Ever wanted to rant about that someone you just can’t stand? Overwhelmed with too many feelings? Check out Raffles Press’ new column, Ask Aunt Agony and Uncle Upset, and our resident Aunties and Uncles will be glad to help you with your Rafflesian troubles! Submit your confessions to tinyurl.com/rafflesadvicecolumn and we’ll give them our best shot.
Dear Aunt Agony, there’s a large clique in my class and I can only interact with a few of my classmates.
Dear Aunt Agony, my CCA-mates are exclusive and cliquish. Though I try to talk to them, they are quite unresponsive and ignore me. What do I do?
Hey Destiny and Lonely,
Cliques are most definitely something not unheard of, especially amongst teenagers, and they always happen in any social setting. But what’s made them the focus of so much attention from people our age these days? And – some of you may be confused – how is a clique different from a group of friends who simply happen to be a wee bit closer to each other?
First off, cliques tend to be more exclusive and may initially display great unwillingness to welcome new friendships within their circle. Of course, this is the same group of people whose pictures you cannot help but see on Instagram 24/7, sharing inside jokes incomprehensible to the untrained ear, and calling themselves something really ridiculous which seems to do nothing else but divide.
The image that usually pops in your head, I’m guessing, is that group of ‘mean girls’ (or guys; think: On Wednesdays we wear pink!) hanging out at the side of the classroom, who can’t bear to be apart during lectures, always meet at whichever corner of the school to chill, go for countless outings or food-parties, and make Instagram ‘dedis’ for any and all occasions. And the image is pretty much cemented when you try to hang out with them casually and sense a latent but no less distinct air of, “You sort of are our friend, but we don’t really want you here, to be honest.”
Are cliques good or bad?
There is really no definite answer as to whether cliques have a positive or negative impact on your social lives.
Being in a clique-y environment, be it your class, CCA or Orientation Group might be awkward if you don’t have a clique to yourself, and that is why most will convince themselves that cliques are meaningless and performative. However, there is in fact comfort to be found in cliques, which arises in times when you need someone to talk to, and everyone else is in their own world, too busy to be good conversational partners! Yet, if a clique happens to be pretty huge and even encompassing, say, the majority of a class, not being within that circle may cause pervasive feelings of loneliness and adversely affect your ability and willingness to fit into the class identity. Cliques can often exclude more than they include, and this could hurt those around them.
At the same time, just hear us out on this – there are good, valid reasons why cliques are not all-out evil: it’s just not physically and emotionally possible to develop friendships with every single person to the same degree! We’d tire ourselves almost immediately, and I would think work-laden students like us are sleep-deprived enough as it is already, so it’s simply not such an attractive goal. Cliques are simply another way we prioritize the limited energy and time we have with people who mean the most to us, and there’s little wrong in that — as long as we are aware of our actions, speech and take a conscious effort to avoid being too insular. Being part of a clique can be a great thing, but mustn’t let it make us feel entitled or more important than others.
Just remember that being in a clique and ostracising the others around you to the extent of causing them to feel inadequate are vastly different matters altogether. Needless to say, you should watch out to make sure you don’t commit the latter, by putting yourself in the shoes of others without cliques from time to time.
What if I’m not clique-ing?
Fortunately, like other social issues of the same vein, how you look at cliques and by extension, how you approach them can drastically alter how you fare in a clique-y environment.
The scenarios described above of cliques in school may seem to be an extreme extrapolation of the problem. Most of us in fact just want to get by our JC life normally, and as long as there are no hiccups, we’ll be satisfied. No one except characters from the realms of fictional media (see above) actively seek to bolster their social standing through sacrificing friendships, sidelining ‘friends’ and plotting devious schemes to get back at them (or, Auntie and Uncle hope so!). It just so happens that when people get into cliques, they tend to stick with them that much more. It is of course easier to do so rather than venture out of that safe zone.
If you find yourself embroiled in antagonistic feelings towards the cliques around you, the most sensible course of action would be to disentangle yourself from them, and save yourself from the unpleasant taste of resentment or rejection. No matter how we may feel about cliques, the matter of the fact is that there really is no definitive, totemic social rulebook stating they must go out of their way to include others (especially if there is little in common between the two parties to begin with). Even if they do try, the general consensus these days is that even if any persuasion is attempted with them, there’s only so much room for change or inclusiveness, and many personal experiences already suggest this is true for most of us!
