A reader asked:
What do I do if my friends are rude to me constantly but they’re my only friends and I literally cannot make friends with anyone else cause I have a v v v small school and they’re the only people around my age? It hurts a lot and I get overlooked a lot and when I try to say something I get ignored or told to shut up:
A couple of things:
These other people at your school might not be your friends. People who dislike you and are mean to you aren’t actually friends. Friends are people who you like, and who like you back. Friends are people who respect you and who you respect. Friends are people who are, generally speaking, nice to you (no one is perfectly nice all the time; everyone is mean or obnoxious occasionally. But people who are intentionally cruel are not friends. They’re bullies).
If people don’t like you, don’t want you around, and are mean to you, that’s probably not something you can change. It’s not usually possible to persuade people to be your friends or be nice to you if they don’t already want to.
Something you can sometimes do is assert boundaries. Sometimes if people are nice to you sometimes but not other times, you can limit your interactions to contexts in which they are nice.
- If students in your school are nice when adults are looking and mean when they’re not, it might be best to limit your interactions to closely supervised settings (eg: hang out with them in the lunch room and not outdoors during breaks)
- Some people are nice in mixed-gender grounds but mean in single-gender groups, or vice versa. If you notice that pattern, it might be worth paying attention to the gender composition of a group you’re trying to hang out with
- Some people are nice one on one, but mean in groups. It can sometimes be worth making a point of hanging out with those people only individually.
That said: Being isolated at school is horrible, but I think that being socially intertwined with people who are mean to you is a lot worse (I’ve experienced both). I’m not you and I can’t tell you what you should do – you are the best judge of that. But, from my perspective, I think you would probably be better off seeking friends elsewhere. That’s probably possible even if you’re in a small school.
Friends don’t have to be people who go to your school. Friends don’t have to be your age. Friends don’t have to be people you see in person. There are other ways to have friends.
I’m assuming that you’re a teenager and that you don’t have very much control over your life right now. I don’t know which of these suggestions are realistic for you, but probably some of them are:
One option you almost certainly have is to make friends online. Internet friends are real friends, and can be much better friends than people you know in person who are mean to you. If you take those relationships seriously as friendships, it will probably substantially improve your social life. One good way to meet people online is by participating in a fandom. If you really like something, finding other people to talk to online about that thing can be a good way to make friends and have fun interacting with people. If you’re being actively bullied at school, or if your parents are hostile, it’s probably best to do this in forums that don’t require you to use your real name. (Eg: Tumblr is likely better for this than Facebook.)
Another option is to join a club or group that takes you out of your school, or to take a class outside of school. For instance, many people enjoy the Boy Scouts or the Girl Scouts. (Unlike Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts is a secular organization and is not actively hostile to gay and trans kids.) It doesn’t work for everyone, but some people who are very socially isolated in school have a good time socially in the scouts or in other clubs.
If there is a community center in your area, you might be able to play a sport or take an art class. It doesn’t have to be a class specifically for people your age – it can be really, really good to meet people of a range of ages, especially if you have trouble connecting with people your own age. If you find a group of people doing a thing you like, you’re likely to have more friends than if you’re just relying on people who go to your school.
If you’re in high school, taking college classes at a local community college might also be an option. That might be both more interesting than what you’re doing at school, and a way to meet people who don’t go to your school and might be nicer than you. (It doesn’t always work that way, but it does for some people.)
Another option is to volunteer. Is there a cause in your area that you care about? It might be worth finding out if there’s anything that you can do to help them. Again, that could bring you into contact with other people who care about the same things you care about, and it might be something people with power over your life would approve of. Volunteering to visit elderly people might also be something you could do. There are a lot of isolated elderly people who don’t use computers who want social contact, and some of them are really awesome. Some groups that match people accept teenagers as volunteers. (Again, not for everyone, but this is a good thing for some people.)
If you’re religious or your family is, there might be things you can get involved in at your place of worship that you’d enjoy and that would expand your social options beyond kids your age at your school. If you have a youth group that is largely populated by the same kids who are mean to you at school, it might be better to get involved in something else. For instance, there might be a social action or charitable group that you could join. Or an all-ages study group. (Definitely not for everyone, especially not if religion is something you’re unpleasantly coerced into participating in. But can be good for some people.)
Short version: Mean people aren’t good friends. It’s usually better to seek out the company of people who are nice to you than to try to make friends with mean people. Even if you are young and go to a tiny school, there are options for finding friends. Scroll up for some ideas.