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What If I Don't Want A Squad?

Photo: @taylorswift
Back in 1998, my pals and I only had one squad goal. We wanted an aerial picture of the six of us lying on the floor, facing alternate ways, our heads squished together, to recreate the famous press shot for Friends.

It would be better if we had some boys in the gang and we weren’t just a bunch of 12-year-olds with bad skin and worse hair (self-administered Sun-In highlights, no less) but I still felt pretty proud of myself when we persuaded my Mum to load up the Kodak and climb up on the sofa as we lay down on her favourite rug. I belonged! I looked at that photo as proof that people liked me and knew that my hair was nit free!

I wonder how many glamorous celebrities feel like 12-year-old me when they get invited to be part of Taylor’s squad. Did some secret part of Gigi Hadid squeal like Gretchen Wieners when Tay Tay invited her on stage? Did Ellie Goulding get a bit nervy when she was asked to hang out with Taylor and longtime squad member Selena?

My Instagram feed is packed with people trying to recreate the magic of the squad. Being toned, tanned and documenting your best life isn’t enough for social media now – you have to do it with equally likeable friends. Think Amy Schumer and J-Law on holiday this Summer, Taylor Swift and Blake Lively in Australia this weekend and the Kardashian clan, well, all of the time.

When I broke out of the squad, I felt like I was losing my family – a family who loved me, but were hypercritical of me because I didn’t want to be exactly like them.

But the concept of the squad makes me squirrelly. I’m no longer in touch with any of the girls I rubbed heads with as a teen, because we grew apart. At the time, everything I did was calculated as a way of winning their approval, but it only made me miserable. When I broke out of the squad, I felt like I was losing my family – a family who loved me, but were hypercritical of me because I didn’t want to be exactly like them. I was lonely but relieved.

I nurtured a pretentious interest in Latin American cinema because I didn’t have to pretend that my favourite genres of film were “Disney” and “featuring Leonardo DiCaprio”. I dressed up in sparkly, slightly stinky charity shop finds because I wasn’t chained to the New Look sale rail. I was touring dingy French theatres and having the time of my life as a member of a musical theatre club while they all caught pneumonia doing Duke Of Edinburgh.
Taylor’s talent for putting together a squad lies in the fact that she selects other women who are also gorgeous, talented and yet unlike her. This might be sending out a sisterly message – “I’m not threatened by your fabulous hair, Haim!” – and you get the impression that individuality is at least recognised, and Ms Swift would be horrified if anyone suspected her of running a real life celebrity set of Plastics.

However, she did tell Vanity Fair: “‘We even have girls in our group who have dated the same people. It’s almost like the sisterhood has such a higher place on the list of priorities for us.” To me, sharing boyfriends doesn’t sound like an expression of closeness, but the hallmark of a creepy cult. If my social group kept the same set of partners on rotation, I wouldn’t think it meant we were best buds, but worry that we were incapable of making a single decision without being validated by every member of the squad.

At times, during my twenties, when life’s uncertainties had made me feel insecure, I forgot what I’d learned during my teens. I craved high levels of validation and I wanted constant company. But this year I turned 30, and going it alone makes me feel like the coolest girl in the world. The more time I spend by myself, the more confident I become because I have the space to forge my own thoughts without asking for people to approve of me along the way.

Instead of #squadgoals, I think we should think in terms of solo goals. We might all be a bit more comfortable in our own skin if we resolved to take ourselves on one date a week. It could just be coffee, and when we’re feeling confident we can work our way up to a full dinner. To do it properly you have to leave your phone at home – you’re not enjoying your own company if you’re on Twitter.
This summer, I took myself to the cinema to see Amy. As an Amy Winehouse fan I knew it would be an emotionally charged experience, and I didn’t want to feel pressured to keep it together and hold back my tears for the sake of any friends who weren’t as moved as me. Watching a movie in peace and being able to make up my own mind about what I saw was a revelation - and not just because I didn’t have to share my snacks.

Any cultural experience can be enhanced if you do it on your own. Go to an exhibition and you can spend ages staring at the work you love (and no-one will make you feel bad for skipping the stuff that doesn’t interest you.) Travelling alone is one of the scariest and most exhilarating experiences you can try as an adult. You choose where you eat, where you sleep, and you’re not going to be forced into any organised ‘fun’ activities. If I’m shopping for myself, I shop alone - Teen Me would have been horrified, Adult Me luxuriates in the chance to set my own selfish schedule.

When I was younger and less secure, I thought that being seen alone in public meant no-one wanted to spend time with me, but now choosing to be out by myself makes me feel powerful if I frame it in the right way. Ironically, when we learn to love our own company we usually find that other people are drawn to us – but then we’re in a position to pick and choose our pals instead of frantically assembling a squad for the sake of safety in numbers. If you can find a way to live your best life alone, you're the one who gets to shape it – you have so much more control if you take charge of your happiness instead of entrusting it to a squad.