Dear Margo: Guess What: Not Everyone Is Kind

How do I handle the adult “mean girls”? Margo Howard’s advice

Guess What: Not Everyone Is Kind

Dear Margo: My husband, our children and I recently moved to a new town. Through the children, really, I’ve met a group of women. They apparently are longtime friends, and one of them invited me to their Wednesday mothers group for lunch. I have to say, they were being kind of snippy to me, challenging things I said, and no one seemed welcoming or simpatico at all. I almost didn’t trust my own judgment because I was thinking: If they didn’t like me, why bother to invite me over? It almost felt like bullying — which I thought only happened to children. Can there even be grownup “mean girls”? I hope you don’t think, reading this, that I am hypersensitive or even making things up. — New Girl in Town

Dear New: Actually, I don’t. And yes, there can, indeed, be “grownup mean girls.” As with children, “the new kid” is often targeted. It happened to me when I was in early middle age and moved to a new city.

I became friendly with a woman who was a neighbor. She invited me to go to a spa with her and some good friends. I thought that would be wonderful — never having traveled with women before. Well, it wasn’t wonderful, and for reasons unknown to me, they seemed to be going out of their way to make me uncomfortable — especially my neighbor. At one dinner, things were so bad that I left the table, went to the ladies room and threw up. Like you, I thought: Why did they even bother to invite me? Then I saw on the spa literature that a group got 10 percent off for every new person they brought. I wondered why they hadn’t invited someone they liked to get the discount.

In any case, this is all by way of letting you know that the problem is not you; they are the problem. The reasons can be cliquishness, envy … or perhaps they really are just mean girls. It is a fact that some people are cruel without even knowing why. — Margo, discerning

When Lost Is Found…

Dear Margo: In 1965, my uncle gave up his son for adoption. His sister knew about the baby, but my dad, as the youngest, didn’t find out until my uncle died a few years ago. My uncle ended up getting married and having two other children who don’t know about their brother. My uncle’s sister and his biological son (her nephew) found each other on Facebook, and she wants to let my other cousins know that they have an older brother they have never met.

I agree that my cousins should have the opportunity to meet their brother, especially since he has posted publicly on Facebook that he is searching for his siblings and has already lost the chance to meet his biological father. I think my aunt should give my cousin his siblings’ phone numbers, or at least full names, so he can do with the information as he pleases.

My mom feels we should respect my uncle’s wishes that his wife and children never find out about his firstborn son. My dad thinks my grandma (my uncle’s mother) should be the one to tell my cousins about their older brother, and my brother just wants us to stay out of it. What do you think should be done in this situation? — Biological Cousin in Northern California

Dear Bio: Your uncle is gone, and the cat’s already out of the bag, if you’ll excuse that analogy in this context. The connection has been made, if only to a limited degree — although your family seems to know. I agree with your brother that the rest of you should stay out of it and let your late uncle’s sister decide who should know what. They were siblings, after all. Now, don’t you feel relieved? All the rest of you can mind your own business and not have to second-guess yourselves. — Margo, carefully

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Dear Margo is written by Margo Howard, Ann Landers’ daughter. All letters must be sent via the online form at Due to a high volume of e-mail, not all letters will be answered.


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79 comments so far.

  1. avatar MarysMom says:

    Sadly mean girls are EVERYWHERE, and they are always just mean to other women.  My husband has had an issue with a “mean girl” at work for the last 6 years.  They used to be business friendly but things changed dramatically as soon as we bought a house and became engaged.  It started with dirty looks and walking away in the middle of my DH talking to her.  That eventually progressed to hiding her face with her hand, litterally holding her hand up to her face to block out the sight of DH when ever he was around.  That progressed to snide comments and makeing very loud noises such as crumpling paper or banging and slamming stuff around just to “drownd him out”.  He has gone to HR several times regarding this but they never did anything or even took notice untill she started treating others this way as well.  All we can figure is that she is a very jealous person and this is the way she makes herself feel better.  Case in point, we bought a house, she had not, the trouble started.  We got engaged and married, she had not, the trouble got worse.  A coworker of DH attained a long sought after degree, she dropped out, the trouble started with that coworker.  Another coworker had a child, she had a child in her teens but wants another, the trouble started with her not long after.  She has been “talked to” about her aditude but neither my DH or myself can figure out why they keep her around but they do.  Go figure.

