Being the Floater Friend Is Not the End of Your Social Life, Actually

Franco notes that if you’re constantly finding yourself on the fringe of friendships, you might have to be the one to create the group. Oftentimes floater friends have a more passive way of navigating their connections. People who experience this ongoing battle sometimes even manage to compartmentalize their friendships, which leaves them with more individual relationships over friend groups.

“And maybe that’s why you end up becoming a floater friend because you have these very bespoke ways of interacting with people that doesn’t really lend itself to forming a group,” O’Keeffe says. “Maybe I’m not the type to say ‘Let’s all buy a cake, coordinate schedules and get together, and have something big and fun.’ It’s amazing when those things can happen. I think I’ve definitely felt envious of that growing up. At different points you’re just like ‘Does this mean I don’t have as much love in my life? Does that mean my friends do not care about me in the same way?’”

The famous friend group many of us aspire to isn’t always that aspirational, though. While it can get lonely existing as a party of one, for many floater friends, being forced into a governing body with ratified laws of friendship-land can be overwhelming.

“My school was very cliquey and people stayed within their friend groups,” Wei says. “It was also very hierarchical, in the sense that there was always one girl who was the leader and then everyone else had to listen to her and I didn’t really vibe with that. I didn’t really understand why things were so predetermined.”

O’Keeffe would even go as far to call friend groups tiny “societies.” “Some social sciences probably know what the threshold is, but when you’re in a group at a certain point it becomes a little society, which means you just naturally start to form rules and etiquette,” O’Keeffe says. “Those things you don’t need when you’re just two or three people. And as you scale, it’s very hard to govern and adjudicate things, and it does become a little bit suffocating.”

As an igniter of friend groups myself, I have seen firsthand how draining friend groups can become — especially when you’re 17 and everything feels more momentous than it actually is. It starts with naming the group. You must settle on an acronym that identifies everyone in the squad, even though someone’s name will always be last. You must establish rules and parameters surrounding hangouts and invites, as no two members of the larger group can hang out solo without being reprimanded. Back then, it was all for one and one for all. Now, years later, that same high school friend group and I laugh about the system we built to tightly uphold our friendships, and how it isn’t quite realistic as growing adults.

“My best friend today, we don’t even live in the same state, but we’ve been friends for so long and there’s no politics,” Wuraola Adeniji, 23, says. “We can hang out whenever we have the time. With my personality I have to create time or space for people that align with me at the moment. Having a friend group, sometimes I’m not in alignment with that. I might be in a different mindset and the expectations of me in that friend group might be too much.”

Rupal Banerjee, 24, remembers the pivotal moment in her childhood where she was shunned to the edges of the group. She was in the eighth grade and her entire class of about 15 students went to Knott’s Berry Farm, the amusement park in California. She agreed that the majority of the group somewhat enjoyed her presence, but the group “leader” didn’t. At the end of the trip, the group leader invited every single person besides Banerjee to go to dinner after their day at the park.