Are your friendships exclusive or inclusive? Can they be both at the same time?

We humans are social creatures, and a sense of belonging is important to our self-esteem. Nothing says belonging more than belonging to a group friendship. The general idea of a group friendship is that all parties feel close, welcome and equal, and included; however experience has taught me that this is rarely the case.

I should probably mention that I prefer one on one friendships. I enjoy the intimacy and trust they foster, allowing you to really share and listen to each other and be fully present. As someone who falls more on the introvert end of the spectrum, I find group gatherings exhausting and often leave feeling like I saw everyone, yet spoke to no one! It makes very little difference if the gathering was my own or someone else’s. In group situations I usually find I am talked over, frequently interrupted or easily dismissed mid-sentence when distractions occur, which often happens in group settings. This is especially true if alcohol is added into the mix. To be fair you often can’t hear what anyone says over the music anyway! Lol

My friends are good people and I enjoy each of them individually, yet somehow in a group setting the imbalances seem more obvious. We do all feel close, yet it is obvious some pairings are closer than others and I almost always find there is a “leader” of the group; which kinda instantly detracts from the equality that supposedly exists, don’t you think?

The good aspects of group friendships and gatherings is that everyone generally has a lighter time, and feels included. We all enjoy feeling popular with others, and a group setting is very conducive to this. Perhaps you are only popular with the 4 people in the group, but most of us prefer that to feeling unpopular and alone. (Even though I often feel somewhat invisible to an extent in a group setting, it is true to say I still like to be invited and do enjoy these gatherings on an infrequent basis.)

Group friendships often originate in group settings, such as school or work, giving the members of the group instantly something in common. By the time you reach your mid 30’s, if you get together with a group of existing friends, the chances are most of you don’t actually have too much in common anymore. In my own group of friends there are religious women, and atheists; Married women, unmarried but partnered women, and single women; Parents and the childless by circumstance or choice; Women who work and those who stay home; Bigger women and smaller women; Women who drink and those who are in recovery from alcohol addiction; Straight, gay and bisexual women; Women who like to dance the night away and women who prefer a movie and a quiet dinner…. The list goes on…. I can more easily list the things we don’t have in common than the things we do, that much is clear.

Because of these differences, you have to manage your conversation topics carefully in this environment. You must to be aware that something a friend has discussed with you may not have been discussed with the other women there; While also laughing along with it if personal disclosures are made to the group when you had hoped to keep the information private! This requires everyone in the group to trust the good intentions of the others, and manage any jealousy that may arise when it is obvious that two or more people there are closer to one another than either of them is to you.

Friend poaching can also become an issue. As mentioned earlier, in some group friendships there is an obvious leader of the group. While the other members do like one another, what they really have in common is their friendship with said leader; and the boundaries can become unclear. Is it okay for us to friend each other on social media? Are we allowed to see other members of the group without the leader being present? Can we actually call the other members our friends? While the leader cannot really directly forbid this, she usually wont encourage it. Many a time the leader has found herself excluded from her own exclusive group by initiating a group friendship to begin with. The changing dynamics of group friendships are one of the good things about them, but that can be a double edged sword if your friends actually do genuinely make a strong connection with each other. This is an especially risky manoeuvre if there are only three of you in the group. If you successfully pull this off, and it stays the three of you, it almost always has a tendency to feel like two plus one, even if the position of the third wheel is interchangeable. This is a recipe for resentment, and trouble.

In my experience of group friendships; there needs to be a certain level of expectation (or at least acceptance) that the other members of the group will discuss you behind your back, in both a positive and a negative light. Gossiping and oversharing of confidences are common place. It is also wise to keep a certain level of awareness that if you have a falling out with one of the group members, one of you will likely find yourself off the invite list pretty quickly. Nobody expects it to be them. Be prepared. Everything you do and say can and will be used against you in these circumstances! And you can forget about anybody keeping your secrets! This is especially true if the group has a level of exclusivity to it, like a clique. Acceptance feels grand, and people have been known to get a feeling similar to a drug induced high when feeling involved, included and accepted. However the higher you get, the further the fall! Even if you felt you were extremely close to certain members of the group, you can expect to find them distancing themselves in favour of popularity. There is strength in numbers. Remember, even the leader can find herself falling from grace! Nobody is immune.

Another issue I encountered as a member of a group friendship was the expectation (of mine) that I was an equal member. Finding out (by accident) that the group has been planning a girls weekend away without you (for example,) can leave you questioning your relationships with the group as a whole, the individuals themselves and with yourself!  It doesn’t much matter if the reasons were because of you personally or the group just voted in favour of inviting someone else who wasn’t your biggest fan….. If the group voted and you weren’t there, what else have you been missing? The trust is gone. Therefore so are the friendships. Watching the group carry on without you is extremely painful. Do everything you can to move on and not watch this.

In my personal situation, after the “girls weekend thing” happened, the member I had known the longest had the audacity to question my loyalty. SHE questioned MY loyalty?!  (After planning a SECRET group trip with without me?!!) This happened after I discussed how hurt I was not be invited to a recent event in her home. (With the same people. Yeah… I should have seen it coming in hindsight… not the sharpest tool in the shed am I?) As she had actually told me in advance that the other event was happening and I was not invited, I guess she felt that not telling me about the next thing I was also not invited to was more convenient than dealing with the nuisance of my hurt feelings twice in a row. Unfortunately for her I found out anyway, and the rest is history… literally!!

Could I have handled this better? Yes. Undoubtedly I could have. However bullying by exclusion is rife in group friendships and I refuse to have any part in it. Group friendships are exclusive, and perhaps that is my whole point!

I am not against group friendships in principal, however they should be open and inclusive not closed and exclusive. I also learned the hard way not to place all your friendship eggs exclusively in one group friendship basket. If all your friends form part of a group, you may want to nurture some friendships that are outside of it too. Not only does this allow you to grow as a person and explore people who the group would not usually associate with, it also means you won’t be totally lonely if you do find yourself excluded from the exclusive!

Do I have a group of friends? Yes. Do we associate as a group? No. Personally I intend to keep it that way. Once bitten twice shy. We live. We learn..... 

What have your experiences of group friendships been like? Please share! 

Image by Suhyeon Choi