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 Responses so far.

  1. avatar Constance Plank says:


    I had the mean girls experience in my early 40’s. This was a four day $$$ knitting retreat. I went with supposed friends, and it turns out that I was targeted for “rudely” intruding on their “private” event. It was like being back in 7th grade where the popular girls ran around in packs, and viciously savaged the target du jour.

    I eventually received a heartfelt apology from one of the participants. She apologized for not being very strong-minded. The head mean girl, who was 65, and a lawyer, threatened me with a lawsuit if I told more people why we were no longer friends. Of course, you can’t sue someone for libel when they are telling the exact truth- especially in response to a question. And, it proved to me that she really was just a bully.

    I’m perfectly fine, but mean girls do exist, well past an age that one really ought to have matured!


    Constance in the Sierra Foothills of CA, where it still isn’t winter

  2. avatar Melissa Taylor says:

    Yes, mean girls do exist in grown up bodies. My experience was over 7 months of employment. I worked in an office of 6 to 7 people, depending on who was there that day. All women for the most part, the only two men working in a different department rarely stuck their noses up front but heard everything.

    There were three mean girls, one being in customer service the whole time, another eventually became my immediate supervisor and the last was the most senior of the clerks. They all disliked me from day one. No idea why. Eventually, I realized it was because I had just moved there from the West Coast and they were all East Coasters as this was in PA. Also, I think the fact that I learned a difficult job quickly and well and rarely made mistakes didn’t help. I spent the entire time in that office loving the job but hating the people I worked with except the two men who were sweethearts but were rarely there.

    At one point, I noticed another co-worker had made a mistake on an out-going bill of lading and pointed it out to my supervisor who was standing right there (literally just tapped her on the shoulder and used my finger to point to the missing initials) as we were supposed to let her know when something was incomplete. She made a HUGE deal out of it in front of the whole lobby of truck drivers. She had acted like I was running to her in a state of frenzy, that I was so overjoyed to find someone else’s mistake that I was “orgasmic”. She embarrassed me so much that I was close to tears and my face was completely red. The truck driver I was in the middle of signing out when this happened even looked at me in pity and said something nice to me about her being completely out of line. There were other instances, like the three girls collectively ganging up on me to insult me or make fun of something I had said that was so off the wall to them because they hadn’t ever heard it before. I couldn’t dress right, I couldn’t talk right and I certainly couldn’t joke around with them like they did with each other.

    Eventually, I quit that job and moved on but everything sticks in my head to this day because of how long I allowed myself to endure that treatment and because of how absolutely immature those girls were. We were all in our early 30’s by the way, this kind of behavior should have been long gone. The supervisor of the division, who sat in an office right off of ours, heard everything and never did anything. He knew how they treated me but he and my own supervisor were best buds and nothing was ever done.

    • avatar StaceyLynn says:

      I really sympathize with your situation as you described it. Is it possible to contact an attorney and see whether the situation is actionable? I’m not usually in favor of this, but it seems like an awfully extreme example of “hostile work environment”. If all you do is to notify the company’s version of HR and their owner, at least a dialog of sorts will be started if these “mean girls” are repeating this process with the next “new girl’. So sorry you went through this and I hope there is a way you can get both closure and some degree of vindication.

      • avatar Melissa Taylor says:

        Thank you for the support. This was years ago, and at the time, I had never dealt with women who were so overtly mean in a workplace. Only one of the three still works there. And I spoke up after I quit telling them why I was doing so. One of them moved on to another company and last I heard was spreading her venom around there behind the scenes to make herself look good while getting others fired. And another was fired for drug issues. People eventually see through these type of people and realize that they are snakes and then decide what to do from there. These people are unhappy with themselves and the best thing I can do is move on, live my life happily and know that I am a better person then those who were mean to me.

  3. avatar Paula says:

    Re the first letter: It just goes to show that some people never grow up! What a shame!

    • avatar David Bolton says:

      LW1: Sleep with their husbands. Then kill them all.