  2. avatar reeledge says:

    I am looking for my biological father and/or any siblings. All of a sudden I realized I will soon be 50 and figure it was past time to look.  I wish there was a central location so someone that wants to be found could be.

    • avatar Lila says:

      reeledge: I contacted my bio family in my mid 20s.

      My first call was to the adoption agency that handled my adoption. The agency could only tell me that there was a letter on file from my parents indicating they would be agreeable to a meeting. The letter had been sent in the year I turned 18. However, the agency was forbidden by law from giving me any identifying information or putting us in contact with each other, and the counselor advised me that petitioning the DC courts was almost never successful. The way around it (bless her!) was to send a note to my parents with a form for a search agency inside. She then sent me the same form. Within a week or so, the search agency had matched us and we were able to contact each other.

      • avatar Lila says:

        PS. Of course all that stuff is online now. Just run a search for “find birth parents” and see the registries pop up. Just be sure that any apparent match is the real deal. In my case, the physical resemblances would have removed all doubt.

  3. avatar Sadie BB says:

    Lw1 – if you are truly interested in how to handle mean girls here are two phrases to say cheerily as you make an exit – “no thanks!!’ & “well, gotta go!”

    I have used these in a car at a stoplight, in a restaurant before the salads were finished(after dropping $20 for my share on the table), in a cabin in the woods…these gals tend to attack when they imagine you can’t get away. But you can!

    The important thing is to be cheerful, not explain anything, and get OUT. Do not tolerate the bad behavior and do not display any either. When they tell the story later, if they dare, everyone will know why you did it. And I can assure you they will never pull that crap on you again.

  4. avatar Sadie BB says:

    Lw2 – if you had a lost brother out there, wouldn’t you want to know?

  5. avatar htimsr40 says:

    LW#2 – When someone uses their private parts to create a new life, they do not have a “right” to demand that others forget about it and never mention it. They do not have a “right” to expect other family members to honor their wishes. They do not have a “right” for various blood-related individuals to remain in the dark. They waived that right when they created the new life. Uncle waived it a second time when the “secret” went beyond his own knowledge.

    If one doesn’t want others to know about a son or daughter, then one shouldn’t have sex. Uncle didn’t keep it in his pants and now the cat has not stayed in the bag. People know. It is not a secret.

    • avatar Lila says:

      htimsr40, I don’t agree. “… my uncle gave up his son for adoption.” I am a 1960s adoptee myself. Legally, adoption makes me part of my new family with all rights and protections that a biological child would have, and severs all of my rights and protections that I would have had in my original family. And it severs their rights to me, as well. I’m not part of them any more and have no legal right to be. My birth certificate shows my adoptive parents’ names; the original is sealed and inaccessible, even to me and to my birth parents.

      That said, I was curious and in my mid-20s, I wrote a letter that started the process for a possible meeting with my biological family. I was told, and I accepted, that they might not be interested and if that were the case, I should let it go. As it turned out, they wanted to meet me and all was (and is) agreeable, but only through their own interests, not any consideration of my “rights.” I don’t have any “rights” in their family. Legally, they are no more than friends.

      In the LW’s case, the siblings and their mother know nothing… yet. You can bet that since everyone else in the family seems to know, they are going to find out eventually, and the longer the cover-up goes on, the worse it will be when they do find out: “How long has everyone known this? Why didn’t anyone tell us before?” I also find it curious that the LW seems to indicate that only her aunt is in touch with the long-lost kid, even though the LW’s entire family is also aware and seems to know who he is.

      As for the uncle’s wishes that his wife and children never find out – well, as some have commented, 1965 is not 2012. Before my letter arrived, my existence was quite the secret. No one on my bio father’s side knew at all, and only one person on my bio mother’s side. My bio parents could have kept it that way, but they wanted to know me and wanted me to know my relatives, so they finally told everyone, some 20-odd years after the fact. There was reportedly some surprise but no judgment or censure from the extended family.

