Earlier this summer I was attending an event with one of my daughters. As she took off with her new friends, the mom who organized it warmly welcomed me, handed me a slip of paper then turned around and joined a group of seven women—in a circle—leaving me standing there by myself. For 10 agonizing minutes, I stood there feeling like the village idiot while I listened to their conversations about Boy Scouts, vacations and pilates. Not one person came up to me or even looked my way.
I know what you are thinking. Yes, I could have gone over to the group myself, but when people are deep in conversation unaware of your existence, well, I did what any mom would do. I moved to the side and started scrolling on my phone.
I made up for it at pick-up time a few hours later when I purposefully went up and introduced myself to each and every mom, and each woman was kind and talkative and is now my friend in return. I don’t hold grudges—in fact I’m pretty sure they were not even aware of what happened—but I won’t forget how I felt either. And I could imagine how it must feel for someone who is more shy and introverted than myself.
But we’ve all been there, in that awkward situation where it just seems like the other person isn’t interested in you. We’ve walked into school meetings where no one looks up or stood off to the side at pick up line when everyone else chats. People may give you a nod and a smile, but they don’t always invite you in if they’re in their circle.
But then I met some moms at schedule pick up for my middle schoolers, and we started talking about vacations and camps and whose kid is running cross country this year—and that’s when I noticed her sitting over to the side. A mom I had seen around but didn’t know. She kept looking around nervously and then back at her phone.
That’s when I realized I circled myself and didn’t even recognize it. We could not be more un-inviting. One mom had her head in her phone, another was looking at her watch, and I was just standing there yapping.
I watched as her son walked up and the pair strolled quickly away—and in that moment I understood that circle breaking is harder than it seems.
It should be easy for me. I’m an extrovert who will talk to anyone who will listen, and because I’ve moved around quite a bit, I’ve broken into mom circles in four states. I even have little circle-breaking children.
So, I tried it later that day in the 7th-grade hall. I stopped by two moms and introduced myself. I think they may have been taken aback at first, but then we chatted and realized we had some things in common.
I attempted my powers again with my daughter’s new soccer team. I could have stood off to the side while the other moms and dads who have known each other for years talked about bar-b-ques, jobs, and their summer breaks, but I took a deep breath and broke right in. I even brought another new mom with me.
And guess what? That circle disintegrated.
Most of the time I think it’s unintentional. We rush from place to place and sometimes only want a few minutes of peace to catch up with a friend.
But then I think about how awkward it felt for me to approach a group of parents, a group where we all shared a common interest in our daughters. And then I think of how difficult it must feel when there are genuine differences between you and other people, when the circles seem impenetrable because it is made of steel.
I’m not saying every time you’re chatting with your friends you have to ask someone in; BUT be aware. When you see someone hanging off to the side nervously checking her phone, think about introducing yourself or even offering an inviting smile. When you notice a new person at school, attempt to strike up a conversation, no matter how awkward you feel. And when you have an open seat beside you, offer it to the mom looking around the room for a friendly place to sit.
I forgot how easy it was to be a circle breaker. I forgot that most circles are tissue thin, if you just introduce yourself or make the first move.
More importantly, I forgot how easy it is to bust circles from the inside, just by being the one to let someone in. Most times when someone starts breaking the circle, everyone else follows happily along. I particularly like to show circle breaking off in front of my children. It seems to make their force even stronger.
For those moms who build their circles out of steel, well I don’t have your kryptonite, yet; but I do believe in karma. Sometimes life happens, and you become unhinged from your circle. I just hope someone lets you in.
So, for any moms standing off to the side this year, be prepared. I’m coming for you.