The Terrifyingly Nasty, Backstabbing, and Altogether Miserable World of the Suburban Mom

Suddenly, I could see how easy it was to be lured in by a woman as self-assured, witty, and fun to be around as this. I really liked Melissa. In fact, I wanted to be friends with her. She was rougher around the edges—in a seemingly deliberate way—than the stereotypical profile of a Queen Bee, but my gut told me that when Melissa said, “Jump,” every woman jumped.

Melissa then told me stories of misunderstandings that had resulted in broken friendships—women being inadvertently left out of impromptu lunches, for example—but her innocent take could have easily veiled Queen Bee intentions. When Melissa asked, “I wonder if you talked to my friends, what they would say?” I knew I didn’t need to: I had an inbox full of emails from women spurned by Queen Bees.

So I’d met a real-life Queen Bee, albeit reformed, and walked away unharmed…but not uncharmed. I was beginning to understand why all these smart women were bankrupting themselves financially and morally to be friends with a Queen Bee. It’s actually quite simple. She’s a lot of fun, as long as you stay on her good side.

Of course, there’s a flip side to a Queen Bee’s charm: They often use emotional bribery to keep their minions loyal. They get close very quickly to learn secrets that can be used against people at a later date. “I’ve seen clients in tears talking about how they’d discuss a marital issue with the Queen Bee, and then it would be shared with the group,” Hurowitz says. “Queen Bees believe that they are in charge of disseminating information, and that’s part of how they maintain power.” Had Melissa done that to me? I’ll admit that although I’d walked in with eyes wide open, our conversation got personal fast.

Kelly says that her Queen Bee—Jessica, a thin, pretty, style-conscious matron in Concord with a self-deprecating sense of humor—operated exactly like that. She liked to gossip, but she’d try to present it in a nice way. “She’d say, ‘I feel so bad, but…’” Kelly says. “More appalling was when a friend had a third baby and was having a hard time and talking about her husband not helping. [Jessica] actually said it was the friend’s fault because the husband never wanted the third child.”

When Jessica overheard a neighbor making fun of a friend’s son’s skating skills at a hockey tryout, she decided it was her duty to tell on her. Eventually, Kelly asked Jessica what exactly she’d hoped to gain by sharing this painful piece of gossip. Her Queen Bee shrugged and answered, “She needed to know.” Kelly adds, “Jessica liked to put information out there and then sit back and watch what happened, and then go on damage control. My husband called her the ‘Rocket Launcher.’ So much ugliness surrounded her. I can’t imagine that still being in my life.”

Beyond controlling who knows what, and occasionally sending out a zinger, Queen Bees like Jessica work tirelessly to maintain their clique’s mystique; hence the constant threat of expulsion. And once a Queen Bee exorcises a member, watch your back. Leslie stood by while her Queen Bee banished another member through mean-spirited gossip. “I bought into the [negative things] she was saying about that woman,” Leslie says. “She criticized her parenting—how she chose to feed her children, for instance, or how she babied them.” There was enough truth in her Queen Bee’s asides to believe her, “but in hindsight, she’d blown everything way out of proportion.” When the victim didn’t show up to a group dinner, the Queen Bee would say, “I texted her over and over, and she never responded.” When the victim later said she never got the texts, the Queen Bee would tell the group that she was clearly lying. “I didn’t reach out to help her because it was very clear that it was either her or me,” Leslie says. A month later, “it was me.”

This endless fear of rejection can cause all kinds of anxiety and handwringing. Jennifer, a South Shore mom with two daughters and a master’s in social work, was thrilled when Elizabeth, the do-gooder of her neighborhood—“personable, dressed to the nines, beautiful home”—invited her to join her well-to-do town’s women’s social club. Within two years, she was asked to join the club’s board, and that’s when things went south, fast. Jennifer was already overwhelmed—in the middle of changing jobs and purchasing a ski house with her husband—and after much personal anguish, felt forced to resign from the board. When she revealed her struggle with depression to her friend, Elizabeth said dismissively, “Oh, that’s all? I thought you were dying.” Jennifer was dumbfounded: “She basically told me, ‘I’m glad you’re alive.’ And that was the end of the conversation.”

The fallout was immediate. Jennifer found herself subtly blacklisted from social gatherings and her kids excluded from car pools, play dates, and birthday parties. Elizabeth is “well known, she has cocktail parties and luncheons…. It’s silly, but we get caught up in it,” Jennifer says. “There’s this constant hierarchical undercurrent of ‘How do I fit in?’” Now when Jennifer sees Elizabeth around town, she gets a Mona Lisa smile from her former friend, who hardly pauses to acknowledge her. Jennifer recognizes her car—a Land Cruiser with a Black Dog sticker on the rear—and waves when Elizabeth passes by. “She never waves back,” she says.

Emily, whose ouster from her clique prompted her to move out of town, thinks she was ejected because the Queen Bee felt threatened that she had friends outside the group. They only did things with one another, which began to drive her crazy. “I started to remove myself—I’d meet up with friends from high school or college,” she says. “When I’d see one of [the clique], she’d say, ‘Where have you been?’ It was said in a tone that implied there was more to it. My life didn’t revolve around them.”

Leslie says her Queen Bee booted her because she decided that she “hadn’t behaved in a manner befitting of the group” at a party. “I wasn’t feeling well and had only half a drink,” Leslie explains. But the Queen Bee thought Leslie was drunk—a no-no among these ladies, who seem to think it’s their job to keep the suburbs clean and morally upright. “They’d created this perfect image of themselves, and they wanted everything to exemplify this image,” she says—even as they stabbed each other in the back in their attempts to clamber up the social ladder.