Most of my life, I can say that the majority of my anxiety and depression has come from the shame of not fitting in. In many ways, I feel like I have always been the outsider. I was never a popular kid in school. In college, I moved pretty easily from group to group, and often wondered why some of my friends took it upon themselves to drag me along to parties where I didn’t fit in. I would usually find a quiet corner and just observe, or fake my way through conversations. Leave early and without warning.
In school and growing up I got labels like brain, nerd, etc. Then later on as I tried to fight against those, I was mostly just solitary and angry all the time. Lonely as hell. In college, I wasn’t a big partier, until probably my senior year in which I made up for lost time and nearly didn’t graduate. I was burned out, drinking three or four nights a week. Ditching class to go to work. Phoning it all in because none of it mattered to me anymore. It was the same bullshit over and over and I wanted no part of it. A bunch of pretentious assholes pretending to read the books and regurgitating whatever they thought their professor wanted to hear. Myself included. You see, when I actually read the books and got a different interpretation, I was often told I was wrong.
In school, I belonged to a friend group of around three of us. Once in a while, we would find ourselves attached to another group, but mostly it was just the three of us. Mostly. My first girlfriend was the unofficial fourth, and of course my two best friends had a massive crush on her too. It was hard not to. She was one of those people who seemed very charismatic. Until years later when I found out she was faking it the whole time too. Nobody really knew her, but me. I’ve been told that among her group of friends–none of whom were very close to her–that they often wondered why I was with her. Today that might be an ego boost. Only it’s not. I feel bad for her when I think of that, because people liked her for all the wrong reasons.
I’ve been watching a show on Hulu lately called Normal People. It’s based off a novel about two people who have known each other since they were young and how they come and go into each other’s lives. Neither of them has ever felt like they fit into anything. But with each other, they feel like they fit together perfectly. Sometimes it works. Sometimes not so much.
The few relationships I have had I have felt a connection with other outsiders. I’m not even talking about the fringe groups like the stoners or the Polyphonic Spree people or whathaveyou. I’m talking about the people who laughed too loudly at movies, the ones who played Dungeons and Dragons, had Star Wars and Conan the Barbarian memorized–and dropped those quotes at any opportunity. But even with them I never fit in. It’s ironic now that everyone loves Stranger Things so much. But I remember being one of those kids, and we were treated like shit. We didn’t have the cool but pretty tom-boy friends, and we sure as hell didn’t have the quirky girl with psychic powers. We were all too aware of our outsiderness. We were pretty pissed off about it too.
The last couple of times I was dating someone I thought I had that connection I always wanted. The one that just felt right. Someone who could accept me for being smart and weird and sensitive and passionate. Someone who understood me when I looked at the world like a poet, instead of expecting a cold beer and a BJ when I got home from work. They knew that my musical tastes varied from Korn and System of a Down to Tracy Chapman, Brandi Carlile, and Townes Van Zandt That sometimes a good Van Morrison song would make me tear up, and I could just chill out to Portishead or Mazzy Star for hours. That I had played Skynyrd songs and early Tool and Alice in Chains as a drummer. That I knew the importance of Wu-Tang Clan and Mobb Deep. I wasn’t locked in to any one thing, other than it had to make me feel something when I heard it. How I love music, and how I love sharing new stuff with others.
With my first relationship after divorce I made the mistake of trying to fit her expectations 100% and she never bothered to want to fit into mine. I compromised myself. Even though she was an outsider too. Not because of her brain or hobbies or any of that. She was an outsider because she was so cold to people who cared about her. Everyone fought to love her. Myself included.
My last serious girlfriend and I had an amazing connection. She and her brother and sister said I was in “the club.” She was a bit of an outsider herself. Homeschooled her whole life. Very tall. She loved video games and collecting comic book stuff. Dinosaurs. She knew what it felt like to be apart, but also I think she was too comfortable with her solitude to make that lasting connection with me. I think I might have sensed that early on, even though she tried to adjust to my world. We had plans for a while. It has left me wondering if a real connection is even possible, or am I always going to feel like I can’t fit in? Maybe she liked me for the wrong reasons.
But those connections failed in time, and they left me questioning if there was ever a connection at all. The last girl I was involved with…I guess I thought I could adjust fit in to her world. I wanted to so desperately. Fuck, it would be nice to belong somewhere sometimes. It wouldn’t have taken much. But I saw a picture of her town recently and it just reminded me of how…disconnected we probably were. She was of a different culture. More extroverted, if not just faking a persona to fit in so she had something to do on a Friday night. Masks. Maybe I never really knew her. They knew the kind of beer she drank, and I knew her favorite books, songs, fears and dreams. Maybe I knew the real her and she couldn’t allow that. I thought there was something there I guess. Something I had always wanted. People liked her for all the wrong reasons too. I like to see her comments and reactions pop up on Facebook from the past. It reminds me of the good times and many moments we shared. That connection. Even though…yeah. She’s gone too.
When I go places, I always feel like an outsider, but in a weird way, that makes me feel like I belong on the outside looking in, I get to see a world from a different perspective, but also I get to let a little bit of it in. I talk to strangers, I listen to their stories, I let everything surprise me if it can. I went to Park City, UT last fall and had a half hour conversation with a busker about mushrooms and marijuana and social anxiety. I don’t do the first two, but I am aces at the latter. Alcohol is a social lubricant, but so is music and dancing. But most of the time I feel like I stick out like a sore thumb. That used to bother me more than it does now. When I get into writer mode, I get to walk alongside people. They know I don’t belong, and I know I’m not one of them, but they let me tag along for a bit.
I guess now I am mature enough to know that I don’t fit in. I guess I fit in with me and I try to have enough grace to not yuck someone else’s yum. I hope I am chill enough to let other people feel comfortable around me. I have very, very few close friends. Even them I keep at arm’s length. I no longer expect to be in anyone’s club, though I do appreciate the invitations to hang out when they are offered.
In my writing I give off the appearance of connection or letting someone in deep. But, it’s all very controlled. I only ever let anyone in as deep as I can allow. I learned my lesson the last go around. Letting people in hurts. The stuff you read here might seem deep, but it’s all just an illusion. Letting people in doesn’t last. And you spend the rest of your life recognizing the signs in hindsight that you should have seen all along. I’ve got nobody to blame but myself for that.
So, I get the story of Normal People. It really resonated with me in a lot of ways. I’ve had the girlfriend who didn’t acknowledge me around friends, and I’ve been that person myself. Too afraid to face what others might think of me. Sometimes when I get too close to others too, I shut off. I need room to breathe. It becomes exhausting being someone else for too long. Maybe that’s why I love to write. I get to be myself, but I also get to become someone else. It’s hard to explain.
So, maybe I shouldn’t try. It never ends well.