Tanvi Bajpai
February 19, 2015 3:20 pm

When I was in middle school, I was (apparently) a floater.

For those of you who are unaware of middle school labels, a “floater” refers to someone who was not affiliated with a clique. They essentially “float” around from lunch table to lunch table, friend group to friend group, randomly sitting down with whichever classmates they feel like talking to that day. I somehow went through middle school blissfully unaware that I was even supposed to join a clique; the “clique culture” in my school was most prevalent during lunch, but had I never noticed it. I was happy floating around and talking to different people every day.

It wasn’t until I started high school, where lunch was the epicenter of social interactions that I had noticed that I didn’t belong to a clique, like I was apparently supposed to. I started to feel isolated from the rest of the students in my school; they all had a designated place, whereas I realized that I was just playing a music-less game of musical chairs.

In an effort to fit in, and essentially find a place among the 1600 students in my huge high school, I went out on a mission to plant myself in a friend group.

The first clique that I attempted to join my freshman year consisted of girls who I had known fairly well throughout middle school. I had probably spent the most time “floating” toward them, and so, to me, it only made sense to settle there. As that school year went by, I did whatever I could to become close with that group of already close-knit friends. I started watching the same shows as they did and listening to the same music. I even tried dressing like them. For a while, I felt accepted, although I realize now that the person I was when I was with them wasn’t really who I truly was

My time with that clique came to an end when a fight broke out between two of its members, and I chose the “wrong” side. I was alienated by the other girls, and because I wasn’t as close as they were, I was never really fully reaccepted into the group. So, I made the decision to leave it and find another.

My tactic sophomore year was to find a clique whose members I knew would never argue with each other, so I would never have to take sides and risk making the “wrong” decision that would get me kicked out. I found this group, and joined them along with another new girl, who I’ll call Sarah. Sarah and I were the newbies, and so we automatically became friends. We both tried everything to become close with these girls, and it seemed to be working. We stayed with this group until the end of junior year, when we realized we had been as accepted as we though.

We left the group when we found out that the other girls would frequently make plans to hang out without us, excluding us because we weren’t a part of what they called “the core group.” Sarah and I were both heartbroken; we had called these girls our best friends, but they didn’t even see us as close friends. We both decided to stop talking to the rest of the girls. What was most devastating was that the girls from this clique didn’t even bother asking why we had stopped talking to them or eating lunch with them. In fact, one of the girls told Sarah that she knew we were mad at them, but that she wasn’t going to apologize for anything. At that point, I was fed up with cliques.

My unfortunate experiences with cliques made me realize I’m happier just being a floater. There are a lot of misconceptions about floaters. Many people think we are just loners and introverts who are happier being alone than surrounded by people all of the time, but I’m here to tell you that these misconceptions couldn’t be further from the truth.

I am probably the most talkative person you’ll ever meet and I love being around people. I’m a Varsity swimmer for my high school team, which means that I have about 50 built-in friends (my teammates), so there is no logical way that I could be considered a loner. And being a floater doesn’t mean not having best friends or not being close with certain people. I have a best friend (SPOILER ALERT: It’s Sarah), and I am definitely closer to some friends than I am to others. We also don’t exclusively become friends with other floaters; I have good friends who belong to different cliques, and we can be friends without any clique conflicts.

The types of friends I made as a floater in middle school were the types of people I could walk up to and have a conversation with after weeks of not talking to each other. They were not the types of friends who would expect me to change my admittedly quirky habits just so I’d “fit in” with them. They did not get angry if I was caught talking to someone they didn’t like, but at the same time, they would feel comfortable talking to me about why they didn’t like that person. I was led to believe that these friends weren’t my close friends, since I wasn’t in their clique, yet, I’ve been friends with those people for 6 years now, whereas I barely look at my clique “friends” in the hallways anymore.

After separating myself from the clique system, I started seeing how the cliques in my school were confining student interaction. These cliques were essentially the stereotypical cliques that we make fun of from cheesy movies about high school with students played by 25-year-old actors and actresses; there were the jocks and cheerleaders, the drama kids, the orchestra kids, the smart kids (who were self-proclaimed nerds), the geeks, the hipsters, and everything in between. I noticed that the cliques I joined primarily consisted of Indian girls, and that there were other cliques that were also essentially defined by race or sex.

To be friends with the people in the clique, you were expected to be just like them. Joining a clique while trying to remain true to yourself was like trying to force a puzzle piece that you know wouldn’t fit into a space in the center of the wrong puzzle. You shouldn’t have to take scissors to the puzzle piece cut it so that it fits; it should just fit automatically.

Since resuming my floating ways this year, as a senior, I’ve probably been more social and made more friends than I have in the past three years of high school combined. I have friends from all different cultures and backgrounds, from different classes, from different sports teams, and that variety of people has made this year far more interesting than I’d imagine. I can freak out about K-POP groups with one person, and 10 minutes later I could be talking/ranting about how BBC’s Sherlock is SO much better than Elementary with someone else. I could spend one day eating lunch with my friends from AP Biology, and then spend lunch the next day in the dark room hanging around with my friends from photography. Being a floater has made me realize that there is a huge ocean of people out there waiting to meet you, and that it is better to just keep floating, rather than to anchor yourself to a single reef.

(Image via.)

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