Opinion | A love letter to the excluded

By Sarah Liez, Senior Staff Columnist

We all know what it feels like to exist on the outside of a group of friends. Looking in, feeling awkward and feeling like no one would care if you weren’t there. Last semester, I thought I was part of a certain group of friends. Whenever I reached out, they would agree to plans, invite me over, tell me they had missed me and were just very busy. All of this was fair and true. They were not lying, and they had no malice — I knew this then and I know this now.

I realized pretty quickly, however, that my presence in their group truly made no difference. If I didn’t put myself out there, no one would think to include me. Soon, I began to consider that maybe they didn’t want me there at all — that they were only accepting my advances out of guilt. Maybe they were “trying to be nice” instead of admitting to themselves that they truly did not care about being my friend. It wasn’t their fault that they had gotten closer without me and it wasn’t my fault I just didn’t happen to fit in their picture. It was just the way it was — people grow apart, other people grow closer. It happens, that’s life.

However, that was not the essence of my exclusion — it was merely the foundation. Exclusion happens when people engage in relational aggression — covert behaviors that cause harm through socially destructive or manipulative means, such as gossiping, ignoring social advances and excluding others from social events. While they had no malintentions, they did nearly all of the above while still claiming they were my friends — and it made me feel horrible about myself.

So why did I still want, despite all of this, to be in their friend group? Why do we all, even when people hurt and ignore us, want them to want us back? Why do we want to be a part of cliques at all?

We all know how much it stings watching from the outside and how tempting it is to desire, obtain and maintain a place on the inside of a social circle. You know they don’t care and that you shouldn’t care either, but you just can’t help it — inclusion is like a drug. If given the chance, would I have fished for an invite from them over accepting one from a good, real friend who I knew truly wanted to spend time with me? I’m ashamed to admit that the answer is yes — that I’ve done it more than once.

However, this issue has another side. Why do some people exclude others? Why do we watch others vye to be a part of our group, acknowledge how much they care and choose to ignore them? Simply disliking someone is one thing, but claiming to be their friend, offering assurance through words but not actions, is another.

Every person is the center of their own universe. In this, I mean that our thoughts, our opinions and our personal experiences are the only thing we see. We don’t focus on the experiences of others unless we consciously choose to, and even then we may not understand what that person is feeling. While empathy can come naturally, it is also a choice — a choice often ignored by those within exclusive social circles.

In these cliques, the people on the inside likely have no idea how others truly see them. They have no idea that other people see them as mean, as the people who exclude others, who ignore other friends and who put others down in order to lift themselves up. The “mean girls” may not see themselves as mean, but trust me when I say that other people do — a lot of people, the people who are hurting and even those who are not.

You may know that your behavior is hurtful. But even if you have just a twinge of knowledge that the people on the outside of your group — the people you have likely been before — are hurting just as you once were, you make excuses.

You tell yourself what you know — that you just grew distant, that these new relationships just happened to form stronger because of situational factors, that you just vibed with new people in a way you didn’t with others. There never is, never was, any ill intent. Still, that person on the outside is hurting. They see you party together every weekend. They see you get closer to new people. They see you do all of this without considering them, that person looking in and feeling left out. They wonder what they did wrong, why you don’t like them and what they could do to fix this — to fix themselves?

As a person who has experienced being in both the inside and the outside of groups like these, I know that those on the inside do not have malicious intentions. You normally don’t mean to exclude anyone and may not even dislike the person excluded. You and your friends are just close, it just happened that way, you just drifted apart, it was out of your control. That’s fair and probably true.

Still, that’s not how it looks from the outside. To those within these cliques, know that it doesn’t absolve you from ignoring that person’s texts, from making plans only to cancel them every time, from acting as if they don’t exist. Either tell them to their face that you simply aren’t interested or put in the minimal effort as the friend you claim to be. At the very least, reply to that text you’ve left on read and give them the closure they deserve.

To the person reading this on the inside of that group — you need to do better. To the person reading this on the outside of that group — you deserve better.

A long time ago, someone told me that friends are supposed to make you feel good about yourself. It is as simple as that — if someone makes you feel poorly about yourself, then they are not a good friend. To those on the outside — please, for your own sake, let go of these people. I know it’s hard, but it’s not worth hurting over someone who doesn’t care about you. 

You deserve to know that the people you spend time with want you there and that they would miss you if you weren’t. You deserve to feel loved and appreciated and like you matter. You deserve so much better than half-assed replies and pity invites and fake excuses as to why you weren’t invited at all — or even as to why your invitation was suddenly and painfully revoked.

To my reader on the outside of these cliques, I want you to take a good look at your social situation and ask yourself — is it worth it? Do you really want to be part of that group chat where no one will reply to you? Do you really want to beg someone to catch up with you over lunch? Do you really want to go to that party hosted by the people who make you question your own worth?

If the people in these groups make you feel good about yourself, then case closed. But, if they make you feel bad — if you feel seen or heard by the scenarios I’ve provided — you need to pull the band-aid off. Cut them out of your life and find the people who will care, who will make you feel loved and who will notice you and miss you when you’re gone. Don’t fight for people because you want to feel included — fight for those who go out of their way to include you. You deserve that much.


Sarah Liez writes primarily about gender issues and social phenomena. Write to her at [email protected].