My small town founded a high school my freshman year. Before the high school was started, our town’s middle school fed into a bigger town’s public high school.
Now, when I was in seventh and eighth grade, I was pretty close to three other girls. Two of the girls had parents who worked for the high school in the bigger town. Those two girls opted to go where their parents taught versus going to our new high school. I was sad, but I wasn’t surprised.
Our English teacher our freshman year had us journal every day. They didn’t have to be long entries, but we had to write for about fifteen minutes at the beginning of her class. I still have my journal.
At first, I wrote about silly things, and what I was struggling with personally (getting 90s instead of 100s—no joke). As the semester went on, my social struggles started showing up in my journal as well.
I’ve read my journal recently and was reminded of my dealings with one of the girls who decided to go to another high school.
IM was biiiiig back then, and I was on it most nights. One night, I was messaging the girl who left, and she was asking me who was saying bad things about her and the other girl. (Gosh, this is getting convoluted since I don’t feel comfortable using names.)
I don’t remember anyone saying bad things about them, but even if I did, I wasn’t going to get in the middle of it. I don’t remember what I told her, but the next day in English I wrote about it.
A direct quote from my journal, “That’s a social triangle and don’t even get me started on those.”
I laughed out loud when I read it a few months ago.
I do not remember when I learned about social triangles, but I know I learned about them from my parents.
So what is a “social triangle”?
In laymen’s terms (a.k.a. I don’t remember the technical jargon), a social triangle is what happens when someone comes to you and asks you to confront or talk to someone on their behalf. The triangle is complete if you decide to act as the ambassador for your first friend.
If you want some real life examples of social triangles, go watch reruns of the show Everybody Loves Raymond; it’s rife with them. Really, most sitcoms employ this social element.
For example, Jane is married to John. Jane and her mother-in-law hate each other. This is obviously a recipe for disaster in itself—not to mention, ripped off from the show I mentioned earlier—but what happens when the women use John to speak to each other, instead of confronting one another face-to-face?
You can imagine the problems that would ensue. Ever played the game telephone? Things can get lost in translation, which is obviously undesirable, but how unfair is this social triangle to John?
If he accepts the role as ambassador, each woman will believe he is taking the other’s side, even if all he wants to do is bring peace.
Luckily, there is this gorgeous word in the English language that can be employed when someone asks you to deliver an undesirable, or otherwise unpleasant, message to a third party.
This word is extremely hard to add to your repertoire, especially if you have the tendency and reputation for acting as the peacemaker.
Are you ready? The word is:
If you feel like elaborating and explaining why you are saying no, be my guest, but saying no is critical. This is just from my own experience. Someone could argue there are good social triangles, okay, but the nefarious ones can be shut down with one word.
The person asking you for this favor will likely be mad at you, and heck, they may go and complain about you to someone else, but who cares?
Obviously, if you are married to this person, who cares? may not be the healthiest approach. I am merely speaking from personal experience with my friends and family (I’m not married).
I don’t need the negativity facilitated by a “he said she said” friendship. This is why I loathe drama with every fiber of my being. It’s just a huge, pointless game of social triangles.
When I have a problem with someone, I may vent to a third party, but I am not going to ask them to intervene on my behalf. I may go so far as to ask for advice, but if there is any confrontation, I will be the one to do it.
This aversion to social triangles has thankfully been engrained in me from an early age, so it feels unnatural for me to get involved in them. Of course, I have very few friends, so that definitely helps.
One more story to illustrate their foreignness to me.
During softball season of my senior year, some of my teammates got into a petty storm of drama. I still don’t know what it was about, and I didn’t want to know back then.
Our school had a pep rally for the baseball team, and that day the softball drama came to a head. As I was leaving the pep rally, this kid I barely knew came up to me and said, “Are you going to fight so-and-so?”
I was baffled. I didn’t even know what the drama was about, which was intentional, so I sure as heck wasn’t going to get into a fight about it. I don’t know if I acknowledged such an asinine question.
For some people, social triangles are a way of life. That’s fine, but a direct path in relationships is much healthier and more rewarding. I am by no means a social guru, but I will testify here and now that social triangles are bad news most of the time.
Believe me, people learn very quickly when someone doesn’t play this game. If you currently have the reputation for saying yes to these assignments, and you start saying no firmly and consistently, people will stop asking you.
It’s worth it, as is your sanity.
Author’s note: No scientists were used—or harmed—in the writing of this post. This is all wisdom from a social outcast, so take it with a grain of salt.