I suck at cliques. I know why people like them, how they develop, and the benefits of being a part of one. I wish I could, but I can’t do it.
As a kid, I was shy. I would have a few very close friends but I often felt lonely because of my tiny selection of friends. So, I became adept at amusing myself when they were unavailable.
In middle school, I actively left a clique when I was instructed to shun someone who had done no wrong to me. Even then I considered such a demand inconceivable.
Then, as a teen, I branched out. I became a part of a clique. That was comfy in the new high school setting but, soon, I began reaching beyond the clique’s boundaries. I had a pal or two from various social circles. The diversity was lovely but I felt like a man without a country. I had no tribe to which I belonged.
Still, being free from the melodrama, the pledges of fielty, and the petty skirmishes of cliques was nice. I also felt morally at ease because I was not participating in (intentional or unintentional) exclusion by way of participating in clique culture.
As a college student, I was so focused on my studies that I didn’t put much effort into making friends. As in grade school, I had a few close friends, but certainly no herd. However, I was so busy that I didn’t put much thought into it.
As a mom of a baby and two preschoolers, I developed a variety of beautiful friendships with moms whose paths never intertwined. The friendships were selected and nurtured without societal pressures. The relationships developed naturally and grew organically. What wonderful mom friends these ladies are! True treasures.
Now, as a mom of an elementary schooler, I am entering familiar territory: the maternal version of high school. The parents are all friendly but you can see the cliques as they form on the sidewalk at pick-up. Circles of similarly attired women chatting, leaving untethered stragglers between the gabbing bundles.
Often, I inadvertently find myself amidst a herd. I enjoy the company, appreciate the individuals, and relish the community, but I feel the tug of my conscience (and by “tug” I mean choke-hold yank.) By standing within the herd I am silently signaling to others that they exist outside of the circle. That they do not belong. My conscience is such a party-pooper.
I note the free-floating mom at the periphery. I step away from the clique and engage the free agent. I want her to feel included, welcome, safe, and appreciated. If I could bring every shy, intimidated, and/or unfamiliar mom into the safe fold of a clique I would. Unfortunately, that’s not how cliques work.
I’ve found out the hard way that bringing in too many “strays” is unwelcome behavior. It’s not quite as bad as not agreeing to shun someone who has wronged a clique member (you, yourself, were not offended but one of your comrades was), but it’s still up there. I am guilty of both misdeeds and always will be. It’s who I am. Those are my morals. Take me or leave me. And so I don’t do cliques, as lonely and irksome, yet conscience-pleasing as it may be. I can only exist as a honorary member… as someone with one foot inside the clique boundaries and one foot on the outside.
“Good for you!” “Do you!” “Way to be inclusive!” Some of you may be thinking. Yes, thank you. That’s lovely. “Make things simpler for yourself!” “Just abide by the rules!” “Be a part of the clique!” Some of you may be thinking. And you’re right. But I really don’t have a choice in the matter. This is simply the way I’m wired.
As much as I own who I am, my personal moral constructs, and my perspective, part of me wishes I could be the person who easily and comfortably acquiesces into a clique. The protection, the comraderie, the cohesiveness all seem so comfortable and safe. To walk into a room and immediately know: “I belong there,” seems so much simpler than reading a crowd. I see why people enjoy cliques, I see the benefits of cliques, I see why some thrive in and seek out cliques. I get it! It’s just not me, whether I like it or not.
Look for me floating about periphery bobbing from mom-huddle to outlier and back again like a pinball. A mom without a clique.