Online Outsider Syndrome and finding your clique

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…

Comments

  1. says

    I love your closing line!
    I’ve been on the fringes my whole life, even now as an adult in the working world. But I’ve grown to like it, to feel comfortable there. You’re right – doing your own thing and finding genuine people in the process is worth so much more than compromising yourself to fit in.

  2. says

    Yes to this!! I have NEVER been cool and I definitely do not have a gang, blogging or otherwise. Other bloggers rarely mention me or tag me in anything but I’m okay with that – years of practice! And like you so wisely say, your real gang aren’t those online cool kids, they are your real life family and friends who love you no matter how many likes your Instagram pics get.

  3. says

    I am this – No really. I have no online gang or tribe. I just do not fit it. My family are my tribe and I love them with all my might. So yes I get envious and jealous. I often wish I lived nearer London rather than the frozen North, but then I pick myself up and pat myself down and think “what the hell”. I never was conventional, I never was cool and I want my kids to know it is OK to stand out and not follow the crowd or be cool.

    However, I adore your vlogs, they make me laugh and also very glad that I am over the headstrong toddler stage. E is so much like Mini it hurts!

    • says

      I can so relate to what you’re saying Jen. I feel the same! But you’re right – and I do wonder how many people we perceive to be on the “inside” often feel like outsiders themselves anyway?!

      • says

        Me too! I am always on the outside and have a few different groups of people but I’m always on the edge. I’ve always felt like this but luckily have good mates who’ve experienced it too. Interesting that we see others as being within that circle but they may not feel they are. The only time it worries me really is at the school gate. I wonder if I’m letting my kids down by not being in the school mum cliques but I have no idea (or desire tbh) how to get into them. Great post x

        • says

          I totally know what you mean Claire. I’ve never felt on the “outside” at the school gates, but that’s largely because F is at such a small school and I’m buddies with all the mums. You’re right, it’s really interesting how we often perceive people to be on the “inside” but, actually, they probably feel just like we do. It’s quite heartening really! x

  4. Kileah McIlvain says

    Chica I could not have put this any better! I’ve been in this “fringe camp” ever since I was a wee thing. And despite the conflicting desires of wanting to fit in and wanting to forge my own path, I think that I’ve really felt a “coming into” my own skin since I hit my 30’s.
    Hearing your own experiences with this and finding kinship in your honesty really encourages me! I reckon that the older we get, the more sure the grooves of our strength and individuality grow.
    You are so loved and may I rise a fist into the air in solidarity and kinship with you! Xoxo

  5. says

    I can totally relate to this, but you know what, once you get to my time of life (jeez I sound so old) you realise that those ‘cool’ groups really weren’t all they were cracked up to be. I have friends that I have had for decades & they will be around for decades more, and they are the ones that really matter, along with family. Your girls are ace & as they grow up you will have the coolest tribe ever!

    • says

      Ah thank you Helen! I think after writing this post I’m starting to realise that perhaps our perception of other “tribes” is that often lots of the people we think are on the “inside” feel just the same as everyone else. And I think you’re absolutely right – I’m sure I didn’t really miss out by not being in any of the so called “cool” groups as a teen. There was enough pressure at the age of 15 as it was. Goodness knows how I’d have managed if I’d have been in the “it crowd” too!

      • says

        Yes I think you’re right. I’ve often walked into a room of ‘mummies’ & felt scared & thought that they all knew each other, & it’s not until maybe weeks later that you discover they were just as scared as you & didn’t know anybody else either .

  6. Becky says

    Ooh Molly I feel a bit like this too in regard to blogging I have a couple of good friends but have never felt part of the in crowd

    • says

      It’s so lovely to hear this Becky. For what it’s worth, I’ve always really admired your lovely attitude to blogging and online friendships. You’re always so inclusive and that, in itself, is a gang that I love to be part of! xx

  7. says

    I feel like you are writing about me. Never seem to fit right in with any Croud. But I’m ok with that as I’d rather stay true to myself and be me than pretend to be something I’m not

  8. says

    Really enjoyed this and totally get what you mean. I feel exactly the same and quite “lost” at times in terms of making sure I’m being “myself” on social media rather than a version of myself. Just kind of plodding along wondering what I’m actually doing on insta most of the time. It’s scary how social media has basically become exactly the same as real life in terms of those awkward feelings and the “where do I belong” questions. It definitely brings back some memories of the past. That’s for sure! A great read xx

    • says

      Instagram is a funny old thing isn’t it? I love it as a platform and it can be such an inclusive, giving community. But I think sometimes it can feel a bit like you’re looking in, with your face pressed against a window, watching all lots of other people having fun together. Or maybe that’s just me! Thank you so much for your wonderfully honest comment. xx

