The Popularity Game and the Friendship Trap

Born and bred a British, Shamima, 16, is all about creativity and self-expression. She wishes to pursue a career in Medicine and pursue her interests in poetry, fashion, writing and maybe in the distant future, property development.

What is school life really about? Well at 16 + it’s all exams and college and careers, it’s when your conscience is screaming at you to pull your act together and get serious. Before that? From experience I can tell you that it’s pretty dull, dreary and aimless; you’re not really working towards anything, there is no exam pressure and well, you’re free to do as you wish really. So what are these early teens actually up to if homework, coursework, revision is not at the top of their agenda?

From experience I can tell you that at 13 there IS tension and there is stress. Stress to be the best! Lacking that special friendship that takes years to develop, friends aren’t really friends. Friends are actually people you latch on to, to keep yourself at the top, safe and secure, because if you’re not one of Them, you’re no one at all. Invisible. And the one at the top, the Don (in my time), the one who gives the order, the yes or the no, the what’s hot and what’s not, is just a person with a bloated ego hiding behind a façade of über-cool.

Here is the story of someone I know, whose situation made me realize that the Popularity Game and the Friendship Trap are more that just a phase, they are collectively one big monster of a problem!

Let’s call her Jade.

With a sparkling personality, happy-go-lucky, loud and boisterous, Jade was easily the most popular girl in the class, not that she considered herself so. She was a friend of everyone and for that reason, everyone loved her, and although she didn’t deem herself the best she did love the attention and admiration.

The following year, a new girl was to start in Jade’s class, Jade and all her classmates where eager to meet her. Let’s call her Scarlet. The moment the teacher brought Scarlet into the room, Jade jumped up; ‘Hiya Scarlet!’ Jade had said as loud as she could, causing everyone’s attention to turn in her direction.

After the teacher had left, Scarlet, who was seating in front of Jade, turned to Jade. ‘So are you like the most popular girl in the whole class?’ she inquired.

Scarlet was of course a new girl, so when she kept cutting in to protest that whatever music someone was talking about wasn’t cool she was immediately put down by those around. Scarlet wasn’t heading off to a very good start and as she snickered and critiqued, her class were becoming to really dislike her.

That was when Jade felt sorry for her, after all she was a friend to everyone and even though her friends where blanking out the ‘annoying’ new girl, Jade decided she should at least be friends with Scarlet. Quickly Jade and Scarlet became the very best of friends and Jade tried her absolute best to tolerate Scarlet’s nonsense and criticism and a new characteristic she hadn’t previously been aware of, her dominance. But friends accept their friends just they way they are, Scarlet liked to play the lead, she felt that her favourite music and style etc ought to be everyone’s; she wanted to be the best and Jade accepted that.

Slowly Jade’s friends started making an effort to get along with Scarlet and they became a little group who always hung around together. Scarlet called the shots, Scarlet poked her nose in everyone business and pointed fingers and sadly so did the rest of the group including Jade. Jade didn’t realise is but she had become Scarlet puppet, no longer thinking for herself.

Jade, Scarlet and there friends only became a problem to me when they started preying on a very good friend of mine, not surprisingly the most popular girl in the whole school. That was when I realised what Scarlet’s problem was, she wanted to be the most popular girl, she couldn’t accept that there were people who others preferred over her, who were more popular. Although Jade no longer called all the shots, one particular thing separated her from Scarlet. People liked Jade for who she was, she needn’t pretend, she was smart and respected people so everyone genuinely liked her. Jade was also talented, in writing, art and football, something Scarlet could never have, and Scarlet didn’t like that one bit.

Scarlet did her best to put Jade down. And when Scarlet got in trouble, which she often did, she dragged Jade down with her. Jade and Scarlet were becoming a nuisance to the older students, and Scarlet couldn’t understand that while her class ‘liked’ her, no one else did.

Like I said, Jade is someone I know, in fact, someone I know very well and care a lot about. So watching this go one on front of me, well, it was beginning to get on my nerves. I spoke to Jade. Didn’t she realize what Scarlet was doing? Couldn’t she see what Scarlet was? No less than a parasite and a bully, what Jade was definitely not, even if she did trail behind Scarlet and did as she did.

‘That’s just the way she is’, Jade had protested. ‘She’s my friend!’

Scarlet was no friend, that was for sure and she was taking advantage of Jade, sucking the life out of her. She pretended she was good at poetry, people asked her to write things for them, Scarlet would ask Jade to write it and then take it to those people who applauded Scarlet’s supposed talent. Something Jade eventually came to know about. And when Jade made a fabulous sketch that looked so amazing that everyone couldn’t help but admire it, Scarlet tucked it neatly into her folder and did not return it. She would randomly open her folder, admire the sketch and close it, right in front of Jade.

‘It’s as though she’s stealing it right in front of my eyes’, Jade had said, despairingly.

‘Well get it off her’, I advised.

But she couldn’t do it!

Jade was also writing a story, another one of her strengths, and as Scarlet was her friend, Jade made sure she involved Scarlet, but then Scarlet decided to take it home, modify it a little and well, not return it. That was a bit more difficult to retrieve but Jade insisted she can write better so we left it at that.

By now Jade was growing frustrated, and she too could confidently say that Scarlet is not the friend she once thought her too be. But all of Jade’s friends are Scarlet’s friends. And she and Scarlet are considered to be inseparable; no one can contemplate one without the other.

Jade has been caught in the Friendship Trap, she doesn’t want to be Scarlet’s friend but how could she possibly break up with her? What would she say, ‘I don’t want to be your friend any more because you take advantage of me’? Was that a good enough reason to break a friendship of 2 years? And how would her friends react? She couldn’t possibly remain in the group while she was no longer Scarlet’s friend? Would her friends still be her friends?

Without the security of a group, Jade would be completely on her own, would she be able to handle it? Or should she continue to suffer under Scarlet’s reign if it meant she’d still have the security of the group?

The Popularity Game and the Friendship Trap are what every young teen has to endure; there are winners and losers, those who take advantage of it and those who just suffer because of it. Everyone enjoys being popular, or amongst the popular at school but is it really as amazing as it seems or even necessary?

In this story, Scarlet is the Queen of the class but what will happen when she moves on to college, where people are more open minded and groups are few, when her nonsense will no longer be tolerated. How will she cope?

And Jade?  She’s been involved in a lot of trouble in school because of her antics with Scarlet, and is now one of the prime suspects in any mayhem when a trouble-maker is not what she really is! As well as that, her talents and achievements have been completely overlooked because Scarlet had taken all the credit for them.

Neither wins.

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One Response to “The Popularity Game and the Friendship Trap”

  1. Alex
    September 4, 2010 at 3:43 pm #

    This is one of the rare situations, I guess, in which the “critical” girl becomes popular to any extent and the malleable, superficial, “likable” girl gets any less attention.

    Scarlet just sounds like she knows what’s up. :) Why should she have to hide her music/fashion taste or her feelings about others? Besides that, though, it is obvious that she’s a big charlatan. Who the hell steals their friends’ writings and drawings and passes them off as their own? If she isn’t talented artistically she can do great in the business world someday manipulating people.

    But you sound like a nice girl, and I’m glad there are people out there who still care about friendships, honesty, etc.

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