“The past,' he thought, 'is linked with the present by an unbroken chain of events flowing one out of another.' And it seemed to him that he had just seen both ends of that chain; that when he touched one end the other quivered.”
― Anton Chekhov
I am often surprised by the profound sense of loneliness I feel when I am surrounded by people. During my much anticipated high school reunion in early October, I was flooded by the realization that I felt disconnected and disjointed in the midst of all the frivolity.
I realized, standing in the middle of a room with the pounding swell of dance beats and laughing former classmates, that I still, after all this time, do not belong. I didn't know the great majority of the people who were at the reunion with me during high school. Oh, I could recognize some names and faces but, I'll be honest, as a teenager I probably only had had an honest-to-goodness CONVERSATION with a very small handful of the people at the event. And even THOSE conversations were, at best, perfunctory. In high school, I wasn't interested in getting to know people and I never really truly "fit"...I never had a place...in the grand scheme.
And now, even in my forties with all my enlightened perspective and my improved sense of self, I am still very much an outsider.
So what did I do? I fled to my comfort zone.
I sought out the friends I have made over the last several years and I settled into them. My discomfort vanished and I enjoyed talking to them. I had FUN with them. They know me. But I did not venture out into the crowd. I smiled shyly if I absolutely HAD to go inside but I ducked my head down and avoided eye contact if at all possible. None of them, I feel assured, knew who I was. And I certainly didn't know them.
I realized something that Saturday: there are times in our lives when, no matter HOW well-prepared we are and no matter how eager we are to prove to ourselves that we are dramatically different, we simply ease back into the roles that we were programmed to long ago.
I was programmed to blend in.
So, now that we're past the reunion, here's what I want those people to know:
- I didn't know how to be a part of you back then. And I still don't. I have trouble fitting in to groups. I work so much better in a one-on-one situation. I am INTERESTED in you. I want to learn how you like your coffee and I want to know what you wanted to be when you grew up and how that all turned out. But I don't know how to be a part of your groups. I am not great at small talk and I don't know what to do when I'm faced with a big giant wave of you.
- I am not a bitch. Well, OK, SOMETIMES I am. But when I seem like I'm standoffish, it's really because I don't know how to connect with you. I don't know what you want from me but what I want from YOU is to feel your vibe. That sounds really hippie-like, I know. But I desire strong connections from people. If I think I can't get that or if I simply don't know how to approach it, I shut down. And I appear standoffish. But it's just that I don't know how to reach you.
- I can be clique-ish. I'm not talking about the Mean Girls kind of clique. But I retreat into who I know...BEHIND who I know...because I know them. Because I feel accepted there. And I can be MYSELF there. And I don't want to put on some charade for you because, above all else, I HAVE to be myself. And I have to be accepted for that. It makes me tired to think about putting myself on the line only to face the possibility of being rejected. It hurts my feelings when people don't like me...but it's SO HARD for me to truly get to know people because I have to take down ALL my protective barriers. (And, quite honestly, those barriers are incredibly well-built and time-tested.)
- I'm not great at small talk. I want to deeply connect with people. So, sitting around talking about the weather makes me very, very uncomfortable. I CAN do it but when I'm making small talk there is only a very small piece of me that's present...almost like a Kelly Veneer. Unfortunately, small talk is how people tend to make friends. So, that's probably why I have like (what?) maybe four friends??
- I vow to do better. And that's all ANY of us can do anyway, right?
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