There was a post called “On cliques” going around a month and a half that I meant to talk about at the time but never got around to; it’s about somebody feeling ostracized by “big names” at a party because they were talking to each other instead of talking to him, and about his subsequent re-evaluation of the situation as he later got to know some of the people involved. Interesting post, because it brings together a couple of disparate issues: cliquishness and insularity are a real problem, but sometimes you just want to catch up with friends, and after a certain point of renown it becomes impossible to meaningfully interact with everybody who would like to interact with you anyways. And if you throw all of this together with the layers of interpretation that come between what is said and what is taken in, you can sometimes get a real mess.

For me, the key quote was “I was angry at people for being friends”, because I totally can sympathize with that feeling: every so often, my brain will decide to do that sort of thing itself. I’ll see people enjoying talking to each other, enjoying spending time together, and feel hurt, even a little angry, that I’m not part of that interaction. And this is messed up: their interaction isn’t about me, it’s about them, and there is no way in which foregrounding myself into an evaluation of other people’s interaction makes sense or is useful at all.

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t do this a lot. (And I’m sure the author of that blog post doesn’t do it a lot, either!) In particular, if you are somebody who knows me in person: if you see me sitting off to the side, seeming distant, the significant majority of times this doesn’t mean that my brain is in a bad place. (And if I am in a bad place, it’s almost always for a different reason!) I am a strong introvert: most of the time that distance is a happy place for me to be. Not that there’s anything wrong with wandering over and saying hi, I’ll probably enjoy that too, it’s just that I’ll be fine either way.

But I suspect that this particular brain misfeature might be something that introverts are relatively prone to: my guess is that introverts’ desire for fewer connections can turn into wanting those connections to be deeper, sometimes at the expense of respecting the other connections that the other parties could be involved in. I don’t know, though; I don’t actually even spend that much time with strong extraverts, and when I do it’s rarely in situations where that extraversion manifests itself most fully (I try to duck out of those situations), so I don’t have a lot of experience to draw on. And, after all, this is just one form of jealously, which is a pretty widespread human emotion.


That’s one side of the blog post. But the flip side is: exclusionary social behavior is a real thing and frequently a bad thing. And so there’s a real tension here: it’s fine to acknowledge that friendships are a great thing, but it’s also important to acknowledge that those friendships are enmeshed within a broader social context, and we can’t completely separate individual choices in individual situations from that broader context.

Of course, that broader context can play either way even in group + outsider situations: maybe the friends talking are members of a dominant social group while the outsider isn’t, but maybe the outsider is a member of a dominant social group who feels entitled to butt in anywhere. Still, the former is a real issue.


I dunno. I guess I’ll say: if you’re feeling excluded by watching somebody else’s interaction, then start by saying to yourself “it’s great that they’re enjoying spending time together”. Maybe they’re old friends who haven’t seen each other in ages, maybe one of them had a little victory that the other person was just the right person to share it with, maybe one of them has had something go wrong and needed that ear to listen. It doesn’t matter, what matters is that the details of that interaction aren’t about you, and trying to make it about you is never going to be helpful.

Once you’re in that place, then sure: apply your critical skills however you want. But if you’re not in a situation where you can be happy that other people are enjoying their time together, then maybe it wouldn’t work out so well if they were spending time with you either.

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