Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Question: This week, I had it clearly spelled out for me that there's an inner circle of moms in our neighborhood, and I'm not in it. The message came from someone I'd actually considered a good friend, which made it even harder to swallow. My confidence is shaken.
While I won't seek out any of these women in the future, it's difficult to avoid them entirely. I would love your thoughts on how best to move forward, apart from putting on a brave smile and staying close with true friends.
Answer: I have felt this exact pain, so I'm not being cavalier: I hope you'll reconsider your scorched-earth, "I won't seek out any of these women in the future" response. They have an inner circle, OK; you're not in it, ouch; but that doesn't automatically invalidate each relationship you have with each group member.
You might also ask yourself, objectively, whether you even want to run with this pack. There is great power, confidence, and liberation in not caring about your social-ladder position and in conducting your social life on your terms.
Plus, groups have their own chemistry, to the point that it can be constructive to think of them as a person unto themselves. You can not click with a group dynamic while fitting in really well with its member(s) one on one.
While your feelings are understandably hurt, I don't think your ego is the best force to enlist as their guardian from now on.
Take a moment to let the hardest feelings dissipate, and then let your natural comfort with each of your friends - in the group or out - be that guardian. Think of it as just doing what works for you versus being or not being part of a club.
Finally, though not to encourage sour grapes: Groups aren't immutable objects. An "inner circle of moms in our neighborhood" can implode, fade, reconstitute, etc., in so many ways. Being OK with your friends, friendships, and yourself is a lot more reliable stuff.
Reader comment: Don't think of it as an "inner circle," think "parallel circle." You will probably form your own circle with your own friends. And if some of those friends overlap with the other circle, then you can draw a Venn diagram!
Answer: Right - if you can't join 'em, beat 'em with nerdy visuals.
Reader comment: Ask yourself why you'd want to belong to a group that seems to spend a lot of time and energy on deliberately excluding and ostracizing others.
Answer: Ehhhh, I have mixed feelings about this.
Yes, some groups are deliberately exclusive, and who wants those?
But some perfectly decent people can get into a nice groove together, with no exclusive intent, and so going out of your way to vilify them just because you're on the outside seems needlessly petty and self-defeating. Why let them loom so large in your consciousness? Why cut people out of your life who maybe have been good to you, and who just happen to have a(nother) good thing going with some other friends?
Chat with Carolyn Hax online at noon Fridays at www.washingtonpost.com.