I never made friends easily, in part because we moved around a lot and at school, everyone seemed to have known one another since Kindergarten. It was hard to break into cliques. Especially as a naturally shy person. One time I did push past the shyness to make friends, because I was lonely, and for a time the loneliness outweighed my reticence. A few weeks later I was sat down by the group of friends and told, very matter of factly that they just didn’t want any other friends. The other thing that made making friends difficult was far more powerful. I grew up in a tight knit group, with kids my own age. So, some of my friends I have known since infant-hood, and even though some of us are seperated by oceans or kilometres, there’s still that connection that you can’t really touch. It’s hard to compete with that. It’s difficult to break into that clique as well.
It goes deeper than you might imagine. I remember a conversation with my brother at my engagement party. Someone (outside of our clique) was saying something negative about another person (inside our clique). They weren’t being particularly mean about it, but they were making a negative comment on their character. My brother shrugged it off. He said, ‘I can see how people might see her that way, but I just don’t”. What he didn’t say is that we had decades of context, of seeing that person at their best, their worst and everything in between. It’s not something that you can always explain, you can’t just boil down a childhood of shared experience into a pearl of wisdom that an outsider could understand.
I’ve always been within a clique and excluded from most others. It would be easy to think that this stops with High School, but it doesn’t. The world is full of cliques. It’s natural to cling to groups of sameness, to make us feel needed, wanted, normal and whole. There are cliques in blogging circles, and the longer I spend on Twitter, the more I notice cliques everywhere. Some that I’m included in, some that I’m on the periphery of, and some that I’m excluded from.
In a very small way, this group behaviour reminds me of the study, epitomised in the Banlity of Evil where ethically questionable experiments illustrated how the majority of people will, given an authoritarian figure and the right environment commit morally reprehensible acts in accordance with group norms. I’m not saying cliques are evil (of course) or morally questionable, but that the act of inclusion necessitates exclusion and that is completely ordinary, but also hurtful for those on the outside. My husband felt excluded from my extended family clique when we first started dating. Until he brought it up, I had no idea that I was even doing anything. Because I was just doing what I had always done.
For me, the desire to be included has always been very strong, but apparently I’m not very good at it myself. Most of the women in my mother’s group are good friends, and I love spending time with them, but I don’t call them for a chat, or see them outside of mother’s group. And that is entirely my doing. Because I feel awkward, and because I’m lazy. More often than not I have something akin to phone phobia. I feel anxious when it rings and I don’t particularly like using it either. This does not bode well for friendship making.
And cliques are here to stay. It’s now embedded in the social media revolution. Are you following them? Do they follow you back? If they don’t are you stalking them? Are you just a fan? Or is it an actual connection? How many comments did you get? And what would happen if even one of these online relationships morphed into in real life, would it survive, or would it just fall away?
I will try to forge another path. One where I don’t ask why aren’t I included, but who am I including? Where I find enough generousity of spirit to be proud of my own character.