In that case, it would be more effective for progress if one turned to changing themselves instead of the situation. Which is always easier said than done, and of course it may seem unfair, because you might argue that the cliques should be the one taking the steps to change, since after all this is all their fault, isn’t it? — but we must caution that such strong feelings devolve into irrational contempt very easily, and are, in most cases, rather uncalled for (once you realise that cliques, as it happens, aren’t actually out to get you down!). If one makes an enemy out of the situation, harbouring a one-sided vendetta, they’ll merely overstress themselves through being hypersensitive to the social lives of others around us.
If you do feel this fervently about cliques, it is a likely sign that you’re banking too much on the perceived validation gained from them. When things go the slightest bit awry, the emotional repercussions on ourselves then become equally disproportionate — why tie our feelings and personal satisfaction to extraneous things? We ought to take conscious steps to avoid being too caught up with matters involving cliques. If it helps, stay physically away from them, if possible. If it’s a class or CCA problem, focusing your energy and thoughts on other activities might take your mind off it. Instead of fretting over living up to unrealistic social idealisations, channeling all that emotional energy into schoolwork, or your CCA itself would be much more worthwhile, we’d wager.
As it happens, there is much you can do to improve your situation, to ideally reach a place where you can finally share in positive social vibes between these people in the social circles around you, instead of having your interactions be steeped in animosity.
One of the most immediate ways to do that is to simply open up a conversation with them – though indeed, it’s rarely easy. Then again, although taking the first step to say ‘Hello’ is always nerve-wracking, making the effort to start the conversation shows the other party that you are sincerely interested in getting to know them better. Whether they care for that is another issue, but if they’re truly open people at heart, the ones who matter will reciprocate eventually. Most importantly, since it’s already hard to break into a clique, it’s a better idea to approach individuals, rather than address a big group — there’ll be more room for genuine connection there.
To nip the problem of hypersensitivity to these cliques’ going-ons in the bud, one must begin with learning to love themselves. This is a continuous, gradual process and a very important one, seeing as often, the emptiness you feel from not being in a clique can be a sign of personal inadequacy. It can also explain the thirst for validation from others, as well as the bitter, angry downfall when you fail to find such a thing. Of course, anyone who desires acceptance from cliques will have varying reasons for it and it hardly means they are all insecure deep down inside. But feeling comfortable in your own skin makes a huge difference. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not a far-off goal that only special people can achieve, and many concrete guides (here and here) for reaching such a stage exist out there (it’s also alright to need such help once in a while, don’t fret). Most of it boils down to how you regard yourself — believe in who you are, and be who you are proudly — and it is more than possible for you to be your own agent of change.
In the long run, solidifying your self-confidence is definitely more effective – and healthier – than coercing others into changing for you, since they may be going against what feels natural for them. If so, they won’t be able to keep up the act of forcing interaction for extended periods of time, so it won’t work forever.
Besides that, someone who is secure won’t have to depend on others for their happiness, which has always been a dangerous position to be in. Instead, make yourself your own source of happiness and responsibility. Somewhat ironically, it may be easier to find or join cliques when you’re more self-assured because you’ll inspire others to believe in your abilities and rely on you, in some cases.
While cliques may not necessarily be welcome to you, especially if they spurn you (depending on what the people in them are like), it’s wise to keep in mind this quote: “People aren’t against you; they’re just for themselves.” Choose your battles wisely is what we feel; helping yourself to feel less affronted by social shenanigans happening around you is one of the best things you can do for yourself. If they think they’re too good for you, show them why you’re better off without them. Most crucially, it’s alright not to be in a clique – it probably can say some good about you too, because you’ll likely have a more open character averse to ostracism!
We’ll be rooting here, for you to eventually find that safe space where you can coexist with these cliques around you. Don’t let them bother you, and meanwhile don’t neglect what’s important in your life just because of them!
Aunt Agony and Uncle Upset
If you have any queries or concerns related to the Aunt Agony/Uncle Upset column or its confessions, please direct them to email@example.com, with the title ‘Questions about Aunt Agony’.