      I think Margo’s advice is most pragmatic – to allow the man’s sister to make the decision. Were I in her shoes – especially since everyone else seems to know – I would probably tell my brother’s widow and children together, then ask them to take a week to discuss it and think about it. We are dealing with adults here, and not even particularly young ones. Whoever wants contact, I think should initiate the contact through the sister. Whoever does not want contact should have their wishes respected. Just like a friendship, because that is all it will be, legally.

      I have to say, my life has been enriched by knowing both sides of my family. By that I mean the adopted side, and the bio side.

  6. avatar crystalclear says:

    What interesting comments.   Seems many of us have encountered the mean girls pack mentality.   I honestly don’t feel that people are born this way.   It has to do with their upbringing.   As parents, the moment our child is born we have to teach them how to leave us to be productive and hopefully happy human beings.   When children are brought up with criticism and “bad” parents they tend to have deep seeded personality issues.   I have also known children raised in a very healthy and loving environment who have issues later in life.   I believe I just contradicted myself.   Yes, of course, I did.   So, is it a choice some women make to demean and degrade other women?   I’ve never figured out the purpose in doing that.   Which brings to mind the word “control.”   Some people have to be in control and in so doing probably delight in turning others against someone.

    Oh, this is a hard one to analyze, isn’t it?   I know when it takes place all we can really process is why is this happening?    I do like the advice above to just say “goodnight” and separate from the group.    That sends a message but then that person is high on the list to chew on once she has left the group.

    We should always be very careful in selecting our friends.  

  7. avatar Aryana 08 says:

    LW 1 – I know exactly how you feel. I was bullied by my now husband’s best friends girlfriend. She started out being friendly towards me and we got along really well, the 4 of us going on trips together, hanging out on the weekends, etc.. As soon as she had me all figured out she turned on me, playing her little mind games, trying to break us up and such. I honestly don’t know what I did for her to act like this (I believe it was because i was the “new” girl in the group where as before she was the new one before me) but even her freinds started treating me like this. Of course she didn’t treat me this way in front of my boyfreind (now husband) so when i would complain to him about it he had no idea what i was talking about – until one drunken night she told him that it wasn’t right that he put me first in his life and that he should be putting her and his best friend first. He finally got it and started to distance himself from her – not his best friend though so she was always in the picture. I got great advice and just ditance myself from the situation and if anyone asked me why I told them. When i had to deal with her i would just “kill it with kindness” i was thrilled when they finally broke up and I never had to deal with that witch again !!

  8. avatar crystalclear says:

    reeledge, I hope you are successful.   When we have unanswered questions and unfinished business later in life it tends to weigh heavy on our minds.    I don’t have an answer to your question how you go about finding someone.   You might want to  consider contacting an agency that specializes in this type of work.   It might cost a few $$$’s but you’ll have to weigh that against your need to know.   Again, good luck to you.    I know I would want to know if I had brothers and sisters out “there.”  

  9. avatar crystalclear says:

    Aryana, sounds like you have a winner of a husband.   Bad situations seem to always have a way of correcting.   The fact that this woman treated you the way she did and her relationship bit the dust is a reward LOL!    What’s the old saying, “What goes around comes around?”     Glad you weathered that storm.

  10. avatar bobkat says:

    Please ignore this. Just trying to manage my subscription.

  11. avatar jezoebel says:

    LW1: It just goes to show you that high school mentality never really leaves; it just gets worse as you get older. And all those reality shows like Housewives, Bachelor/Bachelorette, etc. that seem to encourage this type of behaviour doesn’t help either. As kids we wanted to be liked by everyone. As you get older, you realize that being popular is not all it’s cracked up to be. Forget girls night. I’d rather  just hang out with my small circle and avoid the drama queens.

