True Confessions of a Friendship ‘Floater’

Making friends can be difficult at any age. It’s a little easier when you’re a kid, because you’ve usually landed a few friends by default (neighbors, siblings, cousins, oh my!) but as we grow up, we change. So do the people around us. Some of us find ourselves reaching puberty hanging on for dear life, wondering where it all went wrong. ‘Why does Susie think I’m lame now?’ or ‘Is it still okay to play with my American Girl dolls if I think I maybe kinda have armpit hair?’ Those are some thoughts you may or may not remember having when you were 10 or 11. Everything is exacerbated at that age. If you feel as though you’re not liked in school, you also feel like you may as well fall off the face of the Earth.

Or so I thought, until I learned how to master the “Floater Approach.” (Yes, I now realize how that sounds. #SorryNotSorry.) Junior high is one giant blur of misery in my mind. I was insecure, vulnerable, greasy, incredibly lonely, and EVERYONE picked up on those things. To be perfectly honest, I still carry some of that pain with me today. But something shifted within my personality when I entered high school—I came into my own a little bit. I learned how to use my wit, smarts, and newly-gained confidence (thanks to now having two eyebrows instead of one) as tools to survive those four turbulent years. My strategy was simple: I would “float” between different cliques.

I’ve always been the kind of person who takes the temperature of a room to help me figure out how loud I’m going to turn up my personality volume when I’m not familiar with the crowd. (You know all of those “Signs You Are An Introvert” listicles? Yep, those are all me. So are the “But You’re So Extroverted!” listicles. Because I, like most people, am a multi-faceted human being.) But back in high school, I took this to the extreme: I was a band geek, a theater nerd, and a cheerleader. Sure, it helped that my high school was tiny and most people were expected to participate in more than just one thing. But I could go from talking about toe touches and front handsprings to how much I hated the clarinet and wearing a band hat, to performing in an embarrassing-yet-endearing high school play.

I tried as often as possible to carry on conversations with different kinds of people. I tried not to limit myself to just “one crowd” for two reasons: 1.) I’ve always had a deep-rooted need to feel liked (which is hard when you suffer from Chronic Bitchy Resting Face. Shout-out to all of the kind folks who actually used to stop me in the hallway and ask me why I looked so miserable. Self-awareness is key!); and 2.) I eventually found that floating around from one social circle to the next could only benefit me, as each group fed a part of my soul in a different way. I wish more people realized this at a younger age. What started out as a “survival of the fittest” mental tactic after a hellish junior high experience turned into a lifestyle approach that has served me quite well into adulthood.

I joined a sorority in college, met some wonderful girls and had some wonderful times. But after about two years, my heart just wasn’t in it anymore and I decided to back away from that way of life for a while. I threw myself into theater and the amazing, beautiful souls who made me feel at home there. I also had kind of an “aha!” moment that year when I realized I didn’t have to “float” anymore. There was no need for “survival,” because I could fill my life with the kind of people and activities that made me a more complete version of myself. I didn’t have to compartmentalize different aspects of my personality anymore. Not unless I wanted to.

Urban Dictionary defines a “floater” as “a social mastermind who wavers between members of one particular clique or between multiple cliques in general.” Much as I’d love to think of myself as a “mastermind” of anything not snack or Netflix-related, I don’t think their definition actually defines my experience. For me, “floating” served a much higher purpose: it taught me so many things about so many people. And I am still an eager, grateful learner.

Now that I’m approaching 30, I wouldn’t consider myself a “floater” anymore so much as I’ve just grown up and grown into myself. The wonderful people I surround myself with these days all come from different chapters of my life. I’ve maintained contact with plenty of childhood neighbors, cousins, band geeks, theater nerds, former cheerleaders, and sorority girls. But those are fluffy, meaningless labels that pale in comparison to the substantial beings they really are: my friends.

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