      LW2: If you are an adult and you want to have a relationship with this person—then you should establish your own relationship with this person. Establishing ties between the others is up to him—and them. Not you.

      • avatar R Scott says:

        “Sleep with their husbands. Then kill them all” and then go have a nice lunch.  A simple, elegant solution. Sometimes life really is just that easy.   :-)

        • avatar David Bolton says:

          Overheard in the ladies’ room:

          “Why, I never knew that carbon monoxide was both poisonous AND flammable!”

          “You don’t say!”

        • avatar Deeliteful says:

          Thank you, David B & R Scott for my biggest laugh today! (My son had been visiting for a few days and I’m just now catching up on the columns.)

  4. avatar Katharine Gray says:

    LW#1…all you have to do is watch The Real Housewives series, Dance Moms, Toddlers and Tiaras to know that mean girls don’t necessarily grow up.  I would chalk it up as a bad experience and like Margo says, realize it is their problem and not yours.  I  hope you can find some nice women to make friends with in your new location.  As for the workplace mean women, sadly its not uncommon for office cliques to be formed.  I’ve seen it in the workplace when there are a number of women working together and friends of mine have seen it as well.  Sometimes they gang up on one of their level, sometimes they gang up on their supervisor, and sometimes they gang up on each other.  In my experience the men in the workplace do not get involved because to them it is just stupid women’s drama, the clashes between the women are not generally over anything related to the work involved, and they just don’t get it.  I got it and on one occasion was so angry at the way one woman was lording it over her colleagues that I literally shook when I told her how wrong she was.  (I really do not recall how it came to my attention what was happening and how upset it was making some of the women (who worked for me)  and how I got in the middle of it but I did and I let the *mean girl* have it…unfortunately when I get that angry (its happened less than 10 times in my life) my voice shakes and I almost hyperventilate so I was hardly the voice of reason on that occasion.     

    LW#2:  My inclination is that if the dad didn’t want his wife and children to know about the child he gave up for adoption then its not anyone’s place to spill the beans.  If the aunt wants to bring this out in the open then there is really nothing you can do about it but don’t take it upon yourself to try to unite the siblings into one big happy family by spilling the beans yourself.  A friend of mine learned in the past 10 years or so (she is in her late 50s) that her mother had given up a child for adoption long before my friend’s parents met and married (it was a wartime affair gone bad for her mother).  Her mother did NOT want to reveal this secret but the daughter contacted her and pressured her into meeting her siblings. (The daughter had a fine life with her adoptive parents and I believe a sibling or two in her adoptive family).  Long story short, the *reunion* was held, a few meetings ensued thereafter, but neither side was really comfortable with the whole deal and they are not one big happy family.   Both sides are resentful…the adopted daughter because she was not raised by her biological mother and the younger children who resent the intrusion from the adopted daughter not to mention the pain she brought to their mother when she had to reveal the secret to them.  Neither side comes out looking very great here but that is life.   It might turn out all hunky dory for your cousins or it may not.  If it doesn’t, don’t be the source of the angst. And once they know (and your aunt will tell them) if they say to you *whay didn’t you TELL us* you can only say…it wasn’t my story to tell. 


  5. avatar Dan Bingham says:

    Mean girls, mean boys…. they both exist. I was harassed pretty constantly in school until I hit on the answer, which is two-fold. First, remember that nobody can embarrass you if you don’t let them. Second, THEY’RE the ones acting like idiots, not you. So act like it! It takes a while, but if you can manage to give them a good “You’re really not all there, are you?” stare, then turn around and walk away, you can usually leave THEM feeling embarrassed. (Yes, it works on grownups, too.)

    • avatar Katharine Gray says:

      Your right Dan, mean boys  exist too.  Just after I posted my comment, I was looking for something to read and found a book my husband bought called *The No Asshole Rule* about mean men and women in the workplace.  I came across more than one or two mean men in my workplaces…it seemed to me, however, that they did not form *packs* like the mean women did…they just made everyone miserable one on one.   But then you have the mean frat boy stories.  Your approach to give them a stare and walk away is a good one.

