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!