It’s taken me a long time to realize this, but I don’t do groups well. It doesn’t matter whether I’m in a small group or a large one, sooner or later I know I’m going to get that familiar feeling of not quite fitting in, of hovering around the fringes of the group rather than being firmly planted in the center of it. For a long time it sort of bothered me that I was always just slightly out of step with the people around me, but as the years have gone by, I can honestly say I’ve gotten used to it.
I remember when I young and thought that fitting into a group was about the most important thing in the world. It was a popular custom at my grade school to “lock the gates” after choosing sides for a particular playground game, which involved standing in a circle, holdings hands and chanting “Lock the gates, lock the gates, nobody else can play! If they do, we’ll take their shoes, and then we’ll run away!” I know it sounds awful, but being a part of that circle actually gave me a feeling of security, even if I did feel sorry for the kids who tried to join in later and were turned away.
But somewhere along the line, I began to value my individuality over my need to belong. I think it happened in stages, from not wanting to be limited to a particular clique in high school, to registering to vote as an Independent, to not joining a “play group” when my own kids were young. (Don’t ask me why, but the concept of a play group just seemed too limiting.) I love being around other people, and I care deeply for my friends and family, but I can’t tell you the last time I have sat among a group of people, any group, and really felt, “This is it. This is where I belong, completely and absolutely.” And that’s okay.
The connections I have learned to value aren’t the kind that come from being a long-term member of a particular group. Instead, they are those moments when someone seems to speak directly to my heart, calming a fear or validating something I have long believed but been afraid to articulate. They are the insights I get when someone shares one of their dreams or fears with me, alone or in a group, trusting that they will get nothing but help and understanding in return. They are the moments when I feel such a strong connection to someone else that I can almost see it. Those moments are brief, but they are real and profound.
There’s security in fully belonging to a group, no matter what our age, and there will always be people who want and need that sense of belonging. I respect that, and sometimes even envy it, but deep down, I know it’s not for me. I am, for whatever reason, just one of those people who feels the overwhelming need to “march to the beat of my own drummer,” even if that means I sometimes walk alone. But that doesn’t mean I’m lonely, because believe me, I’m connected to others in all the ways that truly count.