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Gossip and Girls

I went out with some girls from high school the other night. I love these girls, but whenever I go out with them, I become very aware that I am with girls from high school. As in, I’ve suddenly time-travelled back five years and everything is the same except that everyone has more sex and talks about it more openly.

I don’t quite fit in with this group, mostly because it does feel very much like a group, with rules and boundaries and only certain members allowed in. I’ve never been good at this sort of girl-friendship. I make great one-on-one friends, but the whole group thing has never really worked out too well for me. So, I’m more of a peripheral member; when I arrive at gatherings, I’m quite frequently greeted with, “I didn’t know you were coming!” Which is fine- I’m happy to see them and I have fun, but in the end I know they’re not the people I could call if I ever needed help.

Anyway. I’ve been hearing about J for some time. She’s not from our high school- she’s an interloper who’s dating one of the boys from the nearby boys high school who also make up this clique. So naturally, the girls hate her. All I hear about is how J is soooo annoying and sooooo stupid and such a slut and what the hell is this guy thinking still going out with her?

So it was strange that when I finally met her that night, they were all acting like her best friends. They were all hugging and laughing together and bitching about some other girl called M. I thought, “Okay, I guess things have changed- they’ve accepted J, and now it’s M’s turn to be the one everyone hates.” Until J left to get a drink, and the conversation suddenly turned back to her.

Obviously, this isn’t a new revelation or anything. Girls bond by bitching about other girls- it’s a pretty normal part of almost any female friendship, at least in the way I have experienced it. Psychologists have studied it-  sharing negative information about other people helps create a sense of familiarity and closeness, and for whatever reason (well, probably a lot of reasons, which are too complicated to go into here), it seems to be a particularly female phenomenon. One of the reasons Mean Girls is so popular is because it’s actually scarily accurate. It’s funny because it’s true- there are moments in that move that I think any girl could recognise from her own experiences.

And to be fair, we all participate in it to some extent or another. I know I do. It’s a culture most of us have just grown up with, so it’s just become internalised. And a lot of the time, it’s fairly harmless. It just sucks when you’re the target of it.

But even though I’ve known all about this paradox of girl friendship culture since my first experiences of it in primary school, I think this might have been one of the first times I’ve been able to observe it so closely from the outside, without really being a part of it. And I couldn’t help but wonder: if J has no idea that these girls don’t like her, would I have any idea? If she thinks they’re her close friends, if she’s actually part of this group that I’m only on the outskirts of, would I be able to tell the difference between real friendship and fake?

I’m just not sure. And that thought can be kind of scary.

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