| Take 2 |

Rochel and Tova 

When Hashem gives us a gift it obligates us to use it and make the most of it



Hi, I’m Rochel. I don’t usually do this sort of thing but I’m desperate for some advice.

I’ll state it plainly and, hopefully, without gaavah: I’m extremely popular. I have an endless number of friends who are constantly vying for my attention and approval. It can get a bit wearisome at times. I’d like to think I divide my attention evenly between all my friends, and I try awfully hard not to be the cause of hurt feelings, but it’s not always easy.

Overall, I don’t mind being the popular girl. It’s flattering and it gives me the responsibility of being the leader, something I gladly accept. I would say my flexible and charismatic personality, coupled with fairness and consideration, make me the perfect candidate for this role.

Unfortunately, it does come with inconveniences too.

If my own friends compete for my attention, it’s expected that less cool and unpopular girls do too. I’m not complaining about that in particular. I can honestly say I try my best to be nice to everyone and to include all girls in anything we do as a group. But one girl in particular is just going way too far.

Her name is Tova, and she’s really sweet. She just has no boundaries. The second the bell rings at the end of a lesson, she hops up like a bunny rabbit and sits herself at my side before my brain has even acknowledged the break has started. She stares at me unblinkingly as I chatter or chew on a snack, which is intensely awkward. At lunch she always sits directly across from me. She follows me around everywhere. It’s like having a living, breathing shadow and it’s driving me nuts! She calls me at home, hints incessantly that she wants to hang out, and I simply don’t know what to do anymore.

I’ve thought about it time and time again that I have to say something to her privately. But how do you crush a girl’s soul without feeling incredibly guilty and mean? I know a confrontation will not go well. There have been instances, embarrassing ones, where she’s stormed away from me in front of a whole group of people, tears streaming down her face, from something I wasn’t even aware of doing. I have to find a way to put some space between us without totally hurting her feelings forever. I’m desperate for advice. Anything you can recommend?

Hello, I’m Tova. I’m in 11th grade and I go to a big school full of lots of girls. I’m not at all comfortable or confident in the social department, so school’s rough for me. I’ve had a hard time since I was a kid, with people making fun of me and not including me. There was one girl in my class in second grade who made a gigantic slumber party for all the girls and just “forgot” to invite me. I remember overhearing them talking about it at recess, clueless that if I heard, it might hurt my feelings. In third grade, for parshas Noach, the school had a petting zoo come. I love animals so I was having a lot of fun, until I reached over to give a donkey some animal food from my hand and it whinnied loudly and sprayed me with a full mouthful of spit. I jumped backward from disgust and shock and fell right into a puddle of muddy water. Every single girl was laughing at me and they refused to come near me all day. It was awful and it still makes me sad when I think about it.

I can go on and on about my horrible elementary school experiences. In eighth grade I finally made a friend. Her name was Rivka. We stuck close together and made our own little friendship in a sea of cliques. For me, it was pure bliss. To finally have someone to share awkward recesses with, eat snack with, hang out with out of school.

Around January, however, Rivka moved and switched schools. To me, it was the end of the world, but there was nothing I could do about it. She moved away, we lost touch, and I retreated back into my lonely pit of solitude. School was unbearable as ever and I dreaded every day. And high school was even worse.

Until Rochel.

Rochel Friedman is the most popular girl in our grade. There’s not one girl who dislikes like her or resents her for being so well-liked. She is nice to everyone, but most importantly, she is nice to me. I will never forget the first time she said hello to me, offered me a cookie, and sat next to me at lunch. I was so shocked I could barely speak. She didn’t seem perturbed in any way that I was tongue-tied. Over the next couple of months, she continued to say hi to me every day and offer me that sunny smile that made me feel so happy inside. I remember thinking hopefully, maybe Rochel could be my friend.

The first time I tried to sit next to her at recess, she smiled encouragingly and scooted to make room for me. I can’t even describe my happiness. I love having a friend, someone who doesn’t shun me or make me feel like a bother, even though I usually make the first move.

I try to be around her as much as I can so that she’ll notice me, maybe invite me over or something. But she doesn’t. I don’t know how else to get closer to her. I consider her my best friend, but the feeling is not reciprocated. It’s really disappointing. How do I make this work in my favor?

Mindy’s Take

Popularity and charisma, like all of Hashem’s gifts, come along with responsibilities and obligations. The first obligation is to remember that it is a gift. If you gift me with a beautiful piece of jewelry or a brand-new car, we all understand that those items don’t make me a superior person, just a luckier one. It is a greater challenge to remember that with the personality gifts, talents, and strengths that Hashem gives us. However, the principle is the same.

We are responsible to use our gifts properly and to make a kiddush Hashem. When Hashem gives us a gift it obligates us to use it and make the most of it.

Rochel, it sounds like you recognize the great gift that you received and that you make a conscious effort to use it properly. Balance is the key to living an emotionally healthy life. We need to give, but with boundaries. I trust that you can speak with Tova in a respectful, loving way that will minimize any hurt feelings. I know this based on the way you are asking your question with such sensitivity and trepidation. Take time to prepare exactly what you want to say and how you want to say it. Start off by explaining what you like about her and the friendship, and only then specifically what you would like her to fix. To prove that you value the friendship end off with a specific invitation to do something together. Example: “Tova, I really enjoy our friendship. I especially enjoy when we hang out together during lunch and when we all get together to study. Sometimes though I like to spend time with other friends or by myself. During the short breaks when you come over to my desk the minute the bell rings, I feel a little cramped. Please don’t feel bad as I really enjoy our friendship. I also wanted to know if you can come over tonight and babysit with me.”

After you decide what you want to say to Tova, please run it by an adult who you trust, to make sure that your words will be effective and not hurtful. Also, don’t forget to daven that the conversation should go well and not cause harm.

Tova, the pain of exclusion and bullying is real. Your emotional pain can rival intense physical pain. The same way a physical injury is treated professionally, compassionately, and promptly to avoid infection, emotional pain must be dealt with as well. Your value, as defined by your neshamah, is eternal and unlimited. No person, insult, or emotional injury can diminish that eternal value. It is your job to make sure that you recognize, feel, and live up to your most precious value.

To answer your specific scenario:

Two girls can be walking down the same path. A third girl causally brushes past both of them. One girl smiles while the other shrieks in pain. What is the difference? The girl who shrieked in pain had a huge burn on her back. The physical touch was identical, but the resulting feelings were definitely not!

Tova, you were burned numerous times. Injuries can blind us and cause us to react more intensely than what is appropriate. Two tricks to gauge yourself by:

  1. Matching Law — look at everyone else and follow the norms of average. Are most people running to sit next to the same girl during every break or is there more of a give and take? What are most girls doing? Diversity is good. If some girls walk, others schmooze, and still others play sports, take turns trying out all options.
  2. The way to find a best friend is not to try for one. When we want one exclusive best friend, we often come across too strong, scaring our potential friend away. Although it might seem contradictory, the way to make a best friend is to make many friends. The way to acquire many friends is to be a friend. Look out for what you can contribute and do for others. Everyone can use a good friend — even popular girls!

Mindy Rosenthal M.S., BCBA/LBA, teaches social skills, executive function skills, and other skills to incredible children, teens, and their parents. She is also the lucky director of student services at Ilan High School and consults nationally and internationally, on social skills, executive function, and behavioral programs. She can be reached through Teen Pages.

(Originally featured in Teen Pages, Issue 854)

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