If you’re a 90’s baby like me, you well remember the faces pictured above from the movie Mean Girls and Lindsay Lohan’s character’s desperate attempts to fit in with the popular crowd.
Long story short (and spoiler alert if you haven’t seen the movie), “Cady’s” ill-fated attempts to fit in with Regina and the gang not only transform her into someone she’s not — an extremely unattractive-beneath-the-surface, unkind version– but her actions also take her toward all of the wrong things and away from the things that matter.
Unfortunately, the formation of cliques such as portrayed in “Mean Girls” isn’t just restricted to the hallways of high school and whispered rumors out by the lockers. It is a phenomenon that happens throughout life, and a behavior that we may be unconsciously modeling for our children as the appropriate way to make friends.
We know that bullying has devastating effects. The news seems to be constantly pointing to yet another sad story of a child/teen who succumbed to suicide or worse based upon a perception that he/she was unliked, unwanted, unworthy.
With digital technology and social media, we now have increased the channels in which bullying can occur; cyberbullying and exploitation of sexting, being two prime examples. However, bullying is not the only issue at play here or perhaps even the core of the issue: in my opinion, so much of this comes down to Exclusion, something which could be prevented by an attitudinal and behavior change of simple Inclusion.
Why do humans exclude others?
To feel better about themselves? To cover up their own insecurities? Unintentional thoughtlessness or ignorance?
I couldn’t begin to point to the scientific literature on this as I have not delved deeply into it, so the thoughts I am sharing within this blog are my own, anecdotally based and experience driven. So take this for what it is–an attempt to empathize with those who may feel alone and to encourage each of us to consider our own actions. For example, when we issue an invitation, is it based on inclusion or exclusion?
Who is invited?
Who is not?
The motivation for many behaviors, at least according to science, comes down to sticks and carrots. We act to either avoid punishment or to gain rewards. So which category might exclusion fall into?
As this blog has been on my heart, I discussed it with my husband over the weekend.
As a varsity athlete and full-fledged member of “The It Crowd” during his high school days, he recounts that his perception of exclusion at that stage was more fear-based. Fear of people who didn’t conform.
“Those who were not like minded might could potentially harm the status of the whole group.”
Perhaps this is one valid explanation. I am sure there are several others.
The clique who does the excluding clearly sees value in the group’s limited structure…and the addition of outsiders, especially outsiders who are not like them, are unwelcome. Period.
Where might we find exclusion?
Sadly, everywhere. Not only as a child navigating the perils and terrors of recess and the school lunchroom where the table you sit at may be seen as a status symbol. There are cliques in the professional world, in neighborhoods, in extracurricular activities, and sadly, even within churches, where the wagons form so tightly into a closed circle that they would never consider opening up to welcome a newcomer.
I picture one of those tree forts with the “No Girls Allowed” sign.
The difference is that the Berenstain Bears learn at the end of the story that girls are actually quite awesome, and it’s so much more fun to play with everyone.
Unfortunately, the moral of this children’s book is not sticking in our extremely group-based society.
For example, from a young age, we learn that we should have a “best friend” and the person who wears this friendship bracelet is the most special friend of all. In young adult world, this person might be the Maid of Honor at your wedding, thus cementing your status as the person who stands right next to the bride at the top of the friendship hierarchy.
Society teaches us that one has to be best, and the rest are all second best.
Luke expressed (and I agree with this) that exclusion is something that has much more prevalence in Girl World than in Guy World. This has been true of each of the places he has moved in his military career (5 in total). It has never been too much of a problem for him to find guys to join a pickup basketball (or golf, baseball, or soccer) game. So much of Guy World, he explained, is activity based, and more often than not, guys are excited to share their hobbies with newcomers. They grow and learn together.
Girl World, on the other hand, is a different story altogether, at least in our experience. Military life teaches one a sense of resilience, a perseverance and determination to make friends, which (sometimes) eventually allows you to weasel into tight-knit cliques.
Or, you simply abandon hopes of befriending civilian friends at your duty station and form your own clique: Other Military Wives. This can backfire, as in the tree fort analogy, except this time with a “If Your Husband Doesn’t Wear A Uniform, Keep Out” sign.
I’ve talked a lot about the Ladies of Lauman, my personal friend group at Fort Sill, depicted above. However, there is one distinct difference in Ladies of Lauman and the groups I was describing above. The faces in this picture evolved and changed over time. People entered the scene and others moved away. A group that began with just 2-3 neighbors grew to encompass this many ladies. And many others were always welcome.
I do think military life gives you a different perspective. You’ve been the New Girl more times than you can count, and so the idea of excluding anyone is almost horrifying.
However, I must acknowledge that the Ladies of Lauman might have made someone feel excluded, however unintentionally, at our many BBQ’s and get togethers. I imagine another lonely military wife, brand new on the street and too shy to come out and introduce herself, peering out of her blinds at us taking this happy group picture, Yet, she felt Unwelcome. Intrusive.
