The Friendship Doctor

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Excluded by Grown-Up Mean Girls

At any age, it's painful to be excluded by a group.

QUESTION

Hello,

I am looking for some advice on adult female friendship cliques. I have mixed with a group of 7 or 8 women in my hometown since my oldest child was at kindergarten and she is now nine. I have been closer to some more than others and fluctuations in the intimacy of these friendships have occurred, which is probably normal.

Recently, however, I have felt excluded by multiple members of the group. For example, this is what's happened:

  • Having to have own room on recent girls weekend; everyone else was paired up
  • Conversations going on around me based on previous chats that I'm not aware of (with no attempt by others to involve me in the discussion)
  • Ignoring me when I try to initiate discussions
  • Waking up on a girls’ weekend to a friend knocking on my door telling me the others were all were ready to go for walk (while only inviting me at the last minute.) The other six women were all outside waiting.
  • Sitting at dinner feeling distanced by people's body language and verbal communication. For 45 minutes, I watched the clock as conversation flowed around me without anyone asking me a question.
  • Awkward seating arrangement when we’re out together. I sit down first and the other six arrange themselves to my left so no one sits directly opposite me.

I could go on. As a result I have been incredibly quiet which has then attracted mild interest about what's wrong but with little follow up. The closest friend has even sent regular texts, one stating she wanted to talk because she was concerned about what was going on with me. One week later there were invitations to group activities but no 1:1. Since I told her I felt excluded and on the fringe, she has acted as if I haven’t said that and keeps saying she doesn't want to converse through text. But she hasn’t suggested a time to chat (she was the initiator about needing to talk)---which I find odd.

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I'm not sure whether to distance myself or confront. Other friends have been cold since the weekend away. I feel strong alliances and cliques have developed and I don't have a position anymore. In fact I feel I am at the bottom of the hierarchy.

Any advice? I'm 38.

Signed,
Sharon

ANSWER

Hi Sharon,

It’s hard to know what’s going on. It could be that your group of friends is less welcoming and pulling away from you (although the reasons why aren’t obvious); it could also be that you are pulling away from the group (because you feel rejected); or it could be some combination of the two---which is probably the most likely scenario.

When a group of women have been friends for four or five years, it’s natural that the relationships between individuals and among the group would change over time. But like you, I’m not sure why they would suddenly cast one person in the role of an outsider unless something happened of which you are unaware.

Since your value these relationships and your participation in the group, I think you want to get a better notion of what has happened. Distancing yourself would only exacerbate the problem; confronting the group might give the impression that you feel wronged and put them on the defensive.

Your initial impulse to speak to one person was correct but don’t let the situation drag on any longer. Follow up with your closest friend. Invite her to join you for coffee or tea and tell her how awkward and uncomfortable you have been feeling with the group. Maybe there is something she wants to communicate that she hasn’t felt comfortable putting in writing. A text message might be misunderstood or forwarded to other people.

If this friend isn’t willing to meet, try to see if there is another person to whom you feel comfortable speaking. Is there any possibility that this schism could have to do with the kids rather than the adults? Understandably, at this point, you seem very hurt, sensitive and hypervigilant to slights, so try to give your friends the benefit of the doubt that this can be worked out.

Stay in touch and let us know what transpires.

Best, Irene

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Irene S. Levine, Ph.D., is a psychologist and professor of psychiatry at the NYU School of Medicine. Her latest book is Best Friends Forever: Surviving a Breakup With Your Best Friend.

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