Monday, May 19, 2014

On Being Left Out

On Saturday we attended a beautiful outdoor wedding.

Afterwards, the hundreds of guests milled around and caught up with relatives and took pictures.

I was taking lots of pictures for the sake of Amy who is in Thailand and couldn't be there.  On the wide grassy bank leading down to the reception area I suddenly came upon a little drama happening.

Three sweet little girls in matching purple dresses were talking with another little girl in orange and white.  I don't know who they all were, exactly, except relatives of the bride, because I think there were nine little girls in purple dresses in all, and they popped up everywhere you looked.

The other little girl looked very upset.  She turned to me and said, "My mom said I'm supposed to be best friends with all the girls but they say that what they say is only for the Purple Girls to hear!"

I thought, "Oh my." And, "Such pain, so young!"

I looked at the Purple Girls.  "Do you think you could play with her?" I pleaded.

Two of them looked noncommital and also a bit scared of me.

Then the third one grinned and said cruelly but adorably, "Welllllll, what I say I just want the Purple Girls to hear!"

Oh dear.

No doubt they thought me a meddling old biddy, but I poured on a bit of shame and guilt, and soon one of them took the left-out girl's hand and said, "I'll play with her."

I praised her like she had just offered to give up a kidney.

And then I left to take more pictures.

And to think about being Left Out.

We discussed this afterwards in some detail, my family and I.  I think the term The Purple Girls has been forever grafted into the family lexicon.

You've been there, right?

There's The Purple Girls, and they just have It--the fun, the friends, the laughter, the something intangible that makes you want to be one of them, that irresistible and cool Something, the Belonging.

And they leave you out.

The pain can be obscene.

Guys and girls, kids, teenagers, adults.  Actually, I think it's worse when it happens to your children, and it's exponentially worse when you or your family/son/daughter are obviously the only one of the young-marrieds-at-church/cousins/class/youth-group/team who weren't included in the barbecue/slumber party/lunch/camping trip/dinner/shopping trip.

I hope I am quick to figure there must have been a good reason and slow to take a slight, but sometimes it's just right in front of your face.

Recently I read this excerpt from the Ask Amy column:

Dear Amy: Every fall, my sister, cousins and a cousin’s sister-in-law have a weekend shopping excursion in our home city.
We stay in a hotel, treat ourselves, shop for our children and go out for lunches and dinners. It is a great time to reconnect.

I have a sister “Wendy,” who we do not invite. She is offended to the point of tears when she finds we have not invited her. My two sisters and I are very close in age, but Wendy hasn’t been as close to this set of cousins as my sister and I have been through the years.

We are all married stay-at-home moms. Wendy is a divorced, working mom with one young child.

There are several reasons we do not include her. We know she doesn’t have very much money for such an outing. She also does not have many of the same interests as we do. Her life is quite different from ours. We’re not interested in what she has to talk about. She complains too much about her aches and pains, and claims to have some kind of neurological disease that some of us feel is more psychosomatic than real and which she uses to avoid getting up for church on Sundays.

She also complains about her ex-husband who left her for another woman, but everyone knows it takes “two to tango” and she is not without fault.

We’re all very active churchgoers, while she only sporadically attends services. Plain and simple, she does not really fit in with us anymore.

She takes it very personally, and last year even came over to my home unannounced crying about it, which upset my children and caused my husband to threaten to call the police if she did not leave.

Now she barely speaks to me and has told our relatives that I am a horrible person (even though I’ve helped her).

How can we get her to understand that she should perhaps find another set of friends whose lives and interests align more closely with hers? — Sad Sister

Dear Sad: First, let’s establish that I agree with your sister: You are a horrible person.

Obviously, you can do whatever you want and associate with — or exclude — whomever you want, but you don’t get to do this and also blame the person you are excluding for not “fitting in.”

The only way your sister would ever fit in would be for you to make room for her. You are unwilling to do that, and that is your choice. But her being upset is completely justified, and you’ll just have to live with that.

Perhaps this is something you could ponder from your church pew, because despite your regular attendance, you don’t seem to have learned much.

I've had occasion to think about this at times in the past and recently a situation came up again--with my children, but it bothered me worse than them--that made me ask lots of questions.

What is it about exclusion that makes it so painful and so hard to let go?  Or am I just hyper-sensitive?

Where is Jesus in these moments, and what does He say to us?

When do you mention it to someone involved and when do you let it go?

I have developed many stock truths to get me through situations and just settle the boiling pot of jam in my soul and give me rest.  For example:

Nasty emails or blog comments: "They just want to be heard." "Yes, I made a mistake, but I'm allowed to make mistakes and I'll do better next time."

