Wednesday, August 6, 2014

If you don’t think cliques exist in adulthood, you’re probably in one.

Our blog tribe taking a selfie with DJ Run in the background at the
  #BlogHer14 closing party.
(Photo courtesy of Neil Kramer. Used with permission.)
Usually when one thinks of cliques, images from high school resurface. You envision the Mean Girl Lunch Table with its captain holding court. You recall her “Uh, why is she even trying to talk to us?” face and their nasty giggles as you walked away. You see hair flipping in your face as the cool girls breeze by you and your non-existence. The term “clique” doesn’t have a positive connotation.

As adults, we tell ourselves that the sting from those experiences is gone. We’re all better than that now, right? It’s been like twenty years, so can we all move on? Well, not necessarily.

If you don’t think cliques exist in adulthood, you’re probably in one. That’s not a slam against anyone – it’s hard to see a thing for what it is when you’re in the middle of it. Maybe you’ve always been part of the cool crowd, so you’ve never experienced the exclusion. Or maybe you were the one excluded in high school, so now you can’t fathom treating someone else that way and don’t realize that you do it. Either way, you probably don’t mean to be a clique because it goes against your definition of self. Most of us are not very self-aware.

My definition of a clique is a circle of friends that is exclusive – or wants others to believe they are exclusive – and they exclude others because they have to. I believe people on the inside of cliques are just as insecure as those whom they are excluding. A new person might threaten the status of an existing member, and if the group gets too big, small groups might splinter off. New members endanger the precarious thread of security that holds the clique together.

I’m not saying all groups of friends are cliques. I run in several circles: I have my group of college friends that live in Michigan and Boston. I have my local “mommy friends” (although I no longer think that term defines us) whom I met after Quinn was born and have been my lifeline for the past three and half years. And thanks to BlogHer, I have my new Blog Tribe. I don’t think of any of us as exclusive, but I’m on the inside of these circles, so who knows what people on the outside are feeling.



At BlogHer, I was definitely on the outside. As a first-timer, walking into a sea of thousands of women, all of whom seem to know each other, I could’ve easily just blended into the wall paper. Assuming there were images of women standing alone and gulping wine on the wall paper. Luckily, two amazing ladies I met at Springboard were there, and they introduced me to three more amazing ladies, and we became a tribe. Without them, #BlogHer14 would have been a very different experience. I took great comfort in knowing whoever got to the keynote sessions first would reserve a table for all of us. I liked knowing I wouldn’t have to scan the room of thousands of women looking for an empty seat three times a day. I wouldn’t have to introduce myself again and risk being rendered uninteresting. “Is this seat taken?” is an anxiety-inducing sentence for me to utter.

The few times, I did venture out on my own away from the safety of my blog tribe. I talked to several new people, all of whom were cordial, but not everyone was “welcoming.” No one said, “Hiiii! So great to meet you! Come over here. Join us. Here, let me introduce you….” Each person seemed like they were hoping our conversation would end soon so they could get back to the safety of their own tribe. (The exceptions to this were my BlogHer buddy, MomoFali, and my tribe ladies. They put their arms around me – literally and figuratively – and introduced me to other people. I love these ladies! They were like a security blanket. Plus they smelled good.)

However, others were not as willing to welcome me into their groups, but I can’t blame them. There’s safety in numbers. There is validation. There is belonging. All of these needs are on Maslow’s Hierarchy, so why do we fault people for seeking to fulfill them? I mean, if you walked up to some random woman at the grocery store and complimented her shoes, would you expect her to become your insta-bestie? Of course not. So why would you expect women at blogging conferences to behave any differently? That isn’t how the world works.

For example, I entered into a lottery to be chosen for a sponsored event during BlogHer, and I got invited to attend. Thirty-something attendees were drawn at random, yet by some miraculous coincidence, there was a group of four or five women there who obviously new each other quite well. When we were divided into sub-groups of eight, these women insisted they could not be separated and went into the same group. I attempted to make small talk with these women, and they were cordial, but they were definitely not interested in getting to know me.

When you have thousands of people at a conference, you probably have a pretty representative sample of the population. Some people are going to be nice and some people are not. And that’s okay. I had realistic expectations going in, and so my feelings weren’t hurt. I fully expected people to be people.

Even though the number of nice, warm, welcoming women I met at BlogHer was far greater than those who were not-so-much, I might not attend another big conference unless I know at least one other person there who will let me attach myself to her hip because I’m pathetically insecure in those situations. Small, niche conferences might be more my speed.


Please visit these ladies. They're RAD! MomoFaliRed ShuttersBusy Since BirthNapkin HoarderAnother Version of Mother, and Squared Mommy. And if you want to join our lunch table, please pull up a chair! 



25 comments:

  1. Thanks for writing this honest post. The first BlogHer that I attended, I was all alone. It was scary and lonely. Wouldn't it be amazing if we, as adults, would be inclusive, welcoming, and embracing? I think about this a lot as I remember my own experiences of feeling like a constant outsider and I think about it a lot for my daughter. By the way, you are pretty RAD, too!!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Phyllis! We just need to remember that we all do the best we can. Going into a mass of thousands of people is intimidating for everyone. So glad you all welcomed me!

