Sometimes real life really is like high school

My first job out of college was as part of a team of women, most of whom were in their 40s and 50s. The only other 20-something in the group was the department assistant. I tried in my awkward way to make friends with her, because I was new in town and knew no one, while she’d lived there for several years and was one of those people who seemed to know everybody.

As you might guess, that didn’t work out so well. She accepted one out of every three invitations I issued and just never seemed to warm to me. Meanwhile, two other 20-somethings were hired, and those three started taking lunch breaks together every day. I was never invited to join them.

One day I brought my lunch into the break room only to find them settling in for the meal, so I asked to join them. I was excited by the opportunity to demonstrate that I could be one of them, too. But then the conversation turned to people I didn’t know. In fact, one of the three seemed intent on keeping the talk about people I didn’t know, with the purpose of keeping me out of the loop.

As the lunch dragged on, I realized that they were all friends beyond lunchtime, that they saw each other outside of work, hung out together frequently and often, hosted parties to which I was not invited. And I remember it making me unbelievably sad to realize that I would always be an outsider to these three, on whom I’d naively pinned hopes of gaining entree to a social group in this new town. To this day I feel the hurt in that realization, though with the benefit of time I also recognize the remarkable cruelty of those women once they’d formed their clique.

Of course I did eventually go on to meet people who were truly worth my friendship and with whom I had a lot more in common, to the extent that I’m kind of embarrassed to admit I’d tried so hard to be friends with these women in the first place. But it’s a part of my history that comes to mind today, as I’ve just learned that one of the cruel women (the cruelest, if you asked me) is once again deeply embedded in a group that I’d hoped to connect with. Will I learn from my earlier experience and just let it go?

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