How To Approach Being The ‘Background Friend’

Aristotle gave us this famous quote, “Man is a social animal.” This is why we stick to groups of friends and people of a similar wavelength. But how often have you had thoughts like – Do I fit in? Why am I not included in the group? This often comes up when you’re a part of a group but do not have a deeper relationship with those within the group. Chances are, you are the background friend. Or, as some may refer to, a backup friend. 

What is a background friend?

The term ‘background friend’ was coined by illustrator Riley from Chicago. Being part of a friend circle and still being invisible to them is painful. Not having friends is tough, but thinking of someone as a friend when your feelings aren’t reciprocated is worse. That’s what being a background friend feels like.

A group of friends often neglect a background friend, causing them to float out to other groups. They are not a part of the ‘permanent squad’. The conversations are primarily superficial, but they also allow you the flexibility to be a part of various groups. In the modern era, this is both a boon and bane as you have friends from your office, your gym, your building society and so on. 

Thus, being a background friend is combated in two ways. You can either be a part of multiple groups or stick to the same group hoping things will change. When you cannot invest your time into a single friendship, you float in and out of groups. But when you don’t socialise much, you are forced to hang with the existing friend group.

Not sure you’re the background friend? Read on for the signs. 

Signs you are the background friend

1. Your absence doesn’t affect them:

You are invited to plans and hangouts, but not all, because your absence doesn’t cause a void. Instead, you are more like a background character who pushes the main plot forward when the supporting actors aren’t there. 

2. You feel out of place

You struggle to feel comfortable in their presence but cannot open up to them because you can’t relate to them. They care for you but not enough to know about your childhood trauma or boyfriend problems. You are the silent listener.

3. The jokes are cut at your expense 

There are no boundaries for the jokes they crack about you. You play along and be a sport just so that you can fit in. You begin feeling more self-conscious but are unable to speak up. 

4. Everyone has a ‘favourite’ within the group 

In a large friend group, there are smaller groups who usually stick together. You aren’t a part of any of them. They have their chat channels and inside jokes. 

5. They don’t know you for ‘you’

Though friendly when you hang out, you don’t often text or have long calls. This makes it impossible to forge a personal connection with them or for you to let your guard down. So they know the superficial you, and they are okay with it. 

Analysing the situation

This lack of personal relationships leads to lesser recognition within your friend group, where plans are made before you, but you’re not invited to them. Once you are sure that you’re the background friend and it begins to hurt you, speaking up about your thoughts is best. Addressing the situation is a precursor to moving away from the situation. When you analyse the situation, you understand your strengths and value, allowing you to choose the next group only after careful consideration.

But if you’re a floater, you can choose to move out of the group and find the next one that shares your interest and wavelength. 

Accepting the situation 

You may feel that being the background friend is better than ending up with no friends, but the truth remains that you shouldn’t stay where you are not valued. On the other hand, if you have embraced being the background friend and are perfectly happy floating in and out of groups, accepting it will give you greater clarity regarding what you are looking for. 

Being the background friend is not easy, but maybe it’s not so bad. This excerpt from an article in the Metro sums it up perfectly:

“You’re not a background friend; you’re someone who can form connections with lots of people.”

Other articles by Shivani you may also like to read:

Shivani Sarat
Content writer and creator. Author of 'Black Daises', a poetry anthology.

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