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I was always the 'floater friend' in groups. Here are 4 things I did to feel more included in my relationships.

The author in a group shot with friends
Alison Mei
  • "Floater friends" or background friends tend to feel left out in friend groups.

  • A psychologist shared all the reasons you might consistently feel like a floater friend.

  • I used to be the floater friend. Reaching out more and prioritizing one-on-one friendships helped.

A week ago, I saw a TikTok that felt viscerally relatable to how I'd always felt in most social interactions. Captioned "That one friend that's just 'there' in the friend group," it showed a third-wheeling friend consistently left out of the group's inside jokes.

Many of the comments related to being a "floater friend," a term that's become popular online to describe feeling like you're always in the background of every friend group. It's language I didn't have in when I felt this way in high school all through my 20s.

I had no problem meeting or generally getting along with new people — my people-pleasing personality was a gift in that sense. But I often struggled to feel more integrated in a squad, left under the impression that if I stopped texting in the group chat, no one would even care.

Dr. Miriam Kirmayer, a clinical psychologist and keynote speaker on social connection, told Business Insider that if you always feel like a floater friend, it's good to dig deeper as to why.

"If it is a pattern, what does that mean?" she said. "Does that mean that you are choosing the 'wrong' friends? Or does that reflect how comfortable you are taking up space in conversations or initiating plans?"

Kirmayer said taking a hard (but not blamey) look at your friendship dynamics can be the first step to better connections. Similarly, once I realized I sometimes felt safer staying a floater friend than speaking up more, I made major changes in how I socialize.

1. I started opening up more

Kirmayer said that if you're convinced your friends treat you like a floater friend, you should try to test that theory by opening up more.

"If you do muster that courage and some of that bravery and try that out, how do people respond?" she said.

I realized that many of my friends have different communication styles from me: the ones who are more open to sharing without being prompted tended to talk more in the group. If I wanted to feel more involved in the conversation, I had to stop waiting for someone to start interviewing me and just bring up what I wanted to talk about.

I also found that I often waited for others to suggest plans or drop life updates in the group chat. While initiating could bring rejection ("what if no one responds?"), I learned that it wasn't fair to sit back and always expect others to include me.

2. I formed individual bonds with friends outside of our group dynamic

From working with her clients, Kirmayer said she often hears people say that they don't feel like they're really close to any one person in their friend group.

Reaching out to individual members of the group, whether you share a meme or ask them to get coffee, can have two benefits, she said. One, it tests if they see you as a worthwhile friend. Two, it can shift your dynamic in the group as you form deeper bonds with everyone.

I now make it a point to have a relationship with friends separate from the group, even if it's just texting when something reminds me of them. It also reduces the chances that I'm treating someone else like the floater friend.

3. I accepted that I'd outgrown some groups

Sometimes, feeling like the floater friend can be a sign that the group really doesn't take an interest in your life, according to Kirmayer.

As I started to take more initiative in my friendships, I noticed I'd just outgrown some friend groups. Some just discussed topics I didn't connect with as much, while others really did feel more one-sided. It was unsustainable to keep up with group chats where I wasn't as interested or felt invisible.

Instead of doing everything I could to make sure I'd always be invited to hang out by a particular group, I let them make plans — with or without me. Some groups fizzled out, while others are just ones I hang with less often but still enjoy seeing.

4. I realized I thrive in one-on-one friendships

In making new friends as an adult, I learned that I relax a lot more in one-on-one settings. I don't have to keep track of multiple convos or raise my voice to be heard. In general, I can happily talk for six hours when I'm with someone I click with. But I burn out a lot faster in big gatherings, often seeking out moments to recharge.

Thanks to social media, "It's very common for people to believe that they need to have a friend group as opposed to individual connections," Kirmayer said. "And while there is some value in having a friend group, it's also not a necessary friendship experience."

For example, many neurodivergent people can feel exhausted in social settings, sometimes because of the effort it takes to fit in or experiencing sensory overload.

Being real with myself meant accepting that I will always, at some point, feel like the floater friend in every group because groups are just not where I shine. To feel more like the main character, I just need to be part of a smaller cast.

Read the original article on Business Insider