She sits alone on the couch, scrolling through social media as she sees group after group of happy faces. Girls nights and brunches. Martinis and mascara. Glowing faces of the “it” girls who belong. Like scenes from a chick flick playing out in real life, it seems like everyone has a group–except her. As her messy bun flops to the side, she tells herself she won’t cry. She tells herself it doesn’t matter, that she is stronger being alone. But inside, she asks:
What’s wrong with me?
Why am I never invited or part of the group?
So many of us have been “her” at one time. For some of us, we are the girl left out in junior high or high school. Some of us find this in the workplace when we realize the job of our dreams is actually a clique haven. For others, it comes in mom groups, the PTO, the gym. I’ve come to realize there’s always a risk you’ll be “her.”
For many of us, when it happens in adulthood, we’re left feeling those lonely feelings of our hormonal teenage days. We might try to cover it up. We put on the brave “kick ass” face and pretend it doesn’t matter. We tell ourselves we love staying at home, that martini nights sound like a chore, and that the people in the photos aren’t happy anyways. Some of us pour ourselves into work, into our families, into our children, into our dogs. We tell ourselves we’re too busy doing other things to care, and that friend groups like that really only exist in the movies.
Some of us blame ourselves. If only we were more—what exactly? Anything, really. Fill in the blank with your chosen adjective. Loving. Outgoing. Open. Beautiful. We make lists miles long of our shortcomings, of why others don’t want to be with us. We sulk in our lonely caves of quiet, secretly Facebook stalking others and scolding ourselves for being creepy. We tell ourselves we’re going to get out there more, fit in more, but we don’t.
Some of us tell ourselves it’s not worth being in the “in” group anyway. We fill our heads with stories of lies and deception. We hang onto every word of gossip about the popular group, secretly hoping they fall into anarchy.
And some of us tell ourselves to rise above the feeling. We remind ourselves that we don’t have to be popular to matter. We tell ourselves all of the mantras and quotes our female relatives probably told us in high school. We convince ourselves we’re doing just fine and that it’s okay if we’re left out. We soothe our soul with the fact so many others feel this way. We might even tell ourselves it’s not the popular group’s intention to leave us out. We push kindness and forgiveness to the forefront of our minds in order to ease our wounds.
But if you’ve ever been “her,” the woman left out, left behind, or who just feels plain invisible, I want you to know that I see you. So many of us do.
Also, though, maybe you’re reading this and you’re the other “her,” the one in the it group. I want you to know I’m not here to villainize you or make you feel guilty. Maybe you don’t even realize what’s happening, or maybe you argue that you can’t invite everyone. It’s not your job to be friends with everyone. Maybe you’re just living your best life and not thinking about it. Maybe you work harder than some of us on friendship and making connections. You don’t think you should feel guilty about that.
I can agree with you on all of that, I really can. Still, I challenge you to ask yourself if you can think about the other side, about what it’s like. I’m sure that even in the “it” group, you’ve found yourself feeling lost or alone, left out or abandoned at some point. You know that’s not a good feeling.
Nonetheless, what’s to be done about it? That’s the question that unites everyone, no matter where you rank in the scheme of it all. Whether you’re “her” or the “other her,” both sides are faced with the impossible question of what can be done.
The thing is, I think something should be done. Everyone deserves to belong. Everyone deserves a place to fit, a community, a group. We can shirk off responsibility and say, “We’re all grown here. It’s not my job to help everyone feel like they belong.” That’s true. We all need our own sense of resilience and independence. We are grown, and we need to realize we can be our own best friends.
Still, lately, I’m not satisfied with doing just that. Because I can’t help but think of some of the women out there, day after day, fading into oblivion because they feel invisible. I can’t help but think about the women who maybe weren’t raised with a strong sense of worth. I think about the women who are struggling with heavy things and just want a place to lay down their head, to be comforted, to be understood. I think of the girls, the women out there who aren’t strong enough to go searching for that place. I think about what it could mean if a hand reached out and pulled them in, what a difference it could make.
So what do we do about it?
It’s a question I’ve been considering. I don’t think we throw our hands up and say that’s the age we live in or let it just be a mark of our gender to be catty, gossipy, and toxic. I don’t think the answer is found, either, in spreading T-shirts around about girl power and positivity and kindness. I don’t think we can throw a girls’ night for everyone and really mean it. I don’t know, in truth, if we can fix the whole problem. Maybe we really do just have to settle for building resiliency in our girls and getting to a place as adults where we convince ourselves it doesn’t matter.
I’ve been thinking lately, though that maybe, as women, we can start trying another way. We can start making more room at the table. We can challenge ourselves to put a few empty seats just in case. We can all remember what it’s like to feel lost, alone, and uninvited. Those of us who have strong groups of friends group or strong senses of self can make it our goal to find someone who doesn’t. We can seek those quiet ones in our lives and try to make room. We can send invites even if we don’t think they’ll be accepted and even if they aren’t. Not pity invites, mind you. Not look at me being nice to the quiet girl invites. Invites that we really mean because we realize….it’s no fun being “her.”
We’ve all been her at least once in our lives. I’m not suggesting we whip out the rendition of Kumbaya and all embrace each other in a group hug. I know this sounds, in some ways, like a ridiculous, lofty vision that isn’t possible. And I’m not saying we can’t go out with our friends and have a guilt-free good time. And no, we can’t carry the weight of everyone. We can’t sacrifice our own mental health and well-being to save others.
But I think we can try. What if just a few of us try? I think we owe it to the strength of women everywhere to at least try to do better.
We can ask more questions and whisper less.
We can seek to build a sense of belonging instead of a sense of exclusion.
We can build bridges to other women and try to look out for those who are struggling.
We can do our best to be inclusive in the areas of our lives we control.
We can leave the world a little brighter for others, even if they aren’t ready to accept our invites.
We can set extra seats out even if we don’t think they’re needed.
And for those of us who are currently “her,” we can do our best to remember we truly aren’t alone. Maybe we can use our sadness to start our own group, to create our own inclusive group for other women near us who are feeling the same way. We can reach out to those who are often on the fringes, who are invisible, who aren’t ever in the group pictures or at the brunches or sipping the martinis. We can be a leader in our own arena and unite those around us.
We don’t need a group to be happy or survive, it’s true. There’s something to be said for being your own best friend. Still, I think we all deserve the chance to be a part of a group, to feel like we belong. And even if we don’t want a group, I argue there is something we all crave: we all want to feel seen.
So no matter who you are, I ask you: see someone today. Really see her. It’s easy to ignore “her.” It is. But it takes a whole lot of courage and awareness to see her.
L.A. Detwiler is a USA Today Bestselling author and teacher. To learn more about her work and connect with her, visit http://www.instagram.com/ladetwiler ; http://www.facebook.com/ladetwiler.
USA TODAY Bestselling Thriller author with Avon Books (HarperCollins), The Widow Next Door, The Diary of a Serial Killer's Daughter, and other creepy thriller books