I had an odd experience happen to me in grade school that has affected my “need to fit in” when in a group setting.
I have always been classified as weird, which is an adjective I do take pride in now, but in grade school, I couldn’t wear it quite as the badge of honor that I do know. Of course, being labeled as “weird” in grade school meant 8 years of being ignored or persecuted for the most part.
I’ve largely gotten over this: I’ve been enough of a leader in high school, college, and now in my career that people accept that I’m a little goofy, but largely a good person to like and to know. For the most part, I’ve been able to ignore those who don’t care for me and am able to coexist nicely.
In sixth grade, we had a new girl who moved to town, who was quickly absorbed by the Populars – sat near them in classes, had companions during recess and lunch, guaranteed dates to middle school dances – someone to be a part of the clique. Her popularity itself didn’t surprise me too much, she really was of the “type” (wealthy and vapid); but what unsettle me was how readily-accepted she was.
Then again, I had established myself as weird pretty early in the game.
At any rate, I cornered one of the Populars in the bathroom one afternoon (my only real stand against the status quo through those long years of grade school) and I asked her, “Why does [New Girl] get to sit with you at lunch, hang with you at recess? How do I get to be a part of your group? How do you let people in?”
I think the Popular I cornered was pretty shocked that I had even bothered to talk to her, much less ask a question of great importance. After floundering for words for a moment, replied coolly, “You can talk to us. You can sit with us at lunch. You can talk to us on the phone.”
Even then I knew it was all bullshit. Effectively, I would have to skin a sheep, wear it on my back into the flock, and hope no one noticed my salivating-for-popularity chops until I was accepted. I had no intention of putting myself out there for their approval and acceptance; they already had enough made-up ammunition in their persecution of me, why give them anything concrete?
And just like that, the exchange was over. The Populars never had anything to fear, thinking and waiting for me to try and wedge myself into their clique. And I returned to my books and my occasional friend, ultimately shaping myself into who I am today.
I think of that incident today because I’m thinking of cliques as they exist in the adult world. I just realize that not everyone gets to be readily-accepted to every social group that they float through in life. This realization might crush some people. I still sleep relatively well at night, because the people who do let me in to their group are the ones I really want to be with.
I just don’t have time to wonder how much cooler it would be to be a part of a group that clearly doesn’t need me.