Where I Belong

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.

IMG_0402But 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.

66 thoughts on “Where I Belong

  1. “But somewhere along the line, I began to value my individuality over my need to belong.”
    Yep. At this point one learns to enjoy one’s own company and those of a few people you are close to. It is quite liberating.

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  2. Great insight. I totally relate to this. I think what has changed me is recently finding a group of people who actually embrace and celebrate the differences in one another. For too long, I tried to fit in with different crowds who only wanted conformity, but I’ve more recently found some amazing people who I can connect to emotionally (like what you were talking about in finding connection with people) and totally be myself around–all my good stuff and my bad stuff!

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  3. This is me, Ann! Maybe you realized it earlier in life and were able to understand that about yourself, but for me, I only realized it more recently. I’ve always operated on the fringes of any particular group–have always “done my thing” a bit differently than others, have not really felt a part of any group –and the odd thing is, when I realized it, I FELT LIBERATED. I think it takes this kind of person to go where we were meant to go; do what we were meant to do. Maybe we are more comfortable taking risks. This was one of the best “ah, ha” moments I’ve ever had.

    I mustered the courage to mention this to the husband and he simply said, “Yep.” Maybe he knew before I did. ❤

    WONDERFUL post. 🙂

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    • Thank you! Honestly, it took me a long time to realize it too, especially since I am also a “pleaser” so it is in my nature to want to be what other people think I should be. It was indeed very liberating to shed that particular skin and realize that I am okay, just the way I am. As for your husband, I bet he did see it before you. Often, others see us more clearly than we see ourselves, which is a huge perk of close relationships!

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  4. I’m the same way! As an introvert, I’m much better in small groups… and really great on my own! I can usually gear up for a large-group get together and do OK for awhile, but soon, I looking for a one-on-one conversation with someone I’m comfortable with, or I’m looking for the exit. I’ve always felt this way, but it took the maturity of years to feel OK with the feeling.

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    • It’s so easy to feel that there is something wrong with being introverted or truly independent, but really, it’s just another personality type and it’s perfectly okay. It just takes us a while to realize that, I think. I’m glad we’ve both figured it out!

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  5. You have articulated so well what I have often felt myself, Ann. I used to think something was wrong with me that I never quite fit in to a group or found my so-called “tribe”. Now, I’m happy with the friends I have and, not surprisingly, they’re not a “group” of friends, but a few cherished and very different individuals who don’t even know each other. Occasionally, I will do group things, but I generally prefer one-on-one time with a close friend or family member.

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    • I thought there was something wrong with me for years, too. The closest I ever came to feeling I had found my “tribe” was when I joined a group of children’s book writers, and it was a great group. But I haven’t written for children in several years, so where would I be if I took my identity solely from that? Bottom line is we are all individuals, and we need to realize that we are okay, just the way we are. Nothing wrong with those of us who don’t do well in groups!

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    • I think lots of creative people have trouble fitting in, and perhaps that’s where our creativity comes from. If so, then it’s a good thing! And the “creative group” is large enough and diverse enough to allow anyone to join without having to change who they are at all! Thanks for this comment!

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  6. I’m the same way, Ann though I never thought about it or understood it until I read your words. I’ve always been more comfortable in one on one settings or very small groups of two or three people. I seem to find out much more about the people I’m with in those type of settings. In larger groups it seems some people get lost. That makes me uncomfortable.
    Loved this post…..)

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    • Thanks, George! I think most writers, (and artists) are introverts who think a lot, feel deeply, and are often a bit uncomfortable in groups. The trick is just realizing that it’s okay, and that we really are free to be ourselves. It doesn’t mean we’re anti-social at all, it just means we relate to people in a slightly different way!

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  7. I think you bring up a really good point. Sometimes in University I get really jealous of sorority girls, or people with tons of friends. But eventually, I realized that it’s better to have one or two loyal friends, than a large supply of superficial ones.

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    • I think you are absolutely right, Jess! I actually tried to join a sorority in college, but I only lasted three months. People who are creative, like you and me, usually do better in small groups where we feel free to express our true selves. Both those who join sororities and those who don’t are okay, it’s just a matter of being true to our real natures. Thanks for the comment!

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    • Thank you so much! I’m glad you could relate. I still remember so clearly when I first took the Myer’s Briggs personality test and scored as a solid introvert. It was actually very validating to realize I had a true personality type, rather than having something wrong with me. It is perfectly okay to be an introvert, and we need to just own it!

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  8. I love this. A couple years ago we started homeschooling and joined a homeschool coop for social interaction. Little Bit made some friends and so did I, but I never really felt like I belonged. Seems like groups are tricky. Especially ones with lots of women. Ha.

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    • Small groups absolutely can be tricky, because sometimes people feel the need to establish everyone’s “role” or even a pecking order, and that can be quite limiting. I suspect that is why I prefer to be on the fringes of a group….you get the social interaction, but you are also free to grow and change according to your own nature, and not as others insist on seeing you. Good for you for picking up on that so quickly! It took me a while…

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  9. Ann, your post on belonging to a group and its problems has impressed me very much, as I feel exactly the same and