Don’t Have A Squad? You’re Not Alone

‘Loneliness is one of the most frightening certainties of the human experience. Very few people are immune, and those who claim never to have experienced it are most likely unwilling or unsure how to identify it.’

In her recent book, The Friendship Cure, Kate Leaver argues modern society is making us lonelier, putting stress on our mental health and separating us from real human connection. Moreover, we are ignoring our own loneliness. How could we possibly be lonely when global connectivity literally lies at our fingertips?

This is not a new line of argument; think pieces on the detrimental effect of social media on our health – somewhat ironically – manage to go viral more than almost any other topic. It is understandable, then, that in this climate of anxiety around loneliness we would want to combat being alone with having as many friendship connections as we can.

Female friendship groups have a long history. Modern slang and hashtags are simply new labels for an old phenomenon which can be traced back to the 17th Century; philosopher Mary Astell  wrote that connections between women were purer and more authentic than bonds between men because women were in general “less concern’d in the affairs of the World”. Wives, supposedly, formed friendships with neighbours to replace the bonds they had with mothers and sisters in the households of their childhood and adolescence.

In the late 20th and 21st centuries, modern female friendship is driven by image. Instagram snaps of club nights out are hash tagged with #squad and #tribe. These clichés arrive on t-shirts, making a commodity out of human connection. The iconic visual of Taylor Swift and her clique of supermodels helped to cement the image of the ideal squad – beautiful, badass girls who would walk, fashionably, through fire for each other – that is, until they fall out and go to war. What was that about building each other up?

Modern pop culture has been saturated by both good and bad representations of female friendship, although, disappointingly, these have all too often championed the lives of rich white women devoid of problems beyond extramarital affairs, sex and career progression. Almost every woman in their twenties has been asked which Sex and the City character they identify with and met with derision if they can’t identify themselves as either of the four. Younger millennials will perhaps be more familiar with inquiries into which character they are closest to out of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Broad City, Friends or Girls.

The problem with this is that it implies that a personality type of a fictional character can be easily mapped on to a woman in an attempt to understand her. Women, once again, are reduced to archetypes devoid of real complexity. I have been lonely in squads before simply because groups, whether they’re in fiction or the real world, often eschew individuality. In fact, if you’re a typical introvert, or like to keep things private from all but one or two close people, it’s often difficult to find yourself part of a tight-knit friendship group. This is particularly true if you come into a friendship group after it’s formed. As such, we might move between groups or stick to cultivating meaningful relationships with separate and unrelated people. Jilly Ganon of ELLE Magazine calls this person a ‘floater’ – never committing to a single group.

Social convention might label this behaviour as fickle or flighty, but, in reality, it can be healthy to diversify your friendship groups. In the same way that spending all your time with a partner and their friends can be limiting, it can be similarly limiting to spend your time with the same group of women. Your worldview narrows, you become closed off to making new friends and you can exclude other women from joining the group. It is the real-life version of an echo chamber.

Squads are, by nature, exclusive. Defined by inside jokes, shared experiences and old gossip, they’re not always easy to join, or indeed, be a part of. By nature, the terms ‘squad’ and ‘tribe’ imply an ‘us’ to a vague ‘them’. Squads are marketed as a place to simultaneously bitch about others while remaining ‘non-judgemental’ – a mindboggling contradiction plays into widely circulated stereotypes of womanhood. In reality, squads sometimes achieve little more than a friendship with one or two close friends, aside from cultivating an image of exclusivity.

This is not to attack female friendships which are, of course, incredibly important. There is perhaps nothing more cringe-worthy than hearing the claim “I’m only friends with guys because there’s less drama’ (a note to my past self). In a culture which so often tries to pit women against each other in terms of career success, image and dating, it is a triumph to see women supporting each other, building each other up, and offering comfort when things are hard. Where there are shared experiences of female life, it often feels necessary to talk to your female friends over wine, at the gym or during a cheeky visit to Five Guys.

Yet, hashtag culture, and the pop culture that drives it, is dissociative. It embeds in us an image of what female friendship should look like but misses the complex reality of making friendship last. This matters because the most engaged female consumers of hashtags and trending pop culture tend to be teenagers and women in their early twenties who often follow examples of how to be successful adults through the images they consume of success and happiness. The idea that we might not have a squad can be troubling when it seems everybody else does. As such, we can feel left out, strange, and unsuccessful; these feelings drive down our confidence when really, any attempt to connect to another person is a worthy one. While we choose to try to fit the cultural ideal, we only make ourselves lonelier.