      • avatar lisakitty says:

        Agree, Katherine.  You nailed it. Another thing to address are the mean GAY men who hang in those packs with the mean girls.  They can be even more mean than the mean girls.

    • avatar Lila says:

      Ha, Dan, excellent! I mean the “You’re really not all there, are you?” stare. The Army did not have a lot of “mean girls” cliques, but I did a couple of tours with lots of civilians where that stare (or, if I was really annoyed, the comment: “What are you, twelve?”) could work wonders. You have to just not care what such petty people think of you.

      That said – in a social situation we usually have the choice to just go do something else with other people. But at work, such bullying can be poisonous and I think bosses need to deal with it as unprofessional behavior.

  6. avatar crystalclear says:

    I have never figured out why some women are so envious and spiteful of other women.   LW1 struck a nerve in me when I read it.   How an awful experience for the letter writer and you, Margo.   For some reason just reading what you both wrote broke my heart.     I’ve been told that I don’t have a mean bone in my body which I took as a compliment but honestly I could no more be mean and nasty to another woman than kick a precious puppy.   As adults, we should have the ability to be kind to people even when we know they would never be a close friend.   We have the power to be respectful and then put distance between us.   Taking the “high road” is important to our own self respect and being respectful to others who are different from us.    The word “bullies” comes to mind and “ganging up” on someone…the “pack mentality” seems to come from women who never matured and are envious of other women.   Sad.   What a terrible way to approach life IMO.

  7. avatar crystalclear says:

    Oops, should have read “What” an awful experience.    Wonderful comments here by the way.

  8. avatar crystalclear says:

    LW2, the truth always has a way of coming out.   I’m of the opinion that it is important to the child put up for adoption to connect with the family.   Often times, situations seem more difficult to face than they actually are.   We can’t change the past.   We can embrace it, deal with it, and find peace and understanding.    I hope for the best for this family. 

  9. avatar Davina Wolf says:

    I once worked for a major pharmaceutical company where the women were really sharp, professional and most were great friend material.  One day a new female employee came aboard who was gorgeous, with long, golden hair, beautiful skin and eyes, perfect figure, had an Ivy League degree and was married to a doctor.  The female coworkers, normally so personable and decent, were green with jealousy and treated the new woman horribly.  The new woman couldn’t figure out why everyone was so unfriendly toward her, and before long escaped the job to go to medical school herself.    

  10. avatar Cindy Marek says:

    L #1: You’re also dealing with a group mind. If you’re at all able to avoid them, I would. I hope your new town isn’t too *small* because that would make polite avoidance more difficult. They’re not worth trying to make inroads with; eventually you’d become One Of Them (eeewww). I have an ongoing social situation (via husband) where politeness and courtesy, and as much legit avoidance as possible, is paying off for me. Keep yourself busy otherwise; that way you’ve got legit excuses to avoid them.

    L #2: Frankly I think your mother should butt out. This concerns your *father’s* family.

  11. avatar lisakitty says:

    LW1:  Do mean girls exist as we “grow up”?  You betcha, sister. 

    I’ve seen it in so many places, even Bible studies!!!  I actually left my church for many years because of this type of behavior.  I have seen it very often on the job (Melissa’s story above hit close to home for me) and it’s usually an established group of chicks who peck on the new duck coming into the pond.  As a contract worker, I’ve learned to try to stay away from these women as much as possible but when I have to have contact, be as sweet as sugar to them.  

    In a personal situation such as the LWs, you need to be pretty careful.  Because these are the mothers of peers of your children, your relationship with the mothers will affect the relationship of the children.  I would send a classy thank you note to the person who invited you, and then decline all future invitations to the group lunch.  1:1 works better with mean girls, they feed off the pack mentality.  You may find individually that these women are perfectly wonderful, but when they get together they revert back to high school.

    • avatar Lila says:

      Lisakitty, good suggestion on the thank-you note and then no future activities with them. A classy way to stay above the fray… no, OUT of the fray entirely… and you are right, in that situation she should also consider the possible impact on the kids. Speaking of the kids, though… she should keep her ear to the ground listening for any indications that the kids are turning out like their parents, which also could impact her kids, if they turn out as “frenemies.”