Bad days: "This will make a great story someday."

And so on.

I'm still working on a response to feeling left out, a redemptive and truthful way to face it.  "Suck it up, Buttercup," doesn't seem quite right.

One is so powerless in such a situation.  It is what it is, and there is no good or easy way to make it all better.

Talking to the people involved is usually too awkward and will make them feel obligated to include you or your child next time, not because they like you/them, but because they're afraid of hurting your feelings.

I did think of this: it is a very dumb thing to give someone else power over your own happiness, and to make your joy dependent on what others choose to do or not do.  But I'm not sure it makes it easier.

I asked myself if I had ever knowingly been a Purple Girl.  I could think of a few times, such as when a group of women excluded one woman, who should have been with us for a fun expedition, because of another woman's issues with her.  I went along with this action because--of course--I feared being left out myself.

I plan to apologize.

My mom was absolutely adamant about not only including the unpopular people, but giving them higher priority than the cool ones.  Thanks to her, I don't have a lot of regrets in this area.

I've concluded that most of the time it's thoughtlessness rather than spite that motivates people to leave others out.  Not that it's easy to be overlooked or ignored, but I suppose it's better than being deliberately singled out.

I'd love to hear from you.   Your stories, your solutions, your regrets, your wisdom.

Normally I don't encourage anonymity but if it helps you share your story, go for it.

And a happy ending: I was told that before the weekend was over, Little Miss Orange-and-White was happily playing with the most outspoken Purple Girl.  There were no lingering scars, said Little Miss's  mother, who thought this was far smaller of a deal than I did.

May all our stories end this well.


  1. Wow. I have been pondering this issue for several months now. It feels sometimes that this has been my life story, to be honest. And I don't wallow in pity - nor do I want to demand people include me - that would be defeating the whole purpose... to have friends who 'like' me enough to remember me!

    And it's not just me. Not just you. I have several women at church who regularly come to me with the same feelings and intense hurts.

    I was taught the same thing - you include everyone!!
    I can pretty easily justify others leaving ME out for various reasons...we live too far away, I can't afford stuff anyways, dissimilar interests, etc, etc. But sometimes I just want to get 'asked', ya know?! To know I haven't been forgotten...again.

    My one friend has asked me repeatedly: "But is that even how Christians should act?"
    (When she's been neglected yet again.) I feel the pain with her, but all I can say is: "Well, maybe not - but you can't worry about what is Christlike for them, you can only make sure you are loving them with Christlike love."

  2. Wow! Great post! I have been there as a child and teenager. And it is painful. But it is also true that it is not so wise to let others rule over your happiness. What has helped me the most is realizing my true worth in the sight of God and believing truth about who and what I am in His eyes. When things happen and they still do, I refuse to go down that negative thought trail that wants to just flood my thoughts. And give people the benefit of the doubt. And just pray and move on. It is still painful, but not life threatening:)

  3. Thanks Dorcas! A subject far to often over looked. The most painful period of my life was when our teens were at best ignored and worst openly mocked by their small youth group. And at the same time highly criticized themselves.It's through these tough experiances we become stronger in the Lord when He is the Only one you can turn to. If we don't allow bitterness to take root.

  4. Lois Ann Mast5/20/2014 5:54 AM

    I wasn't left out so much as I was the "last one chosen". My siblings and I attended a small 3 room Mennonite School which had hour long lunch breaks. We played ball almost every noon. Any time the Captains of the ball teams chose players, I was the very last one chosen. I expected it. No one wanted me on their team because I was insurance that their team w.o.u.l.d.n.o.t.w.i.n. The entire school stood in the center of the ball field while the Captains chose their teams... first this person, then that one, until I was left standing alone. I often got the impression that I was alone in a Roman arena, facing the lions. Even though I always had to go to the very last team picking a player, it was a relief to get out of the "arena" and into the stands with the other "spectators". It hurt my feelings as I tried very hard to play well. I longed to be chosen first. Then came the year that it happened! A young man in 10th grade began to take a fancy to me and from that year on, if he got to be Captain, he always chose me first. Imagine that! Of course I knew as did everyone else that it wasn't because my playing skills had increased. There were times both teams allowed me to finish running around the bases because I usually never got past 1st Base. My legs would pump furiously up & down while I ran "in place" barely moving around the ball diamond. The balls I managed to hit would go straight up and then down so that the pitcher had to run toward home plate to pick it up. Sometimes he would fumble on purpose while picking it up. "Too late"... I had made it to First Base. Other times out-fielders would sail the ball in a weird direction to give me time to make the next base. I laughed and screamed with excitement when on rare occasions I was "allowed" to make a Home Run. I never did learn to play well but I finished school knowing I was loved.

