I have this friend, “M”, who’s a little… overdramatic, to say the least. We are both involved in the same extracurricular activities and spend a lot of time together, so it seemed natural that we should become friends. I have been hanging out with M for almost a year now, and most of the time, I enjoy her company. We didn’t hang out with the same groups, so our individual friendship stayed separate to the whole clique-politics deal.
But one afternoon, M came and plonked herself down at our table on the verge of tears. It was the first of many “bullying’ incidents”, and M proceeded to tell us a long, convoluted story about how she had been “victimized” and “humiliated” by another group of girls. She continued to hang out with us from then on. M constantly complains to me about how the teachers pick on her, her parents don’t understand her, and, more recently, that one of my friends is bullying her.
My friends are irked, to say the least. Most of them had already expressed dislike for M prior to her arrival in our friendship group, and some portion of the blame for M’s hysterical and melodramatic behaviour falls to me. In short, they want me to tell M that they don’t like how she is behaving and would like her to stop hanging out with us. I understand that they don’t like M and I understand why, but I think that there might be something more serious going on with M. She doesn’t have any friends outside of our group, and I think she might be struggling with her mental health. To cut off her support network at this time would possibly be very damaging to M.
What should I do, Auntie?
To begin with, Sparkler, you should take a read back through your own letter and see if you can guess which part made Auntie SparkNotes nearly do a spit take all over her keyboard. And if you don’t have a clue what I’m talking about, let me give you a hint:
It’s the part where you describe M’s claims of “bullying” like they’re something she’s just making up, and then in the very next paragraph you’re like, “So anyway, on a totally unrelated note, all of my friends who never liked M (despite not really knowing her at all) want me to tell her that she sucks as a person and should never come near us again.”
And that’s a problem, sweet pea—one that makes your question very difficult to answer. For one thing, even if a person is something of a drama queen, that doesn’t mean she’s immune from bullying, or that she’s lying when she says other kids are targeting her. But in this case, I also have to wonder: is she really even as annoying as you say? Or are people just determined to see her that way, because she’s an outcast with little to no social capital and demonizing her gives them a free pass to treat her cruelly? Even you, who claim to genuinely enjoy this girl’s company, can’t write a neutral description of her behavior without injecting all kinds of editorial snark to make sure we all know what a bore she is: hysterical, melodramatic, always complaining about some convoluted story. I mean, have you noticed that in your version of events, M doesn’t even sit down like a normal person? She plonks.
I’ll let you decide for yourself how you might feel if someone you considered a friend talked about you that way. (Humiliated and victimized, perhaps?) But with your friends having decided that the best solution to all the plonking melodrama is to make M go away—and that you, her only friend, should be the one to let her know in no uncertain terms just how undesirable she is… uhhhh. I mean. Are we still pretending like it’s a mystery why M feels people are bullying her?
The thing is, I don’t think you really believe that M is being treated fairly, hence the casting about for reasons not to do what your friends are asking. Specifically, I think it’s why you’re holding up the spectre of M’s possible mental health issues to explain to your friends why you’re not so sure about ostracizing her: that’s the kind of argument you use with people who won’t be swayed by ordinary appeals to decency, because they’ve already decided that it’s okay to be mean to someone like M, who is an irritating social pariah and therefore deserves it.
Here’s where things get complicated: Because of the ambiguity in your letter, I can’t actually tell you what to do next. Is M actually a hysterical drama queen with a victim complex? Or are you just trying to make her look like one, to convince me (and maybe yourself, too) that the cruel thing your friends want to do to her is justified?
I don’t know the answers to those questions. But fortunately, you do—and if you’re honest with yourself about it, you’ll know what your next step should be. Think about your friendship with M, what you like about her, why you enjoy her company. Think about the way people treat her and talk about her: is it fair? Is it kind? Would you like to be treated the same way? If not, why not? Finally, think about what your friends are asking you to do, and why. What is the argument for ostracizing M rather than talking to her? What has she actually done? Is this how they treat everyone, or just those who lack the social clout to defend themselves? If you weren’t friends with these girls, what would you think of their behavior?
Somewhere in the center of all that is the truth, and the solution to your problem. Maybe it’s time to reevaluate your friendships, and take a step back from the folks in your group who blame you because they find M annoying and think it should be your job to bully her out. Maybe it’s time to take stock of your membership in this group in general, and ask yourself how much you want “clique politics” to rule your social life moving forward. And maybe M needs a compassionate reality check about boundaries and her tendency to turn every interaction into a complain-a-thon… but maybe you need one yourself, too, about what would compel you to write a letter like this about someone you call a friend. I can only tell you that what you do next is up to you, and you have any number of options — but if you dedicate some time to thinking through this issue honestly and carefully, I have every faith that whatever choice you make will be one you can live with.
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