By Esther Mann

Dear Esther,

When I was in high school, I had a hard time socially. I was very shy and insecure and really didn’t have any friends. There was one girl in particular, Mimi, who represented everything I wanted to be. She was pretty, confident, outgoing, had lots of friends, and seemed to be a magnet for everyone.

I always admired Mimi and felt that if I could get her to notice me, then maybe I would have a shot, in general, of being noticed by the rest of the girls in my grade. After all, she was the gold standard, and if she looked your way, you were in.

Though it was totally out of my comfort zone, I tried really hard to get Mimi’s attention. I forced myself to speak to her, though it was very painful for me, and once even tried inviting her over to my house. To say that she blew me off is an understatement. Her response was so demeaning, it felt like she thought it was almost hilarious that someone like me would try to befriend her. So after a couple of tries, I gave up trying; I didn’t want to make a complete fool of myself. I decided my fate was to be unpopular and alone.

Thank G-d, things turned around once I got married and had children. My husband has helped me in many ways become the adult I am today — sure of myself and more comfortable around people. We moved into this community around six years ago, and we have a really nice group of friends through our shul and our children. I feel very connected to others and have come into my own.

About a month ago, I was at shul when I was suddenly approached by a woman I didn’t recognize at first. But I quickly realized it was Mimi. She told me she had just moved into the neighborhood. She was acting all sweet and friendly and complimentary. She doesn’t know too many people here and seemed extremely excited to see me, since I was one of very few familiar faces to her. She was acting as though we were best friends in high school and hoping to pick up where we left off. What a joke! Where we left off? We left off with her making me feel like a nothing — not worthy of her smallest attention, let alone being her friend.

I’m not a vindictive person in general, but I suddenly feel as though I have the upper hand. I don’t need any more friends; I feel content and very comfortable socially. It seems that Mimi, on the other hand, is a little desperate to fit right in and make friends. My husband did meet her husband and said that he is very nice and that I should get over my high-school drama and be nice to her and inclusive. It’s not so much that I want to punish her for the pain she caused me as much as I just don’t trust her. She was a mean girl in high school and I can’t imagine that she is suddenly nice. And for that reason, I want to keep my distance.

My question to you is whether people can really change. Deep down, can a mean girl turn into a nice woman, or is her character constant for life?

Probably Not Interested

Dear Not Interested,

I’m glad to hear that things have worked out so well for you and that you’ve found the peace and friendships that eluded you growing up. Considering how well things are going for you, it’s not hard to understand why you are not particularly motivated to change the status quo of your social life. Socially speaking, things seem to be working perfectly well for you right now and you don’t feel there is any reason to rock the boat and take up with someone who can trigger memories of former pain and sadness. Not to mention that someone is an individual who is possibly capable of hurting you once again.

The question is whether Mimi has truly changed or whether she is just feeling kind of desperate and doing and saying whatever is necessary in order to get her bearings socially. We have no way of knowing what her motivation is. You could allow her into your life and see for yourself whether she is the real deal or not, with the knowledge that if she is the same old high-school Mimi, you can move on, knowing you are secure in your other friendships, having lost nothing in the process.

But to answer your specific question, I do believe people can change, and I believe some people can change dramatically. Sometimes it’s just a matter of growing up and maturing into a better, well-rounded, more sensitive, self-aware individual. Just the process of aging can do wonders for an individual. It doesn’t work for everyone, but that’s the case for many people.

Additionally, as life throws us curveballs, we are often forced to slow down, take stock, and hopefully learn valuable lessons from the hardships we experience. It doesn’t sound as though you know anything about what Mimi has been up to in all these years since high school. There is no way of knowing whether the “mighty have fallen” due to a myriad of possible scenarios. But often, the much-adored and admired “queen bee” in high school winds up being anything but. High-school Mimi could, in fact, have very little in common with present-day Mimi.

So though you owe Mimi nothing and it would be understandable if you felt you didn’t want to go out of your way for her, obviously the kind thing to do would be to give her a chance, coming from a place of strength and confidence. You of all people know what it feels like to be the outsider looking in and how much you would have appreciated someone reaching out to you during your awful high-school days. You’re in a wonderful position to take the high road and assume the best from her. Again, if she falls back into old patterns of behavior, you can quickly lose her number. But for now you know better — and when you know better, you do better.

Esther

Esther Mann, LCSW, is a psychotherapist in Hewlett. Esther works with individuals and couples. Together with Jennifer Mann, she also runs the “Navidaters.” She can be reached at mindbiz44@aol.com or 516-314-2295.

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