  5. Wow, this is a great post. All of us want to be loved and accepted and having been given that by God, we are expected to give it out too. But not everyone is lovable or acceptable. There is a woman in a group to which I belong who is hard to love and accept. She takes, rather than gives. She uses her health as an excuse. She is undependable. And yet I know God wants me to love and accept her and I just don't know how. I know if I do so, it would be a good example to others around me. I certainly do not want to be a Purple Girl!

  6. I have also lived with this my whole life and am seeing it happen to my kids. Its very painful. Kids and adults can be extremely cruel. If someone is different, they arent included. I teach my kids to include everyone, regardless of age, race, social class, or disability. Some are harder to get along with but we are taught to have Christs love. I pray for more. As parents, our children follow our example. I want to be that good example and not leave everyone out. You never know, you might get a blessing from the one who is most unlike the others.

  7. Wow, does that ever sound familiar! I've been the orange girl many times as a child, but my worst experiences being left out happened in my 20's. In the process, I learned some things.

    Sometimes leaving someone out is just plain wrong. The purple girls were being mean. I'm glad they relented because there was no justifiable reason for leaving out the girl in the orange dress! I'm glad Dorcas was there to help. The girl in the orange dress will remember that, too. Kids need to learn that it is not OK to exclude others from their cool little club. The lady who wrote the letter about her sister needs to learn this, too.

    There are other times that I've been hurt by being excluded and I think I brought it on myself. Some people just naturally attract others. They are the leaders, the performers, etc. You sit in the audience and watch them on stage or read their books and you feel like you know them. I've been guilty of trying to get into their inner circle because I didn't have other close friends and I felt like I knew them. Lots of people do this. Even Jesus dealt with people who wanted to be friends with Him for the wrong reasons. Often the leaders' lives are already so full that they don't have room for another close friend. Some of them are very gracious about it. Others react with cruel callousness. This isn't really a case of purple vs. orange, even though it hurts like it is. The only solution is to accept that you're not part of their group and make other friends.

  8. It's almost impossible for me to believe that "ask Amy" letter is real. I don't mean not real as in it was never published, I mean not real as in someone was spoofing "ask Amy". It's just so obviously wrong. But I suppose there are people that cruel, however ridiculous it seems that they could not recognize their own (almost) laughable transparency.

    Sometimes life is cruel, and while I try my best to teach my children to ALWAYS include others, there are times when being left out happens. If it happens to others due to our oversight, we do our best to make it right. When it happens to us, as it inevitably does, we try to take it as "ok, now you know how it feels. Remember that the next time the shoe is on the other foot and act accordingly".

  9. Thank you for posting this. I think what people forget is that its only in social situations that "orange Girls" learn to fit in. I think those who say "well the orange girl should make friends with others" what happens if there are "no others" or if the Purple Girls have made it clear that anyone seen befriending her will be promptly ostracized? and I think its important even a person THINKS the person wont be able to go because of cost,health etc just being invited makes a huge difference.

  10. I would like to know the gist of what you said to purple girls. Pouring out shame and guilt just aren't in my vocabulary. When my kids exclude each other, the best I can muster is a weak 'that's not nice'.

  11. I just want to say that I have really been enjoying your blog posts the last few months. I really like the real-life examples of situations that we all encounter, but the way you describe them makes me feel like I am right there too. Thank you!!!

  12. Very interesting a few of you said, it's being asked that is the kindness, even if you won't be able to come. There are ladies who invite me to Tupperware-like parties, knowing I'm not crazy for such things, because they want me to feel included.
    Lois Ann, I love how things changed for you!
    Interesting comment about wanting to be friends with writer/speaker people...I've been on the other side of that and want to be more gentle in the future. You can't be best friends with everyone but you can be kind.
    Lucy--I don't remember what I said exactly but I think the tone was something like--Wait, a nice girl like you isn't being friends with someone?? How shocking....

  13. I grew up being excluded a lot, as my family was different from our peers, and we were unpopular. I learned to overcome it by sometimes involving myself anyway if it wasn't too intrusive (thankfully, there were no protests!), and sometimes, by reaching out to someone else who might need a friend. Now my 5 yr old daughter complains that *someone* won't talk to her, or play with her, etc. (My guess is that she thinks she's not getting enough personal attention from said person, LOL!) I advise her to ask if she can play, or if she really is being excluded, to go find someone else to play with. A victim of exclusion can't really do much to change the offender, but can be proactive by being a friend to others.

