The Out-Crowd

It was a post on – predictably – an internet forum that pushed me over the edge: a thread about choosing an area based on the schools available (yes, I know. I’m a mother, we whine about this stuff, get over it).

Don’t forget to look at your local community – you adults have to fit in too!

I’ll just be over there: in the corner, calming down again.


I get grouchy when it comes to the topic of “fitting in”, partly because I’ve spent a very long time being obstinate and trying rather hard not to be That Person. You know the one: the kid who falls over themselves pretending to be something vaguely similar to who they really are – but not who they actually are – and ends up with a little grey cloud of self-inflicted misery trundling around after them.

It’s worse at school than at any other point in life (see Mean Girls, She’s All That, The Craft10 Things I Hate About You… and preeeetty much every teen movie made, ever) but it starts younger than you think (take a close look at any nursery or reception class playground) and carries on a lot later (I refer you to Gill Hornby’s school-gate novel The Hive, and just about every *single* women’s magazine in the world).

What it boils down to is this: we spend our formative years as an adult trying to balance figuring out who we are with who we think everyone around us would like us to be, and what we need to be to not end up getting something dumped all over us on the school bus. And then, when we emerge from our cocoon as fully-functioning adults… we have to do it all over again.

To which I say: bite me.

Screw “fitting in”.

We’re hardwired to want to be part of a tribe, and we feel a need to be part of a wider community of like-minded souls. And that’s all well and good… but with the whole of the world in front of us, more accessible than ever, it seems that we’re choosing to drawn our little bubbles tighter and tighter around us, like some kind of crazyquilt. It’s all very Filter Bubble. We shout into echo chambers and are reassured when we hear our own voices coming right back at us, reinforcing everything we already thought we thought.

We fit in. We belong.

I don’t want to belong. To paraphrase: any clique where I’d fit is the last place I should be. (Mostly because any clique where I’d fit would be a clique full of crazy, and crazy x crazy = googlyeyeswombatfishcustardgargle. Which is not a recipe for a happy life.)

One of my favourite books is Only Forward (which I’ve wanged on about at length before – and will again in the next issue of SFX Magazine, if you’re interested). There are many reasons for this, but part of it has always been The City, where the population lives in segregated neighbourhoods depending on their personality. There’s Action Centre, for people who like to be reallyreallyreally busy; there’s Stable, where everyone believes that the world beyond their neighbourhood walls is a barren wasteland… and there’s Fnaph. Fnaph is the epitome of “fitting in”: it’s the neighbourhood where residents believe the human soul is shaped like a frisbee and spend their lives on trampolines, trying to fling themselves to heaven.

Do you really want to live in Fnaph? (Once you get past the idea of the trampolines, obviously. Because trampolines.)

The more enclosed we feel, safe in our little bubbles, the further we shut ourselves off. Cliques reflect and reinforce themselves. They brainwash rather than assimilate.

Closed systems stagnate. They decay. They turn out square pegs, never noticing that perhaps the outside world has changed, and is suddenly full of triangular holes.

So here’s to being the outsider.

Here’s to popping the bubble, turning down the filter and letting the rest of the world in.

Screw “fitting in”.



  1. We’re raising our precious daughter to “be a fruit loop in a world full of cheerios.” And she gets it, and embraces it, and wouldn’t be any other way. Hallelujah for saving the world from one more Fnaph!

  2. I’ve never really been one to fit in. I was punished for it at school and resisted tooth and nail. It’s destroying to find that most of the adult world really isn’t that different. What’s surprised me, since quitting my 9-5 office job at a place that was far more accepting than my previous day-job-style work-places, was to realise just how much I *had* compromised on me, and how much I had still been punished and looked down on still for not fitting in. There were some very nice people there – a lot of very nice people – but I was not being myself, and that hurt me; and i was not being enough like the supposed ‘norm’ for that environment, and that caused resentment in others I would have liked to be on good terms with.

    I don’t think there’s anything to be especially proud of in being ‘different’ per se. We’re all different. But finding a way to be yourself and resist pressures to fit in with something you’re not is really important. I’m still finding my way back to me.

    1. That’s exactly it: going out of your way to be “different” is, in its own way, just the same as going out of your way to fit in somewhere you might not naturally. It’s about having the confidence (and, yes, the circumstances too) to enable you to be yourself.

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