Grouping our life

A MONTH ago a young couple I met told me that a member of their group was an occasional participant of my blog, and somehow we fell to chatting about their group. The practice of people having a social group interests me, and while all of us have been a member of such groups my experience with my children and listening to young workmates suggests that grouping is more important among young people now than it was in my salad days. I’ve seen the importance of group membership to my children when they were at school, and I’ve seen the difficulties that go with being groupless.

Anyway, the young couple told me about the dozen or so members of their group, describing each in a few sentences and, the most interesting bit, adding a colourful and usually caustic comment, and it became clear that they disliked most members of their social group. Why, I asked, are you in a group with so many people you don’t like? Well, so and so arrived as so and so’s boyfriend, and she changed heaps in a few months; and so and so and so and so were in the group before the young couple arrived; and they didn’t realise so and so was such a witch until recently. And it went on.

I suppose a group is a ready-made social life, people to stand with when out and about. And I can understand, I think, the couple’s reluctance to be groupless, to leave their group without good prospects of being admitted immediately or quickly to another.

Just as it is easier to get a job when you already have one, being admitted to a group is easier when you’re coming fresh from another. I recall that high school classmates who were not grouped within a couple of years were groupless for all high school, and as a consequence most were easy targets for groups and group members up for a bit of baiting or bullying.That’s one of the benefits and purposes of group membership, protection. In adulthood that may be protection from social isolation, social awkwardness, and, even in a group of people you don’t much like, loneliness.

One aspect of groups that interests me particularly is hostility between groups. Members of one group, for example, are disliked by members of another group simply because they are members of the other group, and while that may not be so marked in adulthood I do believe it explains some of the animosities that live in us all. We see this in members of political parties.

I don’t know why – perhaps it’s because we become less socially insecure or vulnerable – that we tend, I think, to have individual friends or be members of loose groups as we grow older. One thing is certain, I’m not tolerant enough to tolerate friends I don’t like!

Tell us about the groups in your life? Have you been groupless?

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