Everyone told us life would be so different after high school, how much we would grow and that so much would change — and for the most part, they were right. But one thing that was annoyingly never mentioned is that friendship groups and cliques continue into adulthood, and being in one as an adult is a major social privilege.
If you step back and look closely, you'll notice that cliques are everywhere. We see them in our cities and suburbs, our workplaces, and sometimes even in our own families — no matter where we go and how old we get, we just can't seem to shake them off. If you're like me, someone with a bunch of one-on-one friendships that aren't connected in the slightest, you'll know exactly what I'm talking about.
If you're not one of these people, think of it like being a recurring guest star in about 10 different sitcom shows. I'm regularly brought into groups for special events or birthdays and the occasional dinner party, existing somewhere between being a good friend and an acquaintance. And as good as my friendships with individuals in these groups may be, at the end of the day, I never quite reach the inner circle. There are no group chats buzzing day and night, and no guarantees about my Friday night plans. And that can feel really scary sometimes, especially during a time in my life when I'm trying to figure out my place in the world.
From what I can tell, being in a solidified friendship group as an adult means you never really have to worry about where you belong. Your membership with your peers has been secured and is something you never have to worry about. You always have a number of people to turn to and you never have to worry about walking into a party alone. Lucky you! You can almost see a glow around these people that says, "I know I have people in my corner, and I'm happy about it!". And why shouldn't they be? Feeling like we don't belong anywhere is one of the biggest struggles we humans have to face, at any age, let alone as a young adult attempting to navigate a sense of independence whilst still yearning for community.
I get it. The whole point of a group is that there are limitations — they're closed-off for a reason because if you started accepting everyone, you'd lose the intimacy, which is the very appeal of a clique. But it's still pretty crushing when you're constantly hovering on the peripheral of inclusion, unsure of just how important you are to people you regard as close friends.
So, if you really do crave a group (and as hard as it can be to establish yourself in existing ones) it could be a real opportunity to create your own. Alice, 31, went through almost her whole young adulthood without a friendship group, as the one she'd been a part of during high school had split apart as they grew to be different people who cared about very different things. But being freed from this group that had formed thanks to the proximity that only high school can bring, proved to be an opportunity to find a new group of people she could genuinely connect with.
"I actually started connecting with girls in my wider Indian community, as all our parents had known each other for years but we had never met," she explains. "Our culture was the thing that brought us together, and we then found we had so much else in common too. I really pushed for the group to form, going from occasional dinners and Melbourne trips to a group chat (which is actually buzzing right now as we speak!). And it's just so nice to have finally found my people."
But despite the loneliness, there are perks to staying group-less too. Elsa, 24, found it difficult to be without a group at first but has actually found that it has resulted in deeper connections and more meaningful relationships. "I feel like, at times, not having a group can be isolating as I can't just send a group message to a bunch of people to see who is out and about like I could when I was younger," she says. "But I truly get overwhelmed by bigger groups now and getting older, I've really started to appreciate people one-on-one. Where I can listen to them intently and only hang out with people I really want to put my energy into." And it's certainly true that when you're spread less thin, you might just have more to give to select people around you.
Learning to live without a group is certainly a difficult task, and often feels like it completely goes against our nature as social beings. But what it definitely does is make you stronger and more sure of who you are, without the validation of others. It's often a lonely road, but maybe it leads somewhere even better than we ever thought it could.