The neutral party | Skillshare Projects



The neutral party

Friendship used to be simple and straightforward. All it took was having a common interest, or even just to be in the same place and you would go on to play together.  It is difficult to say what made me more friends in those years, my love for soccer or the simple fact that we happened to be in the same class. Making friends like this came easy to me. It was fast, pure and simple. But that didn't last.


It must have started a few years earlier, but even now I still have trouble pinpointing when the change started to set in. Things became more complicated. It was no longer just about wanting to play the same games together. Now you had to like the same songs, dress the same way and be part of the same group. Even cartoons became difficult. No longer would you just turn on the TV as soon as you came out of school, now you had to pick the shows you, and your group, liked and drop the rest. Kids all start picking up this stuff and the school yard starts looking more like a John Hughes movie. I wasn't as fast at picking up these clues. As lines were drawn, ranks filled and personalities established, I continued on thinking nothing had changed. These lines did cross each other at points though. We were all still just kids from the same town after all. It was at these points, at the overlaps, where I planted my flag. An action that, unknowingly, turned me into the Switzerland of the playground. It wasn't until high school that the downsides of being neutral became really started to show. Fast, pure and simple had made room for group cultures. 


I joined high school with my two best friends, one of which I had known, and been close with, for eight years already. We were so excited to find out that all three of us would be in the same class. We no longer had to worry about being alone those first days. Every day we rode our bike to school together. Turning my morning trip from one of 5 minutes to one of 30 minutes. Theirs stayed about the same. It didn't matter, we laughed and it was fun. As days passed by I got to know the other people in the class. It was my goal to get to know everyone as soon as possible. The more people you know the more friends you have after all. I hadn't drawn my lines yet and thus was able to get to know everyone. Projects helped immensely as we sometimes had to work in groups of 4, 5 or even 6 people. But there were also projects that had to be done just in pairs. 


It was a few weeks into the year and we were assigned a small history project about prehistoric times. I listened for the teacher's explanation to end and turned to my friends. Too slow. Before I had even asked they had already paired up. And with them the rest of the class as well. After a few minutes the teacher asked if everyone had made groups already. My hand was the only one to go up. But I was in luck. One kid was sick and absent that day so we could just partner up. The only lucky thing was that it would be a short project and it would be over quickly. Whenever we are assigned group projects today my hands still get clammy. More and more of these things started to pop-up. Or more accurately I started to notice them. Inside jokes I didn't know, seats that weren't saved when running late and movie nights I learned about the day after. The overlapping lines, Switzerland, started to shrink. All the while I clutched my neutral flag. It still took me longer to understand what was really happening and when I did, the gap was too big. They were far away and I was still without a group. The morning bike rides turned from three to two and eventually one. 


High school lasted for five years. At the start of every New Year, I started hanging out with new people. Hoping that I could join their group. It didn't matter if they did or did not like the same things as me. From the gamers, debate team, band kids to even the jocks. I jumped from one end of the spectrum to the other. The problem. These groups were already established when I was still proudly neutral. The longest any of this lasted was a year, the shortest just a few weeks. One year we had an anti-bullying class. As an assignment we all had to pass along a card without name on it in a circle. The others would then go on to write down the first nice thing about you that came to their mind. My card came back to me and there were some nice comments on there. But a lot of them were very similar. All reading along the lines of "You are a nice calming presence in class." Precisely the thing a teenage boy want to hear. People got comments on how smart they were, the funny jokes they told, or about how good they were at sports. I got "nice and quiet". In this group there was a girl that I had known ever since elementary school. We used to go from being in the same class to being in different ones year after year. I was able to recognize her handwriting. "You're so much quieter than you used to be", she wrote. I snuck of to the bathroom before people could ask what it said on my card. 


When we all graduated from high school, I choose a college in a different town than everyone else. A fresh start where I knew nobody. And it worked. I made friends. All of us where from different places and didn't know anybody when we arrived that first day. In college interest broaden, people rediscover themselves and the lines that were ones receding start to come closer together. The fast, pure and simple from my childhood that was abandoned during my teenage years changed yet again. It turned to slow, complicated and personal, but it also became pure again. It no longer is about what song you like, how you dress or to what group you belong to. It is about what kind of person you are. I joined a friend group soon after starting college. We all had and still have vastly different interest, hobbies and even political opinions. But we all like each other as people, and because of that we work around all the other things. We are all still friends today, and the group has only grown as time went on. Now we are on track to graduate at the end of spring. After four years in college the end is approaching. And we are all set to go our own way. Most of my friends are anxious about finding a job in time or getting a new apartment before the lease runs out. Normally at times like this I would be afraid of going back to being Switzerland, to hold up that flag all by myself again. But not anymore. Friendship isn't about groups anymore. The world is a big place, filled with wonderful people and wonderful friends. It would be a shame if I couldn't get to know all of them just because I am part of a different group. I am no longer afraid to hold up that flag. I am proud of it. 


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