So perhaps the lesson is to diversify – meet new women in different circumstances, and don’t be afraid if they don’t hang out with the other people you know. Look outside your group of Carries and Samanthas. Look to celebrate your individuality. I promise: you don’t need a squad for success.

Written by Ellen Macpherson

What do you think? Let us know in the comments!

3 Tips To Relax And Live In The Moment

It’s true. I definitely categorize myself as a planner. I’m one of those crazy, “Type A” people who loves to buy calendars and office supplies. You’ve probably figured out that being a planner can be a curse and a blessing. We’re always prepared, but sometimes it’s hard to let our hair down and just have fun.

Here are a few tips to help you embrace who you are, while also teaching yourself to let go and relax:

Tip #1: Start Meditating

I know meditation sounds like a weird hippy activity, but it’s actually quite useful for teaching you how to live in the moment. There’s a misconception that you’re either “good” or “bad” at meditation, but that’s not the case.

Meditation is a process of letting your thoughts pass and then bringing yourself back to the present. Some days your thoughts will be overwhelming and it will be hard to concentrate. Other days your mind will be quieter. Regardless, the point of meditation is not to get yourself to stop thinking. The purpose is to bring awareness to your thoughts and how you interact with them. This is important because, as control freaks, we have an especially hard time getting out of our heads. We obsess, stress, and worry because we believe that doing so will somehow protect us from the unknown. But, in reality, it’s ineffective and causes us to be more tense and anxious.

I encourage you to try meditating for just five minutes per day for one week. See if this helps you learn how to live in the moment. If you like it, you can keep it up and do it a few times a week or every day.

Bonus tip: I use this app for my morning meditation!

Tip #2: Strive for Presence Over Perfection

I admit that I stole this phrase from my favorite book, Present Over Perfect by Shauna Neiquist. I read it last year and it transformed the way I live my life, so I just have to share it with you.

Many of us who struggle to live in the moment also battle with an obsession for perfection.The problem is that perfection doesn’t exist. We can plan and organize all we want, but there will always be bad weather, late people, traffic, or other inconveniences that are out of our control. I’ve learned that rather than trying to stop these things from ruining my plans, it’s better to work with whatever comes my way.

The idea of presence over perfection means letting go of how you think things ought to be and embracing the way things are. (Meditation helps you adopt this mindset!)

So, the next time things don’t go as you expect them to, try to accept your new circumstances and move forward anyway. More importantly, rather than spending time worrying that things won’t go as you expect them to, trust that you are equipped with everything you need to handle whatever is thrown at you.

Tip #3: Journal Before Bed

I find that I do my best worrying right before bed. I obsess over something someone said to me at work. My mind runs through everything I need to get done tomorrow. I also become highly sensitive to the fact that there might be someone trying to break into my apartment. I’m tired all stinkin’ day, then when it’s actually time to fall asleep I can’t turn my mind off.

The other night, I was laying in bed feeling stressed because I had spent the past hour obsessing over what I needed to do the next day. Suddenly, I couldn’t take it anymore. I was sick of worrying about things that I had no control over, so I decided to grab my journal and make a list of everything that was giving me anxiety. Five minutes later, I was asleep.

Journaling is massively effective for emptying out your brain. It’s as if you free your mind from having to hold on to all of your worries and anxieties. I encourage you to journal whenever you feel yourself obsessing. Whether it’s before bed or in the middle of the day, writing down your feelings will prevent your thoughts from consuming you.

From one control freak to another, it’s so imperative that you learn to be present and enjoy your life for what it is right now. Remember that perfection is a myth. Planning and organizing are okay, but sometimes life can’t be perfectly calculated and things will happen that are out of your control.

Learn how to roll with the punches. You’re not going to change overnight, and you will never rid yourself of all of your planner tendencies (nor should you!). But, it is possible for you to learn to let go and relax when necessary.

Be patient with yourself, and understand that life is a process. But, it’s well worth it.

What are your tips for letting go and relaxing into life? Leave a comment below!

Written by Alana Chibas. This post was previously featured on Alana’s blog – check it out!

America Day by Day – Simone de Beauvoir

Many books have been labelled the essential American road trip companion. Hundreds of lists cite On the Road, Mason & Dixon, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Travels with Charley and the drug-fuelled Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas as mandatory insights into American life. Unsurprisingly, the genre has been largely dominated by white men, although Eddy L. Harris’s Mississippi Solo provides an insightful view into life and racial problems on the Mississippi River. Joan Didion, without journaling the endless highways in front of her, paints one of the best portraits of California in American fiction or non-fiction with Slouching Towards Bethlehem.