  14. Oh, so many thoughts. I think where a lot of the pain of exclusion comes in, is assuming we should be invited/included because of our age, association, etc. I know of social circles where you hang out with people your age only. And therefore if you're "that" age, you will feel excluded when that age group does something. My social circle is more varying ages (and I would value even more variance), therefore I don't assume one should include, just because they're the same age as me.

    I also think it might be a bit of an identity issue. If my identity is in the people who like me and want to spend time with me, it's going to be extra painful when not invited. But if my identity is in something greater, though still painful, it hopefully won't be devestateing to my person.

    I'm thinking of a story about a girl who had some physical issues that caused her to look quite different then her peers. Her parents never treated her any differently and so she didn't fully realize she was "different" till she went to school. Her little kindergarten peers weren't sure about being her friend because she looked different. Her parents never treated her with a "you poor thing" attitude. Instead they encouraged her to be herself and when her peers get to know her, things will change.

    I love this girls story, because it's the perfect example of not becoming a victim. I think we have to be so careful not to act like victims or treat others who've been left out like victims. The victim mentality does nothing towards making us whole people and therefore more fun to be around.

  15. Deeply relevant blog. Thank you. I personally 'want' to avoid people who make me uncomfortable so I definitely understand one side. However, I think maybe this person will never see God's love for her, 'cuz I cannot give her grace to make her welcome in my world where I say God dwells but unlike Christ cannot accept a life different from "my" standard. It can be hard but what comes to my heart so often is when I see the LORD face to face, he's not going to say, I know it was hard dear, and it wasn't your fault you failed. Look at what That person was like. He will rather focus on Who he is and desires to be in me.

  16. if you have never been the one left out ALL THE TIME, you will never understand. but i also know what it is to be reluctant to include that 1 person.

    maybe she can't afford that particular outing, but could she be invited to a smaller one? and you might be surprised how many complaints go away when she feels accepted...

  17. Very good story.

    I was also the last one chosen to be on the ball team because I was not athletic - had no siblings close to my age to play with to increase my skills. In any case it was not pleasant but had learned to accept it.

    But then, to my shame, I have done it, too, on an occasion or two. However, most of my life I have been the one excluded, including my family.

    I have learned to live with it, not allow others to rob me of my enjoyment of life. I developed interests, pursued them solo and am content to work alone - enhanced by growing up 'alone'. In the meantime, when I see people alone in a crowd I will make it a point to go visit with them.

    Still, I get weary of being the aggressor in seeking out people to visit with. Oh! well...

  18. I found myself getting all indignant over the"ask Amy"letter.Then I heard the Holy Spirit's gentle whisper.....Haven't you done the same?Weren't you secretly glad that a certain lady couldn't come to the ladies' retreat?Didn't you avoid(convenient excuses)a book study because she would there and would dominate the discussion,going and on and on about her problems........
    More like Jesus would I be,let my Savior dwell with me;

  19. Dorcas, I love your story. And I appreciate your kindness in getting involved in small girls' drama. Little Miss Orange and White might never know who you were but she will never forget how you made her feel.

    I had to wonder if I am qualified to leave a comment. I do understand what it feels like to be excluded, made fun of, and so on. But.... how much is personality?

    What I mean is, how is it that two children, side by side in a family can take the exact circumstances so differently? For me, I reacted in anger, stormed angrily to my mom about how unfair things were, and got over it. My sibling said nothing, did nothing, and the pain went on for years. I personally am glad for the hurts in my childhood, they have made me compassionate like nothing else could have. But I know my sibling struggled for years with deep insecurities and depression because of them.

    I don't know the answer to my own question. But I have decided that if my personality protects me from feeling relational hurts as much as some people, then I am more responsible to make sure I look out for others. To make sure that I am not thoughtlessly excluding and not even noticing others pain.

    Sometimes you wish you could give one person a dose of another person's personality. You wish you could make that shrinking little girl give a saucy shrug and say "So what?!" But truly there is no perfect personality. A person who struggles with insecurities will ace me when it comes to infinite patience, gentle reminders, and so on. EVERY person has an area that they shine in!

  20. This brought tears to my eyes......I am forgiving (read in the process of) my husbands family and learning to love them despite never really being part of them. I'm sure they tried! I'm sure I was/am hard to figure out! But I do see a pattern in their's hard to reach out to unlovely people if you have always been 'cool' and your parents didnt really set the example of compassion to outcasts or encourage you to do so. I guess I would rather live with this pain n learn to rise above it than be hated by those I excluded. And never forget to love like Jesus did regardless of how uncool it looks.

