I had my first taste of Outsider Syndrome aged 12, in year 7 at secondary school. It wasn’t that I didn’t have any friends (I did), but I didn’t run with the cool kids and never counted myself as a part of a “gang”. I was the original Inbetweener, the one with lots of friends in various groups – not part of the super cool elite but not at the “bottom” of the school social chain either.
The feeling of not belonging started as a vague one, when I realised my classmates were listening to TLC while I was hooked on Blur and Oasis. The feeling got stronger when I went to my first house party and all the kids from the school down the road (who did listen to Blur and Oasis) were wearing Buffalo Boots while I rocked my Reebok Classics. I didn’t fit into the Indie tribe of kids who lived in my area but I wasn’t “street” enough for the cool kids at the school I went to on the other side of town.
I remember, aged 14, so keen to fit in to a core group and be part of a clique. Back then, it was my best mate and I against the world. We’d hang out with various groups of kids, feeling cool every time we were invited along to stuff. We weren’t outsiders, but we weren’t on the inside either. Forever on the fringes, I guess. I never did buy those Buffalo Boots.
At uni it was the same thing. I did all the clubs, had all the mates, was never short of a text on my Nokia 32:10 inviting me to the pub or the SU bar. But I still suffered occasional bouts of Outsider Syndrome.
I grew up in a typically middle class family, went to a school on one of the most deprived estates in Bristol (my local school wasn’t an option – Mum taught there) and had always straddled two quite different worlds. As a teen, I had friends who lived in council houses and others who lived in 5 bed townhouses in the upmarket part of the city. I didn’t ever distinguish between my mates – as long as they were kind and funny that’s all that mattered to me. So it shocked me to find the class system in full force at uni.
Some of my privately educated friends jokingly nicknamed me “Vicky Pollard” because I’d gone to a state school and spoke with a West Country twang after two pints of beer. My Indie mates knew I’d choose Sean Paul and Girls Aloud over Idlewild any day of the week, so I was never going to make that inner circle. I was bookish, but not bookish enough to be in the brainiac gang. I was sporty but not glam enough to be in the cheerleading or netball squad.
Even now, as a blogging mum, I don’t easily fit into a tribe. My vlogs and writing, for example, are the mark of a so-called “Slummy Mummy”, but my love of Pinteresty prettiness and Instagrammable photos puts me in the “Yummy Mummy” category. I don’t run with the Girl Gang squad on Instagram – at least not in person – mainly because I live so far from London I can never make it to any of the events any Insta-mum worth her cool crown will be seen at. More than that though, my face doesn’t really fit in any of those places either. I don’t wear expensive designer clothes, don’t network the hell out of press events and feel like an idiot if I ever try to pose doing a peace sign against a brightly coloured wall.
This isn’t to say I’m not friends with any of the ladies in any of these tribes. The opposite is true – I’m mates with many – but I’m not in any “inner circle”. But then, that’s always been my way.
Sometimes this gets me down. From a blogger perspective, for example, it can feel a bit isolating to go onto Instagram and see your blogging pals giving each other Insta-shout-outs or hanging out together “IRL”. And on those occasions it can be tempting to either alter my voice just a tad to suit a particular tribe, or just give up completely and skulk offline.
But you know what? There’s one thing I’ve learned in my 25 years of being on the fringes, and it’s this: life isn’t always better in the inner circle. Whether you’re 14 or 34 , if you’re not 100% true to yourself and try to “fit in” with a gang just for the sake of belonging, then it just means you haven’t found your tribe yet. As for me? I’ve given up searching. I’d rather have lots of genuine friends in different places than be part of a core clique – I always thought those Buffalo Boots looked hard to walk in anyway.
After all, maybe I’ve already found my clique without even looking…