      Delete
  2. Um, I think I only smelled particularly good after the Flawed But Authentic suite, with their essential oils. And I may have shoved my arm in your face to smell me. ;)

    It's a tough issue, and I think BlogHer does try to bring people in and get them to mingle (like the buddy system this year), but it really depends on how people are feeling in that exact moment. All the prep in the world might not help when your knees buckle out from underneath you.

    I still can't believe that Springboard created this lasting friendship, and I'm so, so glad we were able to spend this time together. You're rad too.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I totally agree, Cheryl. I definitely don't think it's BlogHer's fault that these cliques exist - they are in no way responsible for other people's insecurities, those inside or outside of the clique. In fact, I think BlogHer does all they can to help people NOT feel alone, like the buddy program and the pre-conference Skype chats. And PathFinder day was much smaller and easier to get to know people before the masses arrived.

      Delete
  3. I really like how you wrote this piece. It reflects a lot about how I've been feeling lately, especially about BlogHer. I'm a "group floater," which sounds like some kind of pool party foul, but I'm most comfortable not being in any one group. I did have a few friends saving me seats at BlogHer, which was so, SO nice to have. And I latched onto a new friend and basically invited myself to brunch with a tribe I didn't belong to. So funny that for a conference of primarily introverts, we have to be so extroverted and assert ourselves if we want to get to know a new group of people.

    And yes, it's natural for close friendships to grow organically and people shouldn't be made to feel badly for them. And it's not necessarily a bad thing for new people to be excluded at times. I know sometimes I want alone time with my bestie, you know? But it's so, SO important for us to just be aware of the unintended power belonging brings - how our relationships affect those around us.

    Glad Phyllis and Cheryl and the Boston crowd welcomed you in so warmly! They are a wonderful group of ladies.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I had a very similar experiences, Susan. While I think it's hard for people who feel excluded, they need to remember that those doing the excluding are just as insecure and/or introverted, even if it doesn't seem that way. I agree we all need to remember to share that feeling of belonging whenever possible. It's good karma. :)

      Delete
  4. You're not considering those of us that are extreme introverts and cannot, as in physically cannot, extend the welcome. I do hide behind the group of people I have formed as "mine" because it's the only place I feel safe in a larger group of people. I know people write me off as snobby or cliquish. My GAD and introvert-edness keep me from branching out, and I'd apologize for that, but it's who I am.

    I simply ask that you realize there are people in the bigger groups who should be applauded for even showing up to the party, not scolded.

    I am glad you found your tribe. I'm glad my tribe surrounds me and invites other people in, shielding me from having to do the inviting.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't think Melissa was not considering those types. I'm one of those types, usually. Until I find my people, or have some wine, and then I'm HELLOEVERYONEILOVEYOU.

      I don't think she is scolding anyone either, just simply asking that when the discussion of cliques come up, that we don't pffft it all way, or say "Cliques don't exist!!" They do, and that's just how it works, you know? Some cliques like yours, like mine, have people who are willing to have others join, and there are some, who just don't seem to have room, or want to make room. Which, again, should be expected, even if it's sad.

      But, like I said below, it's the people who proclaim that cliques don't exist are the ones who I have issue with. It's a certain level of privilege to be able to say they don't, even if that privilege is wrapped in a lack of awareness.

      Delete
    2. Thanks for helping to clarify, Danielle. To deny the fact that cliques exist is to minimize others' experiences and feelings. And there's nothing wrong with admitted they exist or even to be in one.

      Delete
  5. No apology necessary, Jenna. I remember meeting you at a party, and I thought you were quite lovely. I'm definitely not scolding anyone for being in a clique. I'm in one too! We're all introverted and/or insecure. I'm like you - I'm not great at asking others to join either. If it wasn't for DeeDee, one of my "mommy friends," doing all the recruiting, it would still just be the two of us. I'm just saying cliques DO exist, and that's okay, and it's not BlogHer's fault they exist, and we all just need to have more realistic expectations of and empathy for each other.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I think you do a good job of illustrating that there are those who do go out of their way to exclusive, those of us (yourself and myself included) that struggle to put ourselves out there, and those who can't get to that point because it is hard to put ourselves out there.

    Cliques exist, that's just how it works in life. Some are there for protection, like Jenna illustrated, some are there because of exclusivity, and some just happen. Saying they don't exist is like saying that some people don't prefer certain foods over others. We will always be drawn to certain people for a variety of reasons.

    I'm glad you wrote about it, mainly because I truly believe those who think they don't exist are speaking from a level of privilege.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for your comment, Danielle. Cliques actually do serve an important purpose for their members, so I think it's fine that they exist. We just all need to reset our expectations and remember to be kind, whether we're on the inside or the outside. #FistBump

      Delete
  7. Hi, Melissa. What an honest post. You made some excellent points. There are, and always will be cliques, and sometimes they are a necessity because our insecurities make us want to have close friends. But there are cliques and then there are CLIQUES. You can have a small group of friends, and still be respectful of others.

