Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Group vs Clique

If I had believed when I was at school that those were going to be the best days of my life I would probably have given up there and then. They were most certainly not the best days of my life. (Incidentally, if you’re interested, I believe that any time I spent at university were the best days of my life.)

By the time I left school at 18 I had had enough. I couldn’t cope with any of it anymore and longed to be free and to not have to think about or see anyone or anything that was associated in any way with that place (which is probably why I’m one of a rare breed of people who isn’t actually in any regular contact with people from school, apart from the all encompassing Facebook).

This was a feeling that gradually crept upon me of course; when I was wee whippersnapper I was pretty happy at school. I had my little group of friends, I did my school work, I played some sports and everything was fine. But things seemed to change overnight, or rather over the summer holidays of 1999, after we’d done our GCSEs. We came back to school in September as sixth formers and nothing was ever quite the same again.

To be fair I was pretty fortunate. I had my little group of friends, I wasn’t a complete loner. We were comfortably sandwiched in the middle somewhere, not the most popular but not the most vilified either. Years later I found out that people referred to our group as “the nice girls”, a name I’m pretty happy with. We consisted mainly of senior prefects, the Head Girl, high educational achievers, members of the sports and music teams. But not much drama, especially when compared with some of the other social groups in our year.

Not much drama? Only if you were on the outside.

To everyone else our group was one of harmony. There were about seven of us in our merry band which should be a nice enough number, not so big that people got lost but not so small that we got on each other’s nerves. In theory anyway.

If you were within the group, life was a different matter. There were inner tensions and rivalries going on, battlelines were constantly being scratched in the sand, only to be smoothed out and re-drawn a couple of days later. People would pick sides, only to change halfway through the war.

It was exhausting. And I could never quite keep up with it. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a paragon of virtue in this story, I was still a 17/18 year old girl, make no bones about it I could be as big a bitch as the rest of them, but I just didn’t appear to have the stamina for it that everyone else did. I would find myself entering the common room each day wondering what had unfolded since leaving school at 4pm the day before and trying to figure out who was speaking to who and which side I was supposed to be on.

I know I could have told them all to stuff it, but being on the inside and hating it was infinitely better to being on the outside and alone. For me at least. When I was inside I was part of the group, one of the gang, if I accidentally found myself on the outside, cast out for not commiserating with someone’s break-up enough or for walking to a lesson on my own instead of with others, I was all too aware of how cliquey the whole situation could be.

Once you were on the outside it was difficult to get back in. And you couldn’t get into any other cliques because they were...well...cliquey.

It was strange because when I was on the inside I just thought of us as a nice bunch of girls who all got along, a group of friends, I would have been horrified if anyone had suggested we were a clique. And yet looking in from the outside I could see how closed off we were from everyone else. Of course we were, we had the ability to eliminate one of our own for periods at a time, before graciously allowing them re-entry.

I don’t know how I didn’t realise it. Probably because I was only 18 and I thought that was what life was like.

But I’m beginning to notice that the same rules still apply, nothing appears to have changed in the last 10 years. You can be in a group, harmonious as can be, but once you put a step out of place you can find yourself in the freezing atmosphere of girly bitchiness, desperately trying to punch your way back in to join in the in-jokes and be part of the camaraderie again.

I was asking myself the other day at what point a ‘group’ becomes a ‘clique’ when it hit me in the face.

It’s all just a matter of perspective. When you’re on the inside you’re part of a group, it’s only when you’re on the outside that you find yourself battering at the iron-clad doors of a clique.


  1. I think we all went through this one time or another during our school years. I remember being really happy at high school during the first few years but by the time I got to GCSEs I'd grown apart from my old friends and was just close with one or two girls. I guess we all mature and develop as people at different times. I was very lucky in that I changed school for sixth form and made a new group of nice friends.

    It still happens today, but I think the most important thing to remember is that good friends are the family you never have, and like family you can go through spats, come out the otherside and be stronger. Quality is definitely more important than quantity! x

  2. Very true!! I have always struggled with friendships myself and I too am not in contact with anyone from school days.

  3. What a shame you didn't enjoy that time. I loved my time in the 6th form and most people got along. There were about 30 of us in total (most people left school at 16 back then)split roughy 50/50 male and female and there genuinely was a really good atmosphere. Perhaps I was just lucky.

  4. Oh yep those clique never stop. I spent a huge chunk of my life feeling like I never fitted in properly anywhere - now I'm quite happy just being me ;)

  5. I am still friends with one person from school, thats it! I went to a reunion once, rubbish all it did was remind me why I'm no longer in contact with these people! You are so right it's all a matter of perspective although i think being deliberately unkind or exclusive is wrong! I live my life, i try to be kind but not everyone is going to be my friend or like me and I'm ok with that :)

  6. I'm not in touch with anyone from school and it doesn't bother me at all. You're forced together by circumstance at that age, you don't really choose to be friends. The friends I made outside school at that age are still my best friends.

    Uck, I came up against the catty unpleasantness at uni. I'm friends with the girls I lived with in third year and they're amazing but it was distinctly unpleasant to find out at the end of second year that my housemates all hated me and were calling me Lard behind my back. Such nice girls...

    Hope that whatever is going on with you and the clique gets sorted soon. It sounds horrible.

  7. Do you know what? Cliquey-ness is something I genuinely thought was left behind at school, but I'm hearing more and more girls my age (women, really, but I can't bring myself to think of myself as a WOMAN!) are mentioning coming up against it.

    I've never had many friends but I made a conscious decision a few years ago to cut out the people from my life who made me feel crap or who weren't as bothered about me as I was about them, so the ones I'm left with are good ones.

    I hope your troubles get sorted one way or another xx

  8. Human behaviour is bizarre...sort of pack mentality really I guess... I used to move from group to group at school. I was always the outsider trying to get in and I'd get in for a while with persistance but eventually the dynamic would change again and disillusioned I'd move on to the next group to try and tackle. I finally ended up with the friendliest group at the end - and that took some work breaking into but the bitchiness was limited there - not to say there weren't a few bitches but I guess most people in the group wanted an easy life and it was dominated by boys so that helped balance it.

    My university group is the same - dominated by boys. I think that helps...they are my constant friends now - the most reliable - and even we have had our problems but I think when we all came to uni in the first year we were all the misfits, the outsiders who'd been looking for somewhere to belong. So with this attitude I'm not surprised how tight we are still...plus, not blowing my own trumpet but I am the self-appointed social secretary and I make sure we all get together regularly.

    People do describe our group as clichey sometimes -as all groups can be when you first encounter them- but there are a few key gregacious people within it who, from their own experience, recognise and outsider and try to welcome them in as much as possible. It takes a while to get to know people - but if they are the right people - ie nice, empathetic people - you'll get there in the end...xxx

  9. I was the other way round. School was a bit of a struggle until sixth form, and it only got better then because I went to an FE college rather than staying at school. I always had friends but we were definitely the swots or the odd kids. I wasn't all that bothered about not being cool, I just wanted the bullying to stop. There was still a little bit of it at college but it was easier to ignore because I was having a great time. As an adult I've not had any problems at all but I do see it happening and it's awful. I thought people grew out of that behaviour. Thankfully they're the minority at places I've worked.


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