When I saw the text message from my best friend showing a patch of hair cut out of her elementary school-aged daughter (who we will call J), I originally thought she had done what many kids do once they know how to use scissors. But the truth of what happened horrified me. A classmate, her “best friend,” had walked over, informed J that she was going to cut her hair and, despite protests, lifted up the top layer of hair and cut around her ear. Once my best friend finally got the truth out of her for what happened, she asked why she didn’t tell the teacher, or at least her what had happened? Of course, J was afraid she’d get in trouble with her teacher, but the other reason? Because she didn’t want her friend to be mad at her.
If that wasn’t heart breaking enough, it only got worse. When J finally confided in her teacher what happened, the little girl denied it (as to be expected). After a conference with the principal, she broke down and confessed and apologized. All was better, right? Well, if only it was that easy. That afternoon, some of J’s classmates approached her and said that her “friend” was going around calling her a liar and urging the classmates to not be friends with J. So let me get this straight. The little girl had the scissors. The little girl walked up to J and told her she was going to cut her hair. J told her no. She did it anyway and then lied to the teacher and, up until her breakdown and confession, to the principal. But J is the liar who shouldn’t have friends?
I have one word to describe that behavior: Bullying. Well, what I like to call Unconventional Bullying.
When you hear the word bullying, you automatically think of the big kid on the playground picking on the younger kids. Threatening all sorts of things if you didn’t bring them your lunch money or your toys. Shoving you in the locker. In recent years, you may even think about anonymous messages sent on social media or spreading rumors about the “different” kid in school who doesn’t fit in. But what happens when the mean words, threats or negative actions come from someone you consider close? Unconventional Bullying.
I’ve personally witnessed Unconventional Bullying in just about all age groups. In fact, I’ve even been the “victim” of it myself through the years (though I definitely don’t consider myself a victim in any sense of the word). It isn’t just elementary school kids cutting their friends hair.
It’s my four-year-old daughter running to me, sobbing, because her best friend called her a baby for the twelfth time in the past two hours, and it’s not a new trend.
It’s the middle school me being met with laughter and rolling eyes because “you really want to talk about that weird band again?”
It’s the high school me feeling isolated from her old friends because her “better” ones would rather eat somewhere else. But then those same “better” friends sit her down after school to ask what’s wrong, blind to the fact that it’s the mean notes and generally how they treat her that’s wrong.
It’s being an adult that’s suddenly back in high school because you somehow got sucked into drama that isn’t even yours. Being asked to lie, never knowing what words from your friend are the truth, and dozens of little comments that leave you feeling insecure around them.
It’s all of these, and still thinking that person is your best friend. And you put up with it because you have this notion that best friends stick together through thick and thin. I’m here to tell you that that’s not the truth. Will the occasional drama happen? Well, sure, maybe, especially in the teen years. But where does that line from normal to Unconventional Bullying get crossed?
Don’t confuse Unconventional Bullying with Bullying. It’s different, which is why I call it Unconventional. Unconventional Bullying doesn’t mean that there was a big mean bully seeking out a weak victim for their joy, it means a friend treating you how you shouldn’t be treated, but expecting you to stick around. You don’t have to stick around.
If you’re coming home after spending time with your best friend and you’re questioning if your interests are okay or weird, it’s not friendship. If you come home and you’re crying for the fifth time this week because you were once again passed a nasty note, it’s not friendship. If you come home and have to ask another friend if they would have taken these words negatively, because you can’t get them off your mind and they hurt your soul, it’s not friendship. It’s all just different versions of that little girl implying to J, “Let me do this to you, or we won’t be friends anymore.”
But guess what? You don’t deserve that friend. You don’t need the friend that comes with self-compromising conditions. That’s not a friend! You deserve the friend who you can laugh with for hours and feel like minutes have gone by. You deserve the friend who can stand the test of time and distance. You deserve the friend where the biggest fight is over if a movie was good or not. You deserve who accepts you for everything you are and is your biggest cheerleader in all aspects of your life, even if it’s different from their own.
I have spent so much of my life being unconventionally bullied, even now when I’m half way through my twenties, but not anymore. I have two very best friends, and a number of other close friends, who are amazing. I am unapologetically me and they stand by my side and applaud that, and I for them. They are real friends. Go find the friends you deserve.
Hello! I'm Lindsey. I'm a writer with a ton of random thoughts bouncing around in my head. So I share them here in hopes that they reach others with these thoughts.