Exclusion happens whether purposeful or not, and it stinks to be on the receiving end. Social media exacerbates this; maybe the left-out wife described above friended one of us at a coffee or spouses’ social and saw this photo in her News Feed from her place eating peanut butter from the jar on the couch. While everyone else in the world has this tight knit buddy system, you are all alone. I’ve been there, too.
Can I just say that making friends as an adult, even with a built-in support network, such as the Army, is TOUGH?!!
Especially if you’ve ever moved away from your hometown, or even just traveled outside it. Think a week at Summer Camp, all alone on the top bunk, while all the other kids are talking and playing? Eventually, you learn to be assertive and issue invitations, exposing small, vulnerable parts of yourself in hopes of forming a relationship or two that stick.
The other day, on one of the Army Wife Facebook pages I am still part of, a woman posted a friendship ad, which I will share below.
How perfectly brilliant! LOL. Yes, sign me up! Except I don’t quite meet the qualifications…and now live thousands of miles away. Womp, Womp.
What you do not see in this lighthearted WANTED ad is the woman’s explanation behind the post, which just wrenched my heart. “I’ve been here for over a year and know no one.”
The loneliness echoed through the digital screen, another human heart crying out for love, for acceptance, for friendship. Shoot, for someone to share a glass of wine with when hubby is off working late or out in the field or possibly even deployed to a dangerous place, and her family all lives far, far away.
A Spirit of Inclusion
“ Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.  This is the first and great commandment.  And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
To me a couple of things really stand out about this passage of scripture.
- We are to love God with all of our heart and thus keep His commandments. Throughout the Bible, God commands us to step outside our comfort zone and befriend lost people–not just those we like or are just like us. He wants us to minister to the woman at the well. He wants us to break bread with the tax collectors. He commands a spirit of hospitality, one of fellowship. Quite simply, INCLUSION.
- “Love your neighbor as yourself.” It’s easy to be nice to those who are nice to us. To those we like. This isn’t the only task demanded of us though. I am speaking to believers here, myself included as I often fall short, but our command is so much more than making friends who make us feel good or admire us or think/talk like we do.
How easy is it to issue an open invitation over and over and to be rejected over and over? It’s not easy at all, at least for me. It hurts.
But, bottom line: we put ourselves out there time and time again, and we do it as for Christ and hope that one day, that person might just say yes! And, then what a beautiful friendship might form?
I trust my life to Christ. He is in control; I am but His vessel.
I am writing this post today because I, like you, have been lonely so many times before.
I have been excluded.
Unlike my better half, I was not a member of the popular crowd in high school.
My experience was quite different, as was yours.
We all have our own insights and experiences to bring to the table, and TOGETHER, what a difference that can make!
At Christmastime, Luke and Bear helped me deliver cookies to the 16 houses in our neighborhood. In doing so, we had lively conversations with people from all walks of life.
- There is the family down the street with a young toddler who adores Bear (begging us to share the negative aspects of puppyhood to prevent them from going out and buying one just like him! Haha).
- There is another family with teenagers in the cul-de-sac who used to plan all kinds of socials for the neighborhood before she was diagnosed with brain cancer. She spent much of December in the hospital and didn’t have much time or energy to bake. I hope our small bag of goodies lifted her spirits.
- There is a couple who are disabled and semi-housebound with no living relatives. We were their only visitors this holiday season.
I do not share this to pump ourselves up in any way; we didn’t do much after all–just the simple delivery of a few goodies. It took about 5-6 hours out of my life to bake them, bag them, and deliver them. But, if we have an opportunity to share love to our neighbors (in this case our physical neighbors), I want to capitalize on that whenever I can. In fact, this cookie delivery sparked a rare and unusual friendship.
A lady in her 60’s a few doors down bought her home about two years ago with the intention to spend her golden years with her husband in the Sunshine State, after a life spent traveling abroad. Only two months after they moved in, however, he became extremely ill and died unexpectedly. She is alone now, and she is in a way stuck in this house, in this place all alone except for her little puppy.
We emailed back and forth a bit over the holidays, and I finally proposed a meal together. She responded by inviting me to eat with her in her home and even offered to cook! How unexpected and kind.
I’ve linked the recipe above, as it was so delicious, I insisted she share! Perfect for a cold winter’s evening.
We talked about all kinds of things and shared so many laughs that night. I look forward to reciprocating the invitation to our home soon.
Another great example of inclusion is simply being brave enough to say hi, do you want to be friends or share a meal with me? My friend Rachel Sampler and I met in a parking lot on our way to a PTA meeting, and our friendship only progressed because she was brave enough to message me on Facebook afterwards. (Our husbands were later in the same Army unit, and the rest is history.) But, what a blessing and inspiration that parking lot meeting is to me!
