The Dangers and Delights of Being a Fringe Friend

She cut me off in the middle of my humble brag.

He’s the easiest kid, I said. He’s friends with everyone, I said. He sits at a different lunch table every day, I said.

That’s when the warning came. He has to choose a group, she said. Or he risks being a fringe friend. And you don’t want that….

I don’t?

That’s when my therapist (who I consult about Lark’s dreadful tantrums and incorrigibly spoiled brat demeanor) told me Finch isn’t perfect after all. He’s going to middle school next year, and being a floater isn’t going to cut it in the world of cliques and crap. He needs to choose a crew.

This all sounded horrible to me. I’ve never defined myself by a particular social group. I was too smart and perhaps too weird to fit neatly in with the cool crowd. I didn’t want to hang out with the kids in my advanced classes because they were kinda awkward and, cliched as it may be, nerdy. I always had at least one close friend at any given time . I always had play dates when I was young (I so vividly remember making up songs, riding bikes until we were lost, prank calling people on my swatch phone), and plans (usuallY causing some sort of trouble or another) with larger groups when I was a teen. I wasn’t starving for friends by any stretch of the imagination. I was happy being a swinger, grazing amongst various groups, not exactly an outsider, but not really an insider either.

I was a fringe friend. And I liked it that way. Most of the time.

  • I didn’t owe anyone anything.
  • I didn’t feel obligated to invite anyone anywhere.
  • I didn’t have to call so and so to catch up.
  • I could sit with anyone, go to lunch with anyone.
  • I could observe, but not necessarily give away too much about myself.
  • I could provide objective advice without having too much at stake.
  • I could have fun, how I wanted, when I wanted, with whom I wanted.

But

  • I would get upset if I wasn’t invited.
  • I didn’t love it when other friends seemed closer to each other, and I was simply orbiting their space.
  • I didn’t know the particulars of every private joke, every cutesy nickname.
  • I was eventually left behind (by many, but not all).

As a working mom in a suburban neighborhood where many/most moms stay home, I’m still largely a fringe friend. I still like the freedom it provides me. I’m not tied down to a particular group. I can hang out with whom I choose. My calendar is my own, and my obligations always begin with family first. I have found groups of really nice, smart, savvy women who are similarly neurotic to me, and are are married to respectful, funny men. I get invited to 40th bday parties, and super bowl parties, carpools, and ice cream after the school concert. I am in some group texts. But not all of them. And that’s pretty ok in my book.

Should I be worried about Finch being a fringe friend like his parents? (Gull & I were originally drawn to each other by rejecting full immersion into the gang at summer camp). Maybe. The world of social media magnifies who is included and who is left out. Should I encourage him to pick a group to belong to? How can I? It would be so inauthentic coming from the example I have set. Plus, he’s content and doesn’t seem to have a single concern about friendships getting away from him. Why would I put that complex on him?

Maybe fringe friendship is simply the alternative to FOMO, and it’s ok to stay in your own lane on the road to growing up. As a parent, I will not force him, but will accept him either way, and hope he too can be happy in his inside/outside way.

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