  12. avatar Katharine Gray says:

    I spent part of the day reading the book I referred to above which deals with what the author calls *certifiable assholes* in the workplace.  And really, after reading it, I wonder if we are doing our kids a favor by shielding them from psychological bullies at school because the bullying doesn’t stop in school.  Plenty of adults are bullies.  Not that bullies should be tolerated but maybe instead of focusing on the bullies we should focus on teaching kids how to handle the bullies (of course physical bullying is just flat a crime and should be dealt with as such).    Like many, my mother always told me the mean girls were insecure (I went to an all-girls highschool and had no brothers so my experience with meanness for many years was pretty much limited to girls and women).  But I’m thinking like an earlier commenter that in fact the bullies are quite confident.  And grouping up makes them even more confident.  It might not be a good or productive confidence but they really do think they are all that.  And they really do think that those who don’t have their money, beauty, social status etc. are their *inferiors*.

    As for John Lee who doesn’t see what benefit women get from being mean to each other..this is a Mars/Venus thing.   Mean women do get satisfaction from feeling prettier, wealthier, thinner, married to a more succesful man, or being more successful in the workplace.  That is their benefit.  That said, there are several examples of bullying women CEOs (The Devil Wears Prada anyone?) who are definitely getting the same benefits as men do from being mean. 

    An example I loved in this book was one of the head of Virgin Airlines who did a British television reality show along the lines of Trump’s Apprentice show.  He put himself in disguise as an older bus driver who drove the contestants from the airport to the residence hotel on the first day.  There were a couple of contestants who treated him like dirt (and you really have to go out of your way to be rude to a bus driver who doesn’t really expect you to suck up to him or her…just get on, off, and pay your fare) and others who were polite, thanked him etc.  He dumped the rude ones right away because he saw that they were, for lack of a better word, assholes.  Mean people treat those they consider *inferior* poorly and suck up to those above them which is one reason its hard to convince the powers that be what destruction the mean person is causing in  the workplace.  

    I think I mentioned earlier how I cannot control my voice and physical reactions when I get really angry (and I hardly ever do).  My father was the same way.  I recall when I was about 14 making a typical snotty teenage comment about someone being *poor* (like we were *rich*…hah).  We were in the car and my father was driving and he almost drove off the road he was so angry with me and told me in no uncertain terms my attitude was unacceptable (something along the lines of *no daughter of mine is going to grow up with such an attitude*).  I  got two spankings in my whole life (on the butt) but I really think had he not been driving and I was not 14 he may have whipped me for my meanness.  I still remember exactly what road we were on and where to the quarter mile 44 years later.   So, if you are parents, that is the message that needs to be sent to your kids because they will be getting so many bad messages from some of their peers, the media etc.

    And, my mother always said…I don’t care if someone is the Queen of England or not…you treat everyone with the  same respect.  But these days, even the Queen has people who would like to bully her. 

  13. avatar R Scott says:

    LW1 – Your first clue should have been “mothers’ group”. That just screams “we are special”.  Yeah. Grown ups can be bad too. You should really piss ’em off and join the “dads’ group”.

    LW2 – Okay, I actually got a little confused on the pedigree and who’s who and who did what but if you want to contact this son do so. If not don’t and everyone else can do what they want. He is a real live human being with a life and all that. It’s 20012 already and Queen Victoria is dead. Quit acting like this is some tragic family secret.

  14. avatar wendykh says:

    okay I have a slightly different perspective on mean girls, who I do believe absolutely exist.

    But I’ve also been the one accused of being in the “mean girl” clique because we basically weren’t fawning all over someone new to the group and had lives that involved activities otther than calling and socializing all the time and would not just nod whenever she said anything we didn’t agree with or thought was BS. I mean we weren’t disrespectful but these two or three women would take ANYthing other than sunshine and smiles to be “aggressive.” And would write long email missives about “why doesn’t anyone like me?” We liked them just fine but we had no time for blabbing on the phone and hanging out to go get coffee during the day. It was just exhausting for us to do those kind of activities and so we considered our “group time” our one time out, but they took it as personal offence.

    I am not discounting anyone here, including LW1 and Margo’s experiences, I’m just presenting that sometimes people can be emotionally draining and think that others don’t like them when it’s hardly the case.