    We should also make note that much of the insecurity comes not from the clique itself, but from the outsider's perception. As the person who took the photo included with this post, I should tell you that I was attracted most to the image because I saw a small group of friends having a great time together at the final BlogHer party. I didn't go over to you at the time because you seemed so tight that I imagined YOU as a clique who wouldn't have the time to interact with someone new. That says more about ME than YOU, and if I had gone over there to say hello and show you the photo, I might have been pleasantly surprised, and made new friends. But I didn't. So while there are cliques out there, we also need to have the guts to test the waters and find out.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I love Neil's comment! For me, this is less about being in a clique than perceiving the existence of other cliques. I know our "blog tribe" is filled with welcoming, supportive women who would be kind and warm to a new person. But, as Neil points out, that new person might be too intimidated to approach us. Your post therefore is a reminder to be mindful of the person who looks lost, sad, or lonely - we'd all benefit from reaching out to one another.

      Delete
    2. I love this point too. I know last year at BlogHer13, I stopped myself for the exact reasons Neil describes. I totally didn't feel like I was worthy to go up to a group and ask to be included. In fact, the idea that I could say, "Can I tag along" made me feel pathetic and like a loser. Which is ALL on me.

      Also, Neil, we would have heartily welcomed you in our dance circle! Especially if you could rap like Melissa could ;)

      Delete
    3. Neil, you must have taken the photo earlier in the party, because at some point I did see you close by and we had a brief conversation about being members of a whole 'nother tribe. A conversation that we will hopefully continue before BlogHer15.

      We would have completely welcomed you. And though the six of us had jelled by that point, there were many other people we each hung out with over the course of the conference that could have been in that picture with us.

      Delete
    4. Thanks so much for the comment, Neil, and for the great conversation, ladies! Neil, you're right there are cliques who are just close groups of friends and then there are CLIQUES who refuse to give anyone else the time of day. While the second type definitely exists, I like to think there is more of the former, but when you're on the outside it's often hard to tell the difference. Basically, if you're in a clique - be kind. If you're outside of a clique - be kind.

      It's hard for me to imagine anyone finding our little tribe intimidating. Although I may have scared a few people away with my crazy white girl dance moves! My rapping, however, is pretty dope. :)

      Delete
  8. I love this post. You know, I am totally guilty of having one of those tight circles. And it's not that we don't want to meet new people, just that we spend all year only talking on Facebook and via email so when we're actually in the same room together, it's like we can't get enough face time. This is why I need to be better about reaching out and making friends throughout the year, I think.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks so much for stopping by and for not taking my post the wrong way, Jessica. :) I totally agree with you. I was so excited to see my Boston friends after two years, it felt like we didn't have enough time for ALL THE WORDS! It's important for people in tight circles to be mindful of others who appear to be lonely and consider what you might be able to do spread a little community and belonging. It's also important for those on the outside to remember that not every tight group is a CLIQUE, and those tight groups exist for lots of reasons. Being kind and extending ourselves beyond our comfort zones as much as possible, is really the moral of the story.

      Delete
  9. Oh, sweet friend. I hope you listen to me. I have never gone with someone to BlogHer. My first year, I knew no one. I don't do parties, I talk to people who talk to me yes, but I'm not in a clique, ever. I know it can seem like you're on the outside... and I can explain that. It's how and what we tell ourselves. If you're quiet and a thinker like me, and from the few mnutes we had together, I'd bet a thousand dollars, you and I share DNA... we will always feel on the outside. I've never been invited to a party at BlogHer, sponsors don't approach me, and I've not been given a special invitation to an event or breakfast or offsite party. So, please believe me.... sometimes we have to put ourselves out there. Because every time I've done that, something good has happened. True, painful bumps along the way. Email me and I'll give you THREE private stories... but stepping out is a reward. It's how we met... it's how we have to do things. xoxo So much love to you, cutie. xo

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks so much for the "novel," Alexandra. I can completely relate. As much as I wish I could be the girl who does parties... I'm just not. I agree we need to put ourselves out there. Sometimes we'll get shot down, but we'll NEVER get rewarded unless we try. Going to send you that email for those stories... ;)

      Delete
  10. Okay, I'll tell you. I often get gossiped about, that I'm unfriendly, snobbish, offputting, conceited, arrogant... All misinformed names for one thing: I AM A SHY LONER. I have no clique. I wander alone. (and I"ve written two or three posts about doing BlogHer while terrified/shy/terror shits, you know??? xo)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I can't imagine people describing you that way, but then again, those same adjectives have been used to describe me since junior high...I bet we have a lot in common. I do hope we can spend more time chatting at BlogHer 15!

      Delete
  11. Melissa, let's meet up at BlogHer 15, do you know where it is going to be?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You're going next year? Not sure if I will be there - depends on location and travel costs, etc. But yes, let's meet up if we're both there! That's a given. The location for BlogHer '15 hasn't been announced yet, but I will let you know as soon as I know.

      Delete