New research suggests that when it comes to bullying, mostly-popular and semi-popular kids have it worse than the rejects. Among the interesting findings:

  • Except for those at the very top, the higher you go the more (figurative) hits you will take.
  • Even among isolated kids, the higher-status kids report depression, anxiety, and anger.
  • Most forms of “instrumental targeting” are not physical in nature. The gender split here is exactly what you would expect it to be.
  • An interesting buffer against same-gender targeting is having opposite-gender friends.

I’ve commented on that last part before. Cross-gender friendships seemed to something that occurred with more frequency the higher up the hierarchy you went. Unpopular kids had few, if any, opposite-gender friendships. Popular kids had many. As my own social prospects improved, I started to gain opposite-gender friends.

There are probably numerous reasons for this, but it does support an unfortunate cycle. Guys who spend less time with girls do not learn how to act with girls, which hurts not only their ability to get girlfriends but also their ability to make friends with girls. And on, and on. It’s my experience that a factor feeding into this is fear, on the part of girls, of potential romantic interest on his part. Certain guy types will point to this as proof of female fear of loss of cultural status by virtue of interest from the wrong guy, but I’d point out in response to that having someone unidirectionally interested in you can be stressful. Especially when he never actually gives you the opportunity to shoot him down, which in my experience happens quite a bit with undesirable guys.

I’m less certain why less popular lady types have difficulty making male friends since I have never been a less popular lady type. I would assume it is mostly related to unattractive women often simply being invisible to guys. Background furniture, as one friend put it. Further, in both directions, less popular people are disinclined to reach out in ways that make them uncomfortable, which going across gender lines often does.

Yet, as interesting as I find all of this, the study suggests a more complicated picture than the one I see. People up and down the hierarchy, apparently, have issues with a dearth of opposite-gender friends, and this leads to problems. Why? I would guess status markers here matter, but also because of the effect on dating prospects. Maligning another guy who has female friends means potentially alienating any friends he has from the dating pool, and maybe even friends of those friends. That supercedes intragender rivalries.

That would only work, however, if they don’t find the opposite-gender friend to be equally or more worthy of contempt. I remember in 10th grade theater class getting picked on precisely because of the female friends I had in that class. Female friends who were utterly outside the interest of the guys giving me a hard time. It’s honestly among the few times I remember being so targeted in my relatively bearable high school years.

That guys and gals higher up feel the assault more keenly is not actually terribly surprising. They have further to fall and all that. It’s also my experience that by the time you get to high school you can fade into the background if you so wish. At least, if you went to a big high school like I did. Thus making people of higher and thus more conspicuous social standing a more frequent target.

Category: School

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6 Responses to Players of the Game Get Hurt

  1. says:

    I was a lowly reject at an all-male private day school. Since we spent less time around the opposite gender than public school kids, it took more work to connect with them. The more popular guys who, surprise, tended to be good-looking and athletic, did manage to find girlfriends and make other female friends. A subset of less popular kids also managed it through coed theater productions or church. Since neither of those applied to me, I never had opposite gender friends, and that certainly did stunt my social growth because it highlighted my unpopularity. Not only is one less skilled at dealing with girls, but most guys don’t want to be friends with another guy who is unpopular with women. It actually gets worse in one’s twenties and early thirties because introductions to potential girlfriends often seem to come through mixed-gender circles of friends, which people like me don’t have. Fortunately, strong introversion allows me to make do without much human contact outside of work and no romantic life. Less introverted rejects or those with higher sex drives might fare worse.

    • trumwill says:

      It really does help to have the opposite gender friends. Though of course when you don’t get a lot of exposure to female-types it becomes easy to think too much about the first couple you have.

      For me and a lot if my friends, anyway.

  2. says:

    You may be right that it’s possible to overemphasize the first few female friends, but I don’t have personal experience to know. So far, my only longstanding opposite gender friends have been married residency colleagues who, unsurprisingly, didn’t socialize much with their single colleagues. Some of us still exchange the occasional email or Christmas card several years after going our separate ways, but it’s obviously not the same kind of friendship as you and the article intend. I’m not sure that kind of friendship would be possible to initiate at our age. As with the residents, one of the problems would be that most women our age are married or divorced and the majority of those have kids. There are no do-overs in life, and it sucks to find out after it’s too late to change course that you really screwed up when you thought you were on the best path. On the other hand, not having friends or a girlfriend makes saving money a lot easier.

    • trumwill says:

      I found it can actually be helpful to have female friends that are in committed relationships. It helped keep the boundaries clear, so long as I wasn’t sitting there waiting for them to be single again.

      This all involves my younger years, though. When you’re talking about people who are actually married, it can complicate things. Not the least of which is that they tend not to have as much free time. Especially if there are kids involved.

  3. fillyjonk says:

    I was an unpopular female kid, but I had a number of male friends, at least pre-puberty.

    I think this is because I was willing to go out and get muddy trying to catch frogs, and was willing to play some of the more rough-and-tumble games. And in one case, I was friends with the guy’s even-less-popular-than-me little sister.

    Not that that worked out so well into dating prospects (I went to another school from those kids for high school and had to start all over making friends) but sometimes I think I got less harassment from my male peers because maybe some of those guys – a couple of whom were fairly well-respected – looked out for me. (Didn’t do a lot to stop the “girl bullying” though).

    Or maybe in the 70s there was still some kind of chivalry code that said, “If you’re a guy, you don’t bully girls.” I don’t know.

    • trumwill says:


      Being into boy things can help you make male friends, though from what I understand it can also lead to unwanted attention. Obviously, it’s not a road that I have been down.

      Interesting that it didn’t stop the girl bullying.

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