to play those sort of games at all and I wouldn’t myself be chill making body comments like this (although maybe...) but a feigned-nice response to the specific example could be “omg I know, right? Can you believe I still fit in this?” This only works if she, like most people in their thirties, doesn’t fit into clothes from practically teen years and if she cares, she sounds like she might.
posted by Iteki at 10:01 PM on December 18, 2018 [1 favorite]


My advice would be to laugh like she's told a really funny joke. "I know, I love this dress, right?" The whole point is to get under your skin. If she continues, you can counter with "Are you trying to make me feel bad?" still smiling. Or "Hey, watch it, if you keep making comments like that I might feel bad. I have feelings, you know."
posted by xammerboy at 11:04 PM on December 18, 2018


I think if you can pull off a laugh with an 'oh, get fucked!' and have someone to speak to immediately afterwards, where you can talk about what a pain in your arse she's been for 15 years whilst laughing at the unimportant absurdity it is, now's the time to do it.
posted by h00py at 2:45 AM on December 19, 2018 [2 favorites]


In this case, I’d go with something very neutral, and then changing the topic entirely. Because you don’t see her often, and escalating would detract from the time you have with your own friends, I’d just try to end the interaction and move on.

“Huh. Anyway, I’m so sorry about your father. You must be under so much stress. It must be so hard to come out and be social.”

“Ok then. So, mutual friend, tell me about x thing that you posted about!”

“You’re sure interested in my clothes! Mutual friend, have you tried the canapé? It’s delicious!”

“You’re so funny! Can you believe they don’t have an Oscar host yet?”

“Ouch. Anyway, I really like this dress. I’m a sucker for sequins. Oh look, there’s Q. I’m gonna go say hi.”
posted by snickerdoodle at 3:24 AM on December 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


[Folks, just a quick reminder: I understand that the woman described is infuriating, but let's try to lay off the gendered slurs, which help no woman. Thanks.]
posted by taz (staff) at 3:27 AM on December 19, 2018 [16 favorites]


Putting myself in this position, I don’t know if I would have the nerve to actually say something directly. But I think I could manage a subtle side eye or eye roll followed by “... so anyway...” and continue the conversation.
posted by like_neon at 3:36 AM on December 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


I agree that you treat these people like they could never, ever, bother you. That's what they want. Laugh, smile, say thanks oh I love this dress, etc like suggested above. I find laughing to be key. These people HATE that you aren't phased.
posted by agregoli at 8:44 AM on December 19, 2018 [3 favorites]


‘* bad dress comment *’
You: ‘Oh goodness M, it does make me a little bit cross that you’re still doing this negging thing to me. I thought we might move on hey, and play nicely? So, hey, how are things with ——— lately? / Tell me what’s happening with — —— / I’d love to hear what happened with ——— ‘
posted by honey-barbara at 5:13 PM on December 19, 2018


Some possible responses
There you go again.
That was kind of rude/ mean/ negative/ unkind.
Blunt, much?
Huh, what an odd thing to comment on.

Also, work on your eyeroll and on choosing to stay away from her. There's a bully in my group, very bossy, and once I realized how unpleasant she is, it got easier because I avoid her. Others have also noticed, and she has behaved a bit better because, consequences.
posted by theora55 at 5:17 PM on December 19, 2018


1. The David Spade Hollywood Receptionist: Act like it's a joke no one in the vicinity would reasonably get, and ask her to elaborate. Continue to follow up in a demented kind of Socratic dialogue. "And you find my dress noteworthy because...?" "And X's 21st is relevant because...?" "And I'm guilty of what...?" The more she has to drill down, the more it kills her remark.

2. The Ron Burgundy: "You stay classy, M!"
posted by zaixfeep at 7:54 PM on December 19, 2018


I would respond to her comments as though they weren't even registering as digs to you -- like, if she says "I recognize that dress, you wore it to so-and-so's party," just give her a breezy "Yep, I might have!" and continue what you were doing. Or just a bemused smile and "Okay." And then just keep on talking to whichever non-mean friend you were talking to. Just don't even engage with her over it.
posted by sarcasticah at 12:59 PM on December 22, 2018 [1 favorite]


Update: thank you for all your answers! I went to the catch up feeling more confident and M came later. She slightly ignored me but there were no subtle digs or drama like I was expecting. I did not speak to her one on one but I tried to be supportive when she spoke about the situation with her father (which is really bad). It could have been so much worse so I am grateful to you all for helping me prepare. I like to think that extra confidence I had meant she wasn’t game to have a go, but maybe it just is something I can’t control.
posted by EatMyHat at 7:17 PM on December 23, 2018 [5 favorites]


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