In my middle school, there was this courtyard that everyone funneled into during breaks and lunch. Imagine large masses of fresh teens – fueled by an insurgence of imbalanced hormones and the determination to reach the highest tier of some notorious social hierarchy – all concentrated in one area. It was like a daily mental round of Fear Factor, now that I look back at it.
If you took the time to look closer though, you could pinpoint distinct clusters: those that sat at the lunch tables, those that huddled around the planters, those perched by the fence, those who scattered themselves across the steps of the outdoor stage. I feel like Janis Ian from Mean Girls right now, exposing all the little cliques that inevitably formed with the segregation of the student body, but the cliques aren’t the big focus here. What typically came with cliques were the floaters (Urban Dictionary defines it in a unanimously cynical way but I didn’t know that before I started using the term in a completely neutral, almost positive way…so please just set aside any negative connotations you might have around the word, at least until the end of this post): the ones who didn’t really belong to a certain group, the ones who bounced around and could penetrate multiple social bubbles in a given lunch period, the ones who sometimes ended up being the odd ones out. It’s different than being a “social butterfly” because that would imply that we had the grace, charisma, and confidence in these friendship bubble rotations, but we most definitely did not have any of that. That middle school courtyard is a microcosm for what is still prevalent in a lot of high school/college/”grown up” settings (although a lot less intense) because wherever you go, cliques will exist in some way or another. Again, not the point though. What was I saying?
To be honest, I’ve learned how to pride myself in being a floater. Who wouldn’t want to have as many friends as possible, right? Granted, not all of them are the most genuine, comfortable friendships to spend time and energy keeping, but they’re still friends. They’re still people you can say “hi” to in the hallways, people you can sit next to in a class full of strangers, people you can partner up with during lab when the all smart kids are taken.
I probably shouldn’t spill the trade secrets to being able to make friends easily because they’re going to sound really…just… bad. We floaters hop around so much because we haven’t found our solid friend group yet, so if you think about all the friends we accidentally make in the process of trying to see if we click in a certain clique, the quantity-over-quality analogy naturally leads to a very obvious defect in the way we socialize: we’re disgustingly fake. Our conversations are surface-level until we realize that those friends are worth keeping and worth showing our deeper sides to. We all conform to some extent in order to bring up our commonalities and bury our differences, based on whoever we’re interacting with. There’s a lot of “Oh Yeaaah”, “Oh Iiiiiinteresting”, “Oh me too”, and some variation of a small giggle to fill in the silent gaps of our starting conversations.
Of course, there are also wholesome things I learned from the trial and errors of socializing. Contrary to what I stated above, the most genuine way to make friends is simply to seek the beauty in the people you meet, because that’s the one thing everyone has. And if that requires you to participate in a “superficial” conversation as a gateway to know more about them, then so be it. Before you know it, you’re extracting the most sincere parts of yourself in hopes that the other does the same. Voilá! Friendship! What a magical thing!
Now, here’s the bummer about being a floater. Some days, it can get painfully blatant that you don’t belong around the group of people you’ve been around: their laughter rings with harmony that you disrupt as soon as you join in, all the inside jokes go over your head, the topics of conversation go dry very very fast, etc. It makes you believe that no matter how many friends you hang out with, or how many groups you’re a part of, it’s always inevitably just you at the end of the day. No commitments also means no attachments also means no default group to turn to for both the smallest struggles and the heartbreaking tragedies. So when sadness does strike, you learn how to pick up your own pieces and talk yourself into being okay. You have to walk the thin line between being realistic and optimistic in order to overcome the challenges that are just way too embarrassing to share to the public. You master the art of speaking in a second person perspective because you are both the patient and the therapist.
BUT just because you’re your own counselor, it doesn’t necessarily mean that everything you convince yourself to believe is BS. If anything, you are probably more in tune with the truth than the average person. Why else do you find it difficult believing everyone else’s fluffy words right? So here’s some truth: you are a floater and it’s nothing bad. You spend a lot of time keeping to yourself because it takes a long time to recover and an even longer time to trust someone to help you recover. You don’t mind jumping from group to group because you want to learn from all types of people just as much as you want to spread their knowledge, their passions, their light. That’s probably why it’s hard for you to stay in a bubble of exclusiveness – not exactly because you can’t, but because you don’t want to. The impulse to be exposed to a spectrum of personalities and background stories overcomes the desire to be tethered to a certain group of people. You may not consider yourself a social butterfly, but that part’s pretty cool if you ask me. And even if you feel the weight of not belonging anywhere, you’re never ever ever alone. Don’t be afraid to reach out to the people you’ve encountered, or even to ask them for help when times get really tough. Being a floater can get difficult sometimes, but I don’t think I would have it any other way.