You know what it’s like–you stroll into the cafeteria with fake confidence and a Thermos full of leftover lasagna from last night’s dinner, scouring the tables for your familiar group. Once you spot them, you walk over and make yourself room on the bench, smiling your hello to quick greetings.

It’s not like you have a choice in sitting beside them. Anything is better than being alone, surrounded by judging eyes and critical faces. So you sit with them. Twist open your Thermos and stab in your fork. It takes about ten seconds to become invisible and familiarize yourself with the bland conversation. Trigonometry. The chemistry teacher’s difficult lab. Some weird work experience some of them went to.

As you scrape up the last of your lasagna and turn to the soft apple in your other hand, you begin to wonder, Are they really just nerds? Do they simply have shallow friendships? Or do they have better conversation when I’m not around?

You can’t imagine contributing to boring small talk for over five years. You can’t imagine not going deeper than discussing the biology dissection. And yet, you have, haven’t you? You’ve sat with them since seventh grade. You can predict everything they’re going to say because chances are, they’ve said it before.

But the doubt always creeps back in. They’re nice people. I’ve been friends with them for so long. Their conversations aren’t that boring; you’ve just got to participate in the discussion. No matter what, once you sit at that table, it dries up all your words. You barely talk. You barely pay attention.

It kills you inside because you can’t rip away from them. Maybe it’s loyalty. Maybe you miss them (and you do, no matter how much they frustrate you). Somehow, you can’t leave and you can’t speak and you can’t do anything that matters. It’s a cycle, it’s a circle, and you can’t break free.

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