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Fitting in: How do you do it?

I want so badly to fit into the "in" group. I look around and try to figure out how everyone I like got into that group, and I feel left out. Could I be in and not know it? I see other kids looking at me as if I am part of that group. It is "the" group to be in if you are anybody. So, am I in or not? This seems like a crazy question, but for some reason I keep asking it. Why do others look at me as if I am in when I am not sure that I am?

The in group seems to always hang together at school. They go to the same parties and do things together on the weekends. They stand around the lockers talking about something as if it is privileged information, or at least secretive. They eat lunch together while talking about other people. They make plans for the weekend. They arrive in the mornings in time to get all the late night news before class, and they leave at the end of the day in small groups headed to who knows where. I hear them talk about calling each other and laughing about stuff I don't seem to know about. If I am in the in group, I sure don't feel that way.

I try dressing the part and wearing the right labels. That seems to help some, but I still feel something is missing. I talk about other people sometimes with them, but often I feel badly about putting other kids down. I realize all teenagers are misfits and out of it at times. I'm okay with making fun of people, until I realize they might be doing the same thing to me when I am not around. I hate thinking about them talking that way about me.

I get invited to some of the parties, and they are usually fun. I question something about that, though. When we get back to school and we talk about the party, it seems everyone exaggerates how it really was. Did I miss something while I was there? It seems my memory of the party and their memory of the same party is quite different at times. What's up with that? Is that what they do when I miss a party because I wasn't invited? This makes me feel more left out than I already feel.

I even find myself exaggerating more about the party when the "not so cool people" walk up and try to join the group. Do I want others to feel the way I do when I am not included? Maybe, unfortunately, the answer to that question is yes. Why should I be the only one who feels left out? I will help in spreading the misery around and watching others feel the way I do. What a sick way to be! I am disgusted with myself for feeling and acting this way but not enough that I want to do anything about it. I just want to fit in!

I don't like what I am finding out about myself today, but I know I am telling the truth. Why is it so important to people my age to fit into the right group? Do others in the in group know they are in the in group? Do they have the same doubts and questions I have about their inclusion or exclusion? Do they wonder if they are good enough, cool enough and weird enough to keep fitting in? Do they feel the way I feel when they are left out? I hate being in this bind. You see, I just want to fit in. All I want is for people I like to like me back. I need to know I have a place and people want me to be part of their clique!

Who owns the in group? Who seems to have the power to include or exclude? Who keeps the group in check? Who makes the rules and holds the key to what's in or not on any given day? Are we all just the same? Are we all afraid someone else is in charge of whether we are in or not? I never gave it that much thought, but I think I am onto something. This process isn't over yet, but I think I am ready to plunge into this in thing and see what I discover.

IT! (Private thoughts of the Indomitable Teen) is written by Cecilia Tucker, a licensed marriage and family therapist at the Counseling Center for New Direction in Seminole. Tucker, who has been in counseling practice since 1979, writes this column under the guidance of a panel of teenage advisers, who approve the topics and offer their insights (in exchange for pizza). You may write her c/o: IT!, X-Press, the Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731, or e-mail