Adult Cliques: Are They Even Possible?

Over the past year and a half I’ve made a lot of new friends. This we already know. When you launch a friend search in the manner that I did—picking up friends wherever you can find them (that makes it sound like my friends were yesterday’s garbage, left on the curb in case someone needed a used beat-up sofa. I assure you it wasn’t like that)—you’ll likely end up with a lovely hodgepodge. My new friends are an eclectic mix of ladies (and two men!) who I connected with at book club and improv, through set ups and blind emails. This is all great, of course. I know I shouldn’t complain. I wanted friends and I got them.

While recognizing how thrilled I am to have so many friends, I just have to say this: I miss having a group.

I won’t say clique, as I know it has horrible connotations that make us all think of Regina George. Or maybe Heathers, depending on your pop culture decade of choice. But back when I lived in New York, my friends were more or less all friends with each other. There was the college gang and the high school gang, and those groups intermingled and there was plenty of crossover. It made making plans pretty easy. More often than not some combination of people from those groups would end up together at dinner or a bar or a friend’s apartment.

In my new life, I have a bunch of different friends. Some have formed small friend groups themselves, like my cooking club or coworkers. Others are one-off friendships and the only time I see those friends are when we make specific plans to meet at this restaurant on this day at this time. There’s never an easy way to organize a group event, because so few of my new friends are friends with each other.

I really really like all my new potential BFFs. There are none that I secretly wish I could kick to the curb or let the friendship fizzle away. But I just wish there was a way to see everyone at once. To email “the gang” and say “Let’s all go to Webster Wine Bar tonight!” I want my own McSorley’s. My own Max. My own Peach Pit!

But here’s the thing: I’m not even sure “the gang” is something that exists in real adult life? It might be a myth ingrained in me by the likes of Brenda, Kelly and Donna. Or, perhaps it exists for people who still live in the city where they grew up? Or where all their college friends are?  The friend-groups I know in Chicago are always made up of either high school friends or college friends.

I know I’m lucky to have made this collection of pals all over my new hometown. But when I watch my favorite flock comedies or try to make plans on a Saturday night and want to see a lot of people at once, I do wish I had a crew of my own.

Do you have a group of friends? Or do friend-groups, the kind you can go out with on a Saturday night, inevitably disintegrate as you get older? Because people move away, have kids, and make more friends outside the group? Are cliques limited to high school and college?


Filed under The Search

23 responses to “Adult Cliques: Are They Even Possible?

  1. NaomiRose

    Is this not something you could instigate yourself? Email all your friends and say why not meet up on Saturday at X and explain that you have lots of lovely friends and thought it would be nice if they could all meet up? You seem to so far have been very good at building new friendships and isn’t this just the next step. Even if only a few turn up at any one event wouldn’t that be OK?

    • I actually tried that, which is where my cooking club came from. I got a bunch of girls together and they have become friends and now we get together once a month to cook, but it hasn’t escalated to a Saturday night thing. It’s all still very planned…

      But, those things take time I guess!

  2. I’ve managed to end up with a post-college clique — a few girls from a softball team I put together, and then I’ve drawn another two girls in as well.

    So – yes, it’s possible. But I’ll also say that in my age group (I’m 41, my friends are mostly in their 30’s) it’s near impossible to get everyone together. My friends and I have — literally — been sending around emails for about 3 months trying to find a date when we can all get together. Between kids and family obligations, it’s hard to find a time that works for everyone.

    Which — is frustrating for this single, childless chickee, but it’s still nice to know that they’re out there… and that perhaps a few years down the road we can go back to a more regular schedule of seeing each other.

    FWIW – I like the idea above – just hold a “get to know you” party for all of your disparate friends! You never know what might happen!

  3. Laurie

    Great post! I have thought about this often as most of my friends are 1 on 1. I’m not sure how this happened but it did. I often have the same thought, I wish I could get everyone together at once. I’m 48, been married 27 years and have friends from various phases of my life but most fall into the 1 on 1 category.

  4. I actually think cliques are very much still around – in particular I see them at school, on the playground, at drop-off. I am dying to write about the subculture of drop-off, where the cliques are so apparent. In particular the group of moms in Lululemon pants, Tom Ford sunglasses, and big designer handbags. I suspect that what changes is the importance that those who don’t fit in put on the clique – I think people who are NOT in one care less as they get older, but I don’t think that they cease to exist. xox

  5. I think adult cliques do exist – sometimes as a tightly knit crew of friends, sometimes as a grown-up version of “mean girls.” I will say it’s easier to pull a group of friends together when most people already know each other. My gang of pals here in Boston are mostly college friends of mine…we all came up from Texas within a year of each other. We’ve added a few friends, mostly people we’ve met at church, but we tend to hang together since we’ve known each other a long time.

  6. anonymous

    I don’t know about the adult “group” of friends, but I know the adult “clique” exists. That’s my work-place, and I’m not “in.” Of course, maybe the fact that it’s a “clique” makes it not adult….(but then, what does that make me, going online and b**ching about it…).