This morning at Church, the pastor spoke about the ways in which we limit ourselves in showing God’s love. We limit our friend group to our age, to our nationality, our belief system, etc. But, what amazing things can occur if we are but willing to broaden our horizons and choose inclusion instead?
I want to model the antithesis of cliques for my future children by creating a home with my husband where everyone is always welcome and loved, just as Christ loves us.
Understanding Some Rejection Is Natural
Some exclusion is going to be more natural than other exclusions of course, and those are usually easier to handle. When you aren’t invited to Mommy’s Day Out because you don’t have a child, for example. Or, you aren’t invited to a particular departmental dinner because it is for colleagues in another area.
Yesterday, Bear (and Luke and I) made some new friends at the Valentine’s Doodle Romp. A local doodle owner organizes quarterly events for doodle owners and their parents at a pet day spa. The dogs get to play together and run out some energy, and the owners talk and get to know one another.
It would make sense in these settings that a non-dog person or a German Shepherd owner, for example, will not be invited.
However, beyond specifically designed inclusive activities for a purpose (e.g. our dogs are the same breed and get along well- let’s hang out!), I think so many other things could be inclusive that we choose to make exclusive instead.
For instance, a woman I greatly admire (in another state) runs a Christian book club with the same group of women for years and years. And she will explicitly tell you newcomers aren’t welcome. They enjoy their group dynamic and have all agreed not to extend invitations to anyone else.
This is when I have to question: Is this what Jesus would want from this group of believers? I would not wish to comment on this instance, but in general, if we are promoting adult cliques or are so set on forming and maintaining exclusive groups, I have to wonder what opportunities and friendships are we missing out on?
As God’s children, are we following the example He has modeled for us, or are we forging our own way, pulling tight the people we like (typically based on first impression cognition) and dismissing those that just aren’t like us?
This isn’t to say we won’t be more naturally drawn to form close friendships with some people rather than others, and those relationships do tend to be more likeminded. Think of the “best friend” described above. Y’all probably have an awful lot in common to be each other’s confidante throughout life.
However, even if you do have a best friend, and there is nothing inherently wrong with that, could you consider inviting someone else to just one of your weekly lunches? Maybe extending an invitation to hit the gym to a variety of people versus the same person Every. Single. Time? You may still see your bestie more than others, but by closing ourselves off to JUST that bestie, we miss out.
You Can’t Sit With Us: How To Respond When Exclusion Hurts
No matter your age, rejection stings. I wrote a bit about this in January if you want to take a look back at that blog. I am guessing we are similar (simply as humans on this planet) in experiencing some form of rejection- personal or professional- in cycles throughout our lives.
One insight that I had recently is that sometimes, when you aren’t friends with someone you badly wanted to be friends with or you aren’t dating someone you thought was the bee’s knees, there is a clear purpose for that, which is revealed later.
Sorority Rush is an example I can think of where you might want so badly to belong to a particular group or be matched to a particular house, and it isn’t in the cards. Often, the place you end up belonging (sorority or not) is so clearly a better match for you for myriad reasons! And looking back, isn’t it wonderful that you are not in that house or with that group that might be destined for trouble or might serve to pull you down instead of to build you up?
Another thought would be to keep trying, trying, trying; just as God has demonstrated for us, loving someone (even non-reciprocated love) is never wasted. Sometimes, it is OK to love those who don’t love us back. And, even if you yearn for your own needs for love and friendship to be met, it is OK to accept that this particular relationship is one-sided, and that you will be in the position of loving them a little bit more for a season. At some point, you’ll have to decide whether to continue on or to move on, but that is a crossroads for a future date.
It is important that we find our identity and value in GOD and not in this world, as He is where we find ultimate peace to handle anything this world can throw at us, including rejection.
The book “Univited” by Lysa Terkeurst is a powerful read and a great resource for anyone struggling with this kind of thing.
There was also a recent podcast on Focus on the Family about “Recovering from People Pleasing?” (Is anyone raising their hands with me on this one?!) that explains how pleasing God in the form of keeping His Commandments is the ultimate goal.
To be honest, I had not planned to write this blog at all, but God has been fairly insistent with my heart on this matter by placing all of these messages and resources at my disposal to share with y’all. And often, if I have anything on my heart, I use this platform to blabber about it and to hopefully share a bit of encouragement with all of the women out there, particularly women like me, in new homes who badly want to post a friendship ad like the one pictured above.
Being friends with “people not like me” has enriched my life in ways I cannot describe. Being the Home Who Hosts has never been something I’ve regretted, and the More the Merrier mentality is the best possible one, in my humble opinion. When you choose to serve rather than be served, the blessings almost always come back tenfold.
I will close with love and a sincere offer to pray for any of my readers who may have a burden on their hearts today. Don’t hesitate to comment on this post, send me a private message, or if you follow me on Facebook to contact me there. I would love the chance to be an encouragement to you in any way I can.
In Christ’s love,