  9. says

    It’s funny because I always see you as one of the cool mum bloggers and assume you have loads of blogger friend in an inner circle. I am the same, I have friends but no gang, no tribe. I also see those meetups and think well when will I ever get invited. But that’s life isn’t it? And actually when I go to events it means I am free to do what I want, not huddle, so that is actually a win. xxx

    • says

      Yes you’re right – it’s definitely liberating! I think my thing is that, just like in real life, I’m friends with lots of different people in blogging. Not just online but in “real life” too. Lots of my blogging buddies have become real, genuine, valued proper friends that I see regularly and text all the time, but we’re all so different and often have very different groups of friends online, so it’s not a clique in that sense. But I love that you think I’m a “cool mum”. I’ll take that! xxx

  10. Kate says

    This makes me feel a bit more ‘normal’. I’m not a blogger, vlogger or anyone of interest on social media. I’ve never been in a group/tribe/clique and even now as a 30 year old I don’t have one single friend who knows everything about me or who I could call on at the drop of a hat if I needed them. It makes me feel very lonely and jealous of people who do have that. But my husband is my rock. And my 2 year old boy is my world. I aim to teach him to be happier and cooler than me just by being himself!

    • says

      It sounds like you have a solid clique if ever there was one. A husband who you can call your rock and a gorgeous son – what more is needed?! Thank you so much for your comment. It’s really heartening to hear I’m not the only person who’s ever felt like this. x

  11. says

    Could literally have written this myself (except not so well!). Really resonates. And I too have decided that even if I’m not in a particular group, the individual friends I have had for years are worth far more to me than a “tribe” that all hangs out together. And the most wonderful thing about it is that I have friends from all different places and backgrounds and they all fit together because we only have to organise a few of us at a time, not huge gangs of people, meaning when we do get together it is always completely relaxed and completely wonderful.
    I do sometimes feel it in the blogging world, because my blog doesn’t really fit any category – home renovations, but not just (and we won’t be doing them forever), travel, food, and now pregnancy and soon motherhood – it’s a mish mash of my life, and I wonder if people really want to read that, and where I belong among other bloggers. But maybe it doesn’t matter – as long as I love writing it, right?! x

    • says

      Oh goodness – YES! As long as you’re enjoying it that is literally ALL that matters. I’m so excited to read about this next phase for you (as I am to read and lust over all your beautiful interiors projects!). xx

  12. says

    Molly, this is an absolutely brilliant blog post and so relateable. If you did have a gang, I’d want to be in it. You sound pretty cool to me! Though not going to lie … Sean Paul over Idlewild came as a bit of a shock after declaring your love for Blur and Oasis, but as someone who actually bought that ‘f*ck you right back’ single (remember that? All I’ll say is it was a bad break-up ????), I’m hardly one to judge!! xxx

    • says

      Ha – apologies on the Sean Paul front – but Dutty Rock was a classic album!! That was always my problem at uni I think – I loved the Indie “credible” music (Jeff Buckley, oh yeah!) but MAN I can’t help a bit of Sean Paul or classic Girls Aloud action!! xx

  13. says

    Can relate to this lots. I’ve always gravitated towards having friends across different groups rather than a close tribe or absolute BFFs. To be honest I think I’m a little scared of the commitment of being in a clique. Im quite happy plodding along in my own way, but sometimes I look at these groups and wonder if I’m missing a trick, would I be happier? Etc.

    • says

      I know exactly what you mean. I think as long as you’re happy with the friendships you do have you don’t have to have a “cluster” of friends all in one group, if you know what I mean? x

  14. says

    Oh my word! The most amazing post, you have literally answer questions I’ve asked myself. You just described how I felt through school and how I still do feel sometimes and to be honest I always just think it’s just me but thank you thank you!
    I’m not the only one ????????????

  15. says

    I would never have said this about you! I too feel exactly like this but have never really thought of it having a name like this, it’s perfect! I’ve been in and out of cliques and had my BFF’s when I was younger but I really just can’t be bothered with it all now. It’s far too much hard work and quite frankly I don’t have the time. My tribe is most definitely my little family! Fab post Molly x

  16. says

    YES YES YES

    Someone said to me the other week that you are great friends with so and so and so and so. It is funny what people see.

    I feel completely alone most of the time in a huge blogging world.
    I don’t fit, tbh I never have anywhere. I have always been looking into that bubble and occasionally passed through.

    At times like you say I look to my 5 and realise I have an amazing little
    Tribe right here but then sometimes that doubt comes back.

    Isn’t it funny Molly I would never have throught of you like this. You are one of my top faves online. You always seem the perfect amount of real and put together. A little of an inspiration for me.
    Thank you for writing this post xx

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