  7. Lisa

    I think it can totally exist in your twenties. Maybe they just can’t exist in your thirties and forties, when most people’s “groups” become their immediate family as they have and raise children. This is, as the above poster noted, a HUGE bummer for those of us that are single or don’t have kids. I often feel like I have nothing in common with other women my age (31) because I am childless and unmarried. And my efforts to create a group of cool women by organizing get-togethers have been somewhat successful, but as Rachel says, there’s no follow through and the group never seems to coalesce. It just seems so difficult to get everyone together that it doesn’t seem worth the trouble sometimes!

    • Lisa, I can so relate! I’m almost 30 and unmarried and childless too, and EVERYONE around me is having babies as of late.

      • Lisa

        Yeah, it’s really almost a sub-problem of the original problem of trying to make friends as an adult in a new town. It’s an extra layer of interference. Some of my new girlfriends here also never want to do anything without their kids (I think they have qualms about using a sitter that is not a family member), so that gets weird–always have to choose a child-friendly restaurant, etc.

        Anne, do you have any strategies that have helped you cope?

  8. LizC

    Currently I don’t have a friend group in the city. I’m friends with people but they don’t know each other. When I’ve done things with one friend and the other friends she’s invited, well, I hate the other people. She has a knack for befriending the most awful losers (the girl she works with who mooches meals & rides off her, the next door neighbor that behaves as though she’s a newly-minuted 21 year old even though she’s 27 & hasn’t been sober any time I’ve seen her, the guy whose ex-wife has a restraining order out against him) but has ended up dropping the two people who were actually fun to hang out with. It’s to the point that if she has plans with any of those people I just choose not to go because I don’t want those people in my life. So I don’t anticipate myself starting a friend clique at any time soon.

  9. Julia

    When I saw “clique” I immediately thought of the most recent episode of “Happy Endings” when Penny dates a hipster whose friends say anything they don’t understand is dumb. Talk about adult, eh? 😉

    Maybe it’ll take more work to get a “group” going. And frankly, it may take some booze. I don’t know if this is your style, (cooking club get-togethers sound like a sober activity with only a few glasses of wine) but have you thought of holding once quarterly cocktail parties? Personally, I love to dress up and be hostess. And hello, cocktails? Social lubricant?

    Not to mention a cocktail party might be a great way to introduce your work friends from the place you no longer work to your current friends — who wants to bet they know a person or two in common? Total networking opportunity for everybody involved.

  10. I agree with Julia and have actually had some success with this in the past – I cleaned my place, put on some cute shoes, bought a case of wine and some frozen apps then threw open the doors to everyone I know.

    Two years later, I love tracing the collaborations that have come from those parties and I’m proud to be the mutual friend that connected people. And I fully intend to do this once we’re moved into our new place where I can actually entertain…. (btw, you’ll be invited!) 🙂

  11. There’s a phenomenon that can become a clique that my friends and I refer to as: The Wags – wifes and girlfriends of your spouse or boyfriend. I am lucky to have a nice and fun group of Wags…and have become very close with a few of them. There is an inherent danger to this group, however. What happens if a couple splits?? Or…divorces?? Whose side do you take?

    I kinda think I know…and this might be terrible to say…where my friendship is with each individual woman. Is she a true friend or a “group friend.” Is she someone I would claim no matter what? So weird to put this in writing…something we seem to laugh about or chat about…but there’s truth in it.

    Incidentally…one of them became my best friend here…and that has been awesome. I do feel really lucky to be friends with the Wags. It’s just also important to maintain your own true friends and continue to seek out others outside of this “clique.”

  12. Elise

    I moved to Chicago from NY in January, and have actually been very pleasantly surprised with the friend groups I’ve found.

    I think the key to forming a group is repeated, regular interaction. Prior to NY, I lived in Princeton for 1.5 years for work, and my clique was entirely coworkers. My year in NY was somewhat of a “lost year” – I continued to work in Princeton and didn’t really know anyone in the city; I was dying to have a group that I could brunch with, park-picnic with, and just casually spend a day with. Didn’t really happen.

    Even though I only knew TWO people in Chicago when I moved here, one of them had a pretty well-established clique already thanks to a few years playing on a competitive ultimate team. I’m working my way into that group and have also started forming a group of my own from the crew team I joined. 3x weekly practices have really accelerated the whole getting-to-know-the-other-people process. It’s not quite the same as my super-tight-knit group from high school, but it’s definitely more a of group than I have had in a while. It also has that nice aspect of continuing indefinitely – unlike a LEADS group or improv class (while I’ll always be friendly with my LEADS group, I doubt it will ever be a spur-of-the-moment Sat night plans kind of thing).

  13. Caz

    The only friend groups I’ve encountered here are left-over from high school or uni or in one or two cases, from a particularly close group of work friends or soccer friends (you know, ‘team’ activities).

    I think “groups” tend to peter out once you stop living in share-houses (which yes, generally ends with uni) as you don’t have a live-in group of mates who’s individual/mutual friends all end up together as a group. I have a number of groups (book club etc.) but we rarely see eachother outside of those settings.

