I’ve always believed that friends are like alcohol. When you mix incompatible ones, and let your various circles merge, you’re more likely than not to end up with a headache, your head in the toilet, and a bunch of regrets for the things you have said when your guard was down. Since one can’t quite predict what will happen when one’s circles clash, I imagine the worst case scenario and call it ‘worlds colliding’. Obviously, this means I don’t have a group that I hang out with everyday. I have friends from school, friends from college, friends from university, fellow journalists who became friends, colleagues who became friends, and so on. This also means I understand one-on-one dynamic far better than I understand group dynamic.
[quote]It started with Seinfeld, and all that was subtle was made saccharine by its successors[/quote]
Of course, if you watch sitcoms, you’ll know that understanding group psychology is not rocket science. It started with Seinfeld, and all that was subtle was made saccharine by its successors – Friends, Coupling, How I Met Your Mother, The Big Bang Theory, you name it. We all know that if we’re in our twenties, and hanging out with a group every day for lunch and dinner and coffee, we will end up sleeping with everyone who is of compatible sexual orientation in the group, and eventually marry whoever is willing to marry us when we turn 30.
The worst thing one can to do oneself is to be in such a group. The second worst thing one can do to oneself is to date a man who is in such a group. Here’s why:
They will call him within minutes of his leaving them: And they will call to ask when he will be back, without you. He will say something neutral, trying not to offend you – because he has left them in order to make out with you – and trying not to offend them, because he will have to return to them when he’s done making out with you. But you know from the awkward laugh and the unsure fillers that you’re the subject of this phone conversation. He thinks he is being asked to choose between food and libido. He is actually being asked to choose celibacy, in solidarity with the group.
The girls in the group will get catty: The minute you’re introduced to this group, the insecurities of the women bleed out like cheap dye. They begin to attack you. You’re either too garrulous or too reserved. You’re too stand-offish, or too keen to fit in. If you’re pretty, you’re a delicate darling. If you’re good at anything, you’re a show-off. And they find it incumbent upon themselves to call him every time he is out with you, just in case he gets carried away by your confidence – or your body.
They will land up at his place without calling: I am not sure why they do this. They call when they are at the door of his house, not when they’re about to leave theirs. Usually, he will let them in. Occasionally, when he feels optimistic about his prospects for the evening, he will lie that he is out. “But your car is here!” they will say. “She picked me up,” he will say, desperately hoping that they haven’t taken down the number of your licence plate. They will then inform him that you’re already a ball-buster, and he should break up with you before you ruin his entire life.
Your dates turn into group dates: When he realises that his friends don’t like you, but are willing to endure your company if it means they can keep him within the confines of their monotonous dinner conversations, you become party to their monotonous dinner conversations. Their monotonous dinner conversations revolve around their love lives. And their love lives involve each other. So, people have to keep going to the bathroom in turns, to allow themselves to be discussed by the rest of the group.
Every time there’s a reference to an in-joke, they will explain it: This is the worst thing about a group. It is impossible for you to find any of these in-jokes funny. When you break into a stilted camera-smile, they will tell you, “The thing is, you had to be there.” No, you didn’t. In fact, you didn’t have to be here, listening to the origin story of some wisecrack you may have been proud of in second grade. The saddest effect of this group habit is that it makes you realise that the man you’re dating is not funny. No. Not only is he not funny, but he is also proud of being un-funny.
When you discover the man you’re dating is in one such group, the sensible thing to do is wave goodbye and say, “So, I’ll see you in ten years, when you two have broken up and you two have kept the pieces for yourselves, and you have had the surrogate baby of these two.”