Auntie SparkNotes: My Friends Exclude Me
Dear Auntie Sparknotes,
I don't know if you've been in this situation before. It's sort of messy and confusing; to me, it's not making that much sense either. My group of friends are some of the few people in the world that I know care for me and love me. The problem is that they don't seem to like me very much.
Whenever I talk to them one-on-one, we're completely fine. Me and someone else in our "circle" are comfortable, teasing, and honest with each other. They can tell me their secrets and vice versa. The problem is whenever we're in a group, immediately it feels like I've been pushed to the sidelines. Now, it's all about them and their group chats/inside jokes (you know, excluding me, which is always fun) and their movie nights or shopping dates or sleepovers. I know they're not doing it intentionally, but these people aren't dumb. They know that I feel more than left out whenever they keep talking about these events, especially because it's always the first time they ever mentioned it and they've never invited me to anything. Likewise, it gets unnerving, especially recently, when they've started telling each other little inside jokes and secrets in little whispers with side glances to make sure I'm not hearing anything. Sometimes they even resort to foreign languages.
I know I'm an awkward person (heck, we all are) and I can't do sleepovers and I really don't like shopping (I don't voice these opinions out loud). But it would honestly feel nice to get through a day without being reminded that I'm not worthy enough to hear some pointless piece of gossip, so we MUST use dialect to communicate, or that I didn't have THE BEST TIME EVER over the weekend. I've racked my brain to the point of tears just trying to tell myself that it's normal to feel alone within a group of 10 people, but I know it's not and I really don't know what to do.
Actually, Sparkler, it's more normal than you think—not that it makes it any less awful for you, of course. It's an unfortunate fact of life that group dynamics do sometimes include this kind of scapegoating, when a close-knit group of friends marks one person for exclusion, and then bonds extra-tight over all the ways they can draw a circle that leaves that person out. The inside jokes, the secret gossip, the parties and excursions that foster intimacy—this is all standard fare for friendship, and for most friends, it's enough. But with a goat to focus on, the effects become that much more potent for having a specific target. The more they push the goat out, the closer the rest draw together.
And I think you know this already, but you, darling, are the goat.
And if you were here, I'd give you a big hug, a cup of hot chocolate, and an exclusive invitation to hang out with me and my cat while we binge-watch Breaking Bad on Netflix all day. Because oh man, is it awful to be the goat, and oh yes, I've been there... twice, actually! Including once in my early twenties, because the sort of people who pull this crap in high school don't always grow out of it. Though on the bright side, they do tend to gravitate toward each other, leaving the rest of us free to be friends with people who don't suck.
Which brings us to this: when you know that the group at large will jump at any opportunity to "other" you, the solution is to take that opportunity away. You have the power to redefine the way you spend time with these people, and to do so in a way that doesn't give them the chance to victimize you. You know which of your "friends" are instigators of the exclusionary asshattery; you also know which ones you can see one-on-one without enduring it. Spend time with the latter, and avoid the former; people who go out of their way to make you feel small do not love you, and don't deserve your energy. And when you're not engaging with members of this group, cultivate one or two relationships with people who aren't in it—friends who you can enjoy on their own merits, and who don't come with a bunch of extra baggage attached.
And rather than wishing you could be a part of the group, try to appreciate what it says about you that you aren't. People who end up getting ousted like this are almost always the ones who aren't comfortable with the cattiness and exclusivity in the first place—and groups that do this almost always find someone to do it to. Consider this: if the goat hadn't been you, it would've been another of your friends... and it would've been you making the choice between joining in the petty cruelty or going against it. In which case, I'm guessing you'd have ended up in exactly the same place you are now: outside the inner circle, and so much better for it.
Have you ever been the goat? Share your story in the comments! And to get advice from Auntie, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.