Yet Simone de Beauvoir predates most of these writers by some distance with her travel memoir America Day by Day, a book full of searing insights into the lifestyle, culture and politics of post-war USA. On its publication in Britain, the book received poor reviews and even poorer sales, but as time has moved on, many have realised the modern prescience of Beauvoir’s observations.

Writing in 1947 as an independent female traveller, she provides a portrait of a nation; one full of hubris and the kind of optimism that warps your world view. Having seen real tragedy in war-torn Paris, Beauvoir seeks to look beyond the shining underbelly to America’s often tragic reality. She finds murderers, gangsters and thieves as easily as she does cocktail party companions, and embraces writing about both provincialism and racism in the north and south.

Over a decade before the Beat Generation adopts ‘Howl’ as their anthem and hippies gather on the corner of Haight and Ashbury, Beauvoir is railing against the myopia of suburban life, seemingly distinct to America. “I dearly hope I’m never fated to live in Rochester,” she sasses. And although the concept of free love has many different permutations history, it is here we witness its most successful form. Beauvoir unashamedly takes advantage of her open relationship with Sartre.

Beauvoir left France with a note from her soulmate, Jean-Paul Sartre, but it was in America where she would meet Nelson Algren, the man whom she would later refer to in letters as “my beloved husband.” At the time of writing America Day by Day, Beauvoir hadn’t yet fully cultivated her image as a feminist trailblazer; she was more known for her participation in Paris’ café society culture, and her intellectual relationship with Sartre (in which, as we would expect of the time, she was always in second place to him). In America, she meets a number of men along the road; Beauvoir enjoys her sexual liberation by engaging in a number of affairs for which she offers no apology. There is a considerable amount of alcohol consumption too, common of the time, but in Beauvoir’s memoir, the single woman drinking alone is unusually visible.

The visibly solitary woman still causes consternation in Western culture, and we are subject to thousands of think pieces on spending time alone. A man can sit alone at a pub, but a woman doing the same will draw a few bemused looks. Shirking convention is therefore a brave and necessary step for us to take. It seems ridiculous, but whether we’re travellers, cinema-goers, concert-goers, ravers, or (God forbid), diners, we could learn a thing or two from Beauvoir’s willingness to embrace her own company:

“Breakfast in the corner drugstore is a celebration. Orange juice, toast, café au laitan unadulterated pleasure. Sitting on my revolving stool, I participate in a moment of American life. My solitude does not separate me from my neighbors, who are also eating alone. Rather, it’s the pleasure I feel that isolates me from them. They are simply eating; they’re not on vacation.”

Shirking almost every chaperone she is provided in New York, she makes her own rules, taking daily walks and going wherever she pleases. When she is told, “you can go through Harlem by car but you must never go on foot,” to stick to the large avenues and “avoid all side streets,” she remarks: “I’ve already come across too many places where right-thinking people declare you could not go that I’m not too impressed. I deliberately walk toward Harlem.” There, alone, she finds the ghettoised life an African-American community, isolated but otherwise no more hostile to her than any other street in New York.

Yet perhaps the most surprising observation in the book is how Americans reacted to the atrocities of the Second World War. Beauvoir detested being condescended to about the state of post-war France and loathed the sense of paternalism that underpinned this condescension:

“The American benevolence attracts me and irritates me at the same time…benevolence is carried so far here that they refuse to believe, for example, in the German atrocities. It’s true that the clumsy propaganda of 1914-18…has inclined Americans to be sceptical,” and yet “They’ll believe anything of the Japanese.”

Already in 1947, with America feeling as blusteringly confident as ever, we see the seeds of near conspiratorial scepticism, with a belief that no-one white could possibly carry out atrocities on this level. We see the seeds of alternative facts. It has been said by several commentators that Trump is the most recent figurehead in a long tradition of populist leaders with white supremacist tendencies. What a modern reading of Beauvoir brings home is that this goes beyond Nixon and Reagan. When America is already ‘great’, at the top of the world, in fact, it is still ignorant, full of wide chasms of misunderstanding and the denial of history.

And all this from a woman alone, travelling for four months across America, falling in love, eating and drinking until she is content. America Day by Day teaches us to be curious, brave, witty and socially conscious. We should not be afraid of spending time with ourselves, of going where others tell us not to go, and questioning the norms that hold women back.

Written by Ellen Macpherson