  21. I've been left out, and I've done the leaving out. It's not fun any way you slice it. I think the biggest hurdle is that we don't want to have our minds and heart stretched; we are lazy. It hurts to grow and think differently, and being around people who are "not like us", truly accepting them and understanding their perspective, is experience that is sure to change us.
    I've been struggling through this on a personal level. We are part of a church where we don't "fit". A dear brother shared this: We fellowship around the Life that we have, not the Light that we have. The Life is our Lord Jesus. The Light is what He is showing us in our own lives. He is not showing us all the same things at the same time. If we try to fellowship around Light, we will all quickly become frustrated with one another and go our separate ways. But if we fellowship around the Life that we share, we can rejoice and encourage one another.
    Amen! We don't all need to be cookie-cutters of each other to have fellowship!

  22. I don't suppose I thought like this as a child...but now I've decided that I won't take offense by what other people do. If they are being unkind, it's their issue; if I take offense it's my issue. I can't always stick to this but i do try.

  23. I have been thinking a lot about this post. It really struck a cord with me. I applaud you for stepping in and making a difference. When this happens to children, something inside me wells up--I have to do something. It still happens to me as an adult--I was never the "in person" on the block. But God has used it to purify me and He keeps drawing me back to Him! It really has helped me grow up. Though it is still painful, I have been able to forgive & actually feel compassion for the perpetrator. Only God could do that...Trust me I know.

  24. If I was Orange Girl, I would have fled from those nasty purple girls. It would have affected me greatly and I would have isolated myself to protect myself from that ever happening again. I would have tended towards becoming a loner unless somebody made the initiative to include me and be friendly. Ask me how I know? I have been there and done this. I have learned to enjoy my own company. I am very untrusting of other women and it takes me a long while to open up and be "myself" with someone I don't know. Some people are just way more sensitive than others and I am one of them. Someone else might have just let it slide over them and forgotten about it. Not me. It still affects me and I'm a middle-aged woman.

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  26. I am so glad that I read your post today. I feel that way with my friends because I am a single mother but then I realized that my life is headed in a different direction by trying to raise a God fearing child but it still hurts. Thanks for allowing God to work thru you for me to read this.

  27. Judith Martin, aka Miss Manners, provided a great formula that I return to again and again: you can exclude categories, not people. So, for example, your wedding is getting too big; you can cut the invitations off at 2nd cousins but you CANNOT invite all the 2nd cousins except that one that acts "different" (as we say in PA and it is NOT a compliment, let me tell you!).
    I see Jesus as the great "includer". Any personal prejudice of mine can't stand up to that example and mandate.

  28. I too know how it is to be left out... our family has always dressed a little plainer than some others, not following the styles and fads and so we're not of the popular group... I now see this happening with the little girls in church - 3-6 yr. olds, and up... the babies who get dolled up get more attention than my plain nieces, and my plain nieces are excluded a lot... even the 5 yr olds will go into a room and not let my little niece in with them.. Why? Because she is dressed plain. I see those 'stylish' little girls, how they look adoringly at the older youth girls who are popular and stylish... and how they want to be with them, talk with them, but they don't pay the plainer girls any mind ....

  29. When I hear someone say, "She probably can't come," I like to suggest we ask her and let her decide. Assuming, in my book, is as bad as someone finishing my sentence or story!


  30. Something happened in jr. high school that had such an impact on me that it has stuck with me ever after, reminding me to notice the overlooked and to seek out those who seem to want to disappear into the background.
    I was by far the worst volleyball player in gym class. Anyone watching would have thought I was playing dodge ball instead! I had been hit soundly in the face the first day, which made it incredibly hard for me to run into the path of the ball instead of away from it. Of course I was always the last one picked for a team...with a groan of dismay from the entire team that was stuck with me. It was understandable, but humiliating.
    Then one day, Anthony was designated a team captain. He was outgoing, funny, athletic...everything I wasn't. All of us liked him. He was given first pick that day. He looked down the waiting line of students, searching for a particular player. We all waited to see who he would think was most valuable for his team; Jeff the fast, Craig the fearless, Amy the cute girl all the boys
    He picked me. Then he scowled at anyone who dared to make a complaint. Throughout the game he yelled encouraging comments to each member of the team, no matter how poorly they played. I found myself running straight towards the ball and trying very hard to live up to the faith he had in all of us. I still played really badly, but nobody commented; they just showed me how to do it the next time.
    I never knew what caused him to do something so unexpected, so outlandish, so kind. But I never forgot it. And every chance I get, I pick the wallflowers and shrinking violets.
    Thanks Anthony =)

  31. Would you mind if I copied the "ask Amy" passage to write my own response to on my blog? While I agree that the woman asking the question is largely in the wrong, it strikes me as a very interesting piece of interpersonal conflict, in that I can see her point too.