  12. avatar ann penn says:

    Re LW2…

    Ah, those family secrets! In my own family, we learned after the death of a very elderly grandmother that she had not been fathered by the man who married her mother and raised her, so her siblings were half-siblings blood wise. This was revealed to one of her children a few months before she died. That child assumed others would know the whole story, and asked no questions. One sibling of Grandmother’s went so far as to lie on an earlier occasion about where Grandmother had been born, before GM could say otherwise (this was in a voice recording of the two of them, which I heard long after both were gone).

    Recently I have been doing genealogy, and the truth of her birth is right there in the online records, except for the identity of her father… which I would love to know.

    In 1965 the out of wedlock birth could have been shocking news. In 2012, more in the surprise category, IMO.

    Someone should tell the cousins of their brother’s existence and desire for family contact and leave the decision up to them. They are no doubt old enough to handle the news.

  13. avatar kanarcy says:

    I’m in my 30s and have experienced adult mean girls. Unfortunately this was in the work place. Every day I had to endure their silent treatment, mean comments and dirty looks. My crime? I have no clue because at one time we were all friendly and one day I was completely frozen out. It became such a hostile work environment that I had to leave for my own personal sanity. All I kept thinking to myself was I’m an adult, not in high school, why is this happening?

    From what I hear they are still up to their old trick and have a new victim. I just wish I had reported them to Human Resources. Nobody deserves to be treated that way.

    • avatar lisakitty says:

      kanarcy: you can still report them to HR.  I did this to back up a coworker who was going through a similar situation and it made a huge impact.  Often these types of people (mean chicks) act in a professional manner near their boss so the boss has no idea what is really going on.  You not being there any more actually gives more credence to you stepping forward to report them: you have nothing to gain.  There is no telling how costly these women have been to the company, not only because of the turnover (you leaving…. how many others have done so?) but because of the effect on productivity.  Please rethink your decision and consider reporting them to HR now.

  14. avatar bobkat says:

    What LW1 described is exactly the reason why I don’t do the ‘girls’ thing. Nine times out of ten, when a group of women get together, one of them ends up being picked on. There’s no excuse for supposed ‘adults’ to act this way.

  15. avatar crystalclear says:

    I agree that mean boys do exist.   However, I believe “mean” women are far  worse than men,   at least that has been my experience through the years.   I’m on several political sites and I have to say the number of adult women who behave worse than a full blown middle school girl attack is remarkable.   They are nasty, spiteful, and tremendously mean spirited.   They seem to  become a “pack” which tells me that these women are drawn to each other.   It’s sad to read those nasty comments coming from grandmothers and mothers (many have stated they’ve never had children).    These attacks occur simply because someone has a different political opinion.    The internet has opened up the doors for the bullies and those who wake up every morning mad at the world and take it to their computers.

  16. avatar John Lee says:

    Re: LW#1 (and many shared stories in the comments)

    To be sexist, why are women (in general, not specific), crazy?  To be fair, men, in general, can be selfish, but I least I get the reason.  Men create trouble to get benefits unfairly.  Why do women look to create trouble at no benefit to themselves?

    BTW, I am married and 90% of the time my wife is totally sane, but every so often, she is just crazy and she admits it.  Generally it’s PMS, but sometimes not.

    Again, as a man, I admit sometimes I’m selfish.

    • avatar D C says:

      I would say I blame “Reality” TV, but it’s so much older than that.  I think it goes back to a woman’s lack of power, being “property” to hand over from father to husband, not being legally allowed to own land, stuff like that.  Men were too powerful to fight, so fighting other women was something you could actually win at. But in order to keep favor with the men you had to cover it up with honey and butter (filled with salt instead of sugar) so the people with the power wouldn’t realize what a witch you were, and would keep you in the fashion to which you had become accustomed. 

      I think the Mean Girls are really the weak girls.  The only way they can feel better is to make others feel small.