  15. avatar crystalclear says:

    wendy, noted.   However, I could not help but sense a position of you thinking that your life was slightly more valuable that someone who was feeling slighted by a group of women who were familiar with each other and casting a judgemental slur towards the “newcomer” in the group who was more than likely trying to figure out who the “in” group was and why they felt superior.   People want to be validated in some way.   As caring human beings, we should all put our best efforts forward in welcoming new people into the fold.   If not, what else is there?   We are a country of Americans relocating moving here and there and I believe that embracing newcomers into a group is a good and decent thing to do.   We are all different or at least that is what I believe and if we aren’t introducing new personalities into our lives and expanding our ability to be good and caring individuals then what is our goal?   Women, unfortunately, have a tendency to be blindly judgemental as it relates to reaching outside our comfort zones.   Truth be known, we don’t always like the women who are “in the group’ but we tolerate them because they fit the mold of what we believe to be women of our caliber, financial status and the like.   How sad.   In my travels along the eastern seaboard, as a southern woman I have met some of the most amazing women new to the area who had a great deal to share and proved in the end to be most valuable in all the important ways that actually mattered.    All of us are important.   Struck a nerve…I apologize if I have offended anyone.   And, Wendy, I’m not targeting your comments.   I just felt the need to address new women who move into an already defined and closed group of women who feel that no one else can offer “their group” anymore than they already have with those they know.    Not the American way IMO.  We are all unique.

    • avatar wendykh says:

      But we *weren’t!* They wanted to go out socializing and for coffee all the time and most of us were exhausted and could barely make it out just for that one mom’s group a month! The big problem was two of us lived in very close proximity to one another and would see one another once or twice a week since they could see each other’s homes from their front porches. So for some reason the new women always got this idea in their heads we were all out socializing between mom meetings *without* them when it was just these two ladies for the aforementioned reasons. So they’d call others and ask for coffee (and I was a big fail here because I dislike coffee and going to coffee shops) and the rest of us would beg off and they’d feel slighted. And just by design, none of us were those kind of women who gab on the phone all day (we IM instead 😉 so when we were less than yakkity yak or had to go within 5-10 min on the phone, they’d get all pouty. And then the “I try to reach out to people but it seems you all are already a clique” missives would start. They seemed to have a much bigger idea of what our actual ties and social lives actually were.

      This is NOT limited to women however. I had a friend in university doing the same thing. He’d ask what people were doing and they’d say “nothing sitting at home” then someone else would invite some people out for spontaneous dinner or movie or whatever and then we might go out for some drinks. He often wasn’t involved in these events because he wasn’t going to social places and hanging out and getting in on the last minute fun. So he decided we all had these elaborate social circles going on purposefully excluding him and that no one liked him. OMG no, it was not that calculated jesus! And dealing with him and his projection was exhausting!

  16. avatar crystalclear says:

    I agree that it isn’t about “confidence” although it certainly looks and feels like the bully is confident.  However, once a bully is confronted they tend to back down and away.   That’s not confidence.   I believe it has alot to do with “control.”    When people want to take control in a situation it can be for different reasons.   Children who have been abused can easily turn into control freaks because they remember what it was like to “not” be in control and they suffered from it.

    We’re getting analytical here, aren’t we?   Excellent exchange above.   Great comments.

  17. avatar crystalclear says:

    wendy, I stand majorly corrected!!   After you explained everything it made great sense.   I had little ones at home and we had a mother’s morning out once a week.   All the mothers were on a tennis league club and we had matches several times a week.   So, we would take turns watching each other’s children for two hours so we could all keep our tennis schedules.   Oh, those were the days…how I miss them!   We ran it like a business and we were so grateful to have each other that we treated each other and our children with the utmost respect.   We didn’t have texting, cell phones, etc back then so we had to pick up the phone to coordinate changes in our schedule.   So, Wendy, thanks for explaining that.   Sorry I took it in the absolute wrong direction.   

    Even today….I won’t be around “needy” people.   I’m self sufficient but that doesn’t mean I don’t notice when my neighbors and co-workers need some attention.    I’m good that way, too.   However, I can’t be bothered by insecure toxic personalities.   Been there done that!   My heart belongs to my grandchildren and there’s just no space in my life I’m willing to hand over to a needy friend with issues.   Hope that didn’t sound harsh.   I love interacting with people I just don’t like being stuck with them for an hour as they pour out all of their problems and insecurities.   Well, now, that last comment did sound harsh didn’t it?  *grin*