From the moment we arrive on this earth, we seem to spend our lives being ushered between social groups, the mother’s choice of where she places the baby in the music tots class and what friends they make on the play mat seems to lead to a predetermined path of where they will fit in. I have often wondered about how my life would have been if I had fallen into the an alternative social group and would the parallel universe me be any different, that Sliding Doors moment of every choice has fated us to be where we are today.
We have all seen those American teen, coming of age, high school movies, where the cheerleaders, jocks and geeks barely interact, as they have found social acceptance in their worlds and believe that it is better to befriend like-minded people, than give in to social suicide of not belonging and roaming the school corridor alone. We all watched and we all feared that this was real life, so the teenage me gave into the pressure and found a group of friends who accepted me and my school years were saved and I flew under the radar of being fairly unknown therefore avoiding many social nightmares.
A couple of weeks ago I watched The Duff, a new teen movie that had come onto Amazon for streaming and whilst laid up with my back I thought why not. For those that have not seen the movie,(spoiler alert) it follows the typical high school formula of girl meets boy, boy out of her league, girl gets make-over and boy realises they are made for each other. The whole idea that women need a make over to conform to the stereotypical version of prettiness wasn’t what concerned me the most. It was the definition of a Duff; Designated Ugly Fat Friend. Basically the buffer in the group that people come to in order to get closer to the attractive or more popular people in the group. I then realised….I was the Duff!!
OMG how could I have only just figured this out?
Out of my group of 6 closest friends no one really knew who I was, I was always so and so’s friend, the other one, the one that comes part of the package. I’m 35 years old and why oh why I am still bothered by this? Once I had gotten past the trauma of this realisation, I started thinking about whether we ever remove ourselves from this situation, 15 years later I still find the teen inside of me assessing each social encounter and gravitating towards people I have deduced are like me. Do we ever grow out of this and at what point will I stop caring?
Living abroad and meeting new people has given me no less baggage, where any of this is concerned. I have found that even the expat life comes with a criteria of pre-defined groups that you need to decipher. Put your best Nancy Drew investigative skills to the test before you venture into the social unknown. In my experience expats tend to fall into the following:
- Single 20 somethings: Usually post grads looking for a bit of adventure before they have to take life too seriously. Get away, earn money to pay off student loans or save a deposit for a house back home. Single, fancy free and party most weekends with other singletons.
- Newly Weds: Newly united and exploring the world before responsibilities of mortgages and kids kick in. This is their time to establish a strong relationship, try new things, holiday with other young couples, see new places and finish their 20’s on a high.
- Families: Mum, Dad and kids. Tired of the mundane life back home and wanting to give themselves and their children an amazing life experienc. At the same time can save for university or pay off mortgages. The kids are young enough there won’t be any potential damage by the upheaval and they all throw themselves into the new surroundings with enthusiasm and excitement. Family BBQ’s and play-dates are held with friends from school, they are in this for the long haul and they never look back.
- Retirement Planners: Couples whose kids are grown up, studying at University or flown the nest for their own adventure. Wanting to fill the void or take advantage of their new freedom the move abroad is made.A 5 year plan to make as much money as possible, retire early and live out their days looking back at all they have achieved.
Each group very rarely exits its own and that cognitive impulse kicks in and connections are made, friendships established all within their social bubble. Now this is where my teenage angst kicks in – I currently don’t fit into any of these groups and have often found myself floundering between them.
My social resume reads: mid thirties, no children, married 10 years and living the tansient expat life, no place is forever.
I can not tell you how many times I have been in the situation when meeting new people and the first questions asked are “Who have you come to this country with?”, establishing marital status, then “Kids or just you?” and I just us, “working?” no not currently. This little survey quickly places me in their minds where I fit. This is where I and I’m sure my new scrutineer, struggle. My partying days and my 20’s are well and truly over; I’m the right age for the new mums and tots but have no tot; I’m too young for the 50+ retirement planners and the families invitations come but so do the apologies that there will be kids. So in all these scenarios I’m a square peg in a round hole.
Now I have to say I do finally overcome most of this and find good friends in all the places that I have lived and Kuwait is no exception. I have a good group, who funnily enough all fall into class 3, but we have found a connection above and beyond the fact that we didn’t meet at the School gate and although I don’t have children doesn’t mean I’m a kids free zone. Yes I like my adults only hotels and eating out at 8pm but I will equally spend all day playing sharks in the pool assisting in the school holiday activities. I may not have a child to bring to the table but my friends know there is plenty I do bring (more often than not good places to eat) so thank goodness for open minded people, who are not plagued by their high school saga.
I’m sure I will continue to challenge my inner teenager and stop trying to make what I think are the right connections. Just like the Ugly Sister trying on the glass slipper, I will stop trying to squeeze myself into a group I think I should be in, rather than finding the perfect fit; even if this means I’m the geek eating lunch with the cheerleader.