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.