  14. Adult cliques are definitely possible. There’s one at my office that just annoys everyone, since it’s my boss’ clique. Sure, those of us that aren’t part of it feel that our boss is playing favorites, but I think a lot of us feel the same annoyance and frustration at adult cliques as we did in high school when the Regina Georges of the world were in charge.

    I did end up part of a few different groups of friends though. My Chicago BFF introduced me her group of friends years ago, and I’ve become friends with them. They’re pretty much always out together on weekends. I always thought that the difference between cliques and groups is that groups are always open to new friends, whereas cliques are pretty much closed and exclusive.

  15. Would you believe that the clique is what I’m trying to avoid at the moment? Or at least the ever-growing clique.

    I live in Shanghai, and there are a lot of transient people and great but short-lived friendships here. I also have a lot of separate friends who don’t know each other. Imagine my delight when after a few events in a row, I had a group of friends who I could call up/email and invite out to dinner or drinks or brunch. I like them all and we all get along great.

    After a few more outings, friends of friends are invited, and the group expands from about half a dozen to about twice that many. Everyone is perfectly acceptable, but I don’t get along with some of the other people as the original group. They aren’t the people I would immediately think of to invite over for dinner. However, everyone gets invited along to every little event. I don’t necessarily want to have dinner with 12 people every time I go out (not least because it’s hard to book a table!).

    I start to pull away a little bit, not minding if I don’t attend something here or there. Then, my boyfriend and I went away for a long weekend when most other people stayed behind and had, by all accounts, a fantastic weekend. Drinking to excess, having random adventures, coming up with a million in jokes that had to be explained to me afterwards.

    I was arranging dinner with a close friend the other night, and I thought it was just going to be three or four of us, and then suddenly, it’s “let’s see what the gang is doing”. It was a pleasant evening, but not exactly what I was looking forward to. Suddenly, I’m nearer the outside than the middle, and I kind of don’t mind. I just wish everything wasn’t always about the whole group.

    Ugh, spiel! Sorry. I guess my point is that the group is nice, but only if it’s the group I want. 😀

  16. Oops. “Everyone is perfectly acceptable, but I don’t get along [*as well] with some of the other people as the original group. ”

    Also, alcohol really helps, apparently! Alcohol and then hungover Sunday brunches. And Foursquare so you can find out who’s having Sunday brunch where.

  17. Melinda

    If you’ve been a teenage girl, you’ve been exposed to cliques in one way or another, good or bad. As an adult, I had hopes that I wouldn’t have to deal with that anymore. Maybe it’s the wording. Group sounds nice and innocent. Clique conjurs up thoughts of real life “Mean Girls”. I became part of a clique and didn’t even know it until one day I walked into a meeting and found myself referred to as part of a posse.
    I got out of that little group as fast as I could.

  18. Lindsay

    I moved up to Anchorage from Chicago, and immediately fell into a group of friends (who were all in their residency together). It was an automatic group, and it was awesome. A few years later they all graduated from their residency and dispersed throughout the state. For a couple of years after that I felt a little lost without my group. I made new friends, but they didn’t know each other, and they all had different interests. But then I had a BBQ at my house b/c I figured what the heck, I like all these people, they’ll probably like each other. Sure enough, new friendships (and a couple of romantic relationships!) blossomed. I still don’t have one “group” of friends, but most of my friends know each other, and have even begun hanging out with each other – sometimes with me, sometimes not. I think that without an event to focus on (a team, school, etc.), having a group is tough, and as people have families, it just gets even harder. And if that group disperses (or you graduate, move, etc.), you’re back to square one! I guess what I’m saying is that groups will come and go and morph over time, but good friends will be with you for life. So what if they’re not all in one “group?”

  19. Yes they exsist and they can be good or evil. I knew of an evil clique at my office, and they were the meanest bunch of coworkers/friends you would ever meet. But then, one decided to take another job, and all of the dirty laundry came out. Went to HR and all with email copies of conversations discussing other coworkers and the boss! So I guess you could say they really weren’t friends, per se, but they sure acted like it.

    I think your friend cliques changes as you get older and people’s situations change. My husband and I don’t have kids, so we have two other couples we hang out with. We call each other DINKS, dual incomes, no kids. It’s a tax thing. But there is another couple that has kids, who is always trying to weasle their way into DINKS night out. But we have to work around their schedule, becuase of the kids and all. And as mean as it is, we deny them. It’s DINKS for a reason. Mean? sure, but we have other times we all get together, so they need to suck it up 🙂

  20. Rob

    Cliques are very possible in adulthood and exist everywhere. There are workplace cliques, neighborhood cliques, professional cliques – working musicians are almost universally familiar with cliques in various cities and industry segments. Cliques form at the neighborhood bar. Personally, I hate to start associating with people and then come to realize that I have become involved with a clique. They are confining, annoying and take up social space that could be better used for freer and more authentic interaction than a clique can provide.

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