Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Left Out

 It is really hard to be a teenage girl. It was not easy for me getting through the trials and tribulations of being a teenager. It is even harder watching my daughter going through them. In addition to just being hard because the age is challenging, adding in today’s social media, text message threads and photos of absolutely everything, there is no way to be oblivious to what your peers are doing around you. 

About a week ago, I was already hormonal when I lifted my phone to scroll Instagram. I should have stuck to the dog videos since they usually lift my mood, but instead I stumbled on a post of my local friends all out to dinner together. They all live in close proximity together, and I am not around the corner so to speak so I understood it was a neighborhood thing, but still I felt left out not to be there. It stung as I looked at the multiple photos of them sitting around a table, posing outside the restaurant, and smiling in every shot. Even though I wasn’t a neighbor I wanted to be part of the group.

My daughter’s first year of high school was bumpy socially. When she started on the first day she felt sure of one thing and that was that she and her best friend from elementary school would be friends forever. She knew she could count on having at least one good friend she could count on. After so much time over the summer together, doing theatre together, and babysitting together what they really needed was probably a break. Instead, they headed into freshman year together and the tight knots of their friendship bracelets started to unravel within the first few weeks. Who knows exactly what happened? Perhaps, one felt threatened that the other was able to make new friends easily. Perhaps, one was holding a grudge for things done months before but because communication wasn’t her strong suit she never spoke up. Perhaps one also turned all of their mutual friends against the other. In any or all of these cases it is not easy for a couple of fourteen year olds to navigate.

I had a realization recently that a friend and I were not as close as I thought we were. We met when our kids were still in preschool. We started them in Kindergarten together. We used to go have lunch here and there, we worked out together, and tried new beauty products together. We had fun and we talked often. Until we didn’t. Things change, situations change, people can change, but I didn't really realize until I was learning things about her from other people. Our texting seemed to slow down, we didn’t go out as much, and although she was always nice when we did speak we weren’t a part of each other’s day to day anymore. It seemed to take me a long time to figure it out, but I finally did and in that one shocking moment when I did, it hurt. It was followed by a sense of relief too. I hadn’t noticed it, but I was working so much harder than she was, and I didn’t have to pull all the dead weight of a non-functioning friendship. I felt sad, but I felt lighter.

Last week my daughter had tentative plans with a group of friends. She had also checked in with two other friends to see if she could hang with them. They told her they were going to be with two guys so it would be awkward if she joined. She never heard definitively from the first group so after waiting to hear from them she went over to a different friend's house. On the way she ran into the two girls who were supposed to be with the two guys, only they were just hanging with another of their girlfriends. It was indeed awkward, but not because they were with two guys, but because they weren’t, and yet they never let her know. My daughter hung out at a different friend’s house but on the way home from that she ran into her other group of friends who never called her back to include her in their evening plans. She was in the car with my husband when they pulled up to a stop sign only to see all of her “friends” with very concrete plans that didn’t include her. They all made eye contact and then my daughter asked my husband to please drive away from this most uncomfortable encounter. 

She was crushed, understandably. Just one of these run-ins would have hurt, but two in one night felt unbearable. I was mad and wanted answers for her. I suggested she talk to the one close friend who kept being vague about plans but she didn’t want to confront anyone. She said she felt she was on shaky ground with everyone in that group because she didn’t hang with them all as consistently as they hung with each other. I cringed as the next day she didn’t reach out to say, “Hey, that didn’t feel great last night, what happened?” text, but instead sent a “hello” as if nothing happened. It has been over a week since then and there has been no response to her friendly text. My daughter is regrouping and she no doubt needs to reevaluate the groups she has been friends with. The thing with groups is it doesn’t seem to matter if you are friends with one or two people in a group when they all get together it can feel really awful being on the outside.

When I saw the photo of a bunch of my friends out together, having fun, laughing in a group without getting to be part of it, I immediately thought of my daughter and all she is going through right now. I shared with her, that I felt left out, but that what she was feeling this past week was probably as bad as it will ever get. I shared that life is full of FOMO, and exclusion, but that it is rarely as in your face as it was for her. I also explained that as hurt as I was, the first person I called when I was sad was one of my best friends. That friend is not in that group and if she was I would never felt excluded in the first place. I listed off for her the friends that I have that only ever make me feel safe, loved and accept me fully for who I am. I explained those friendships take a long time to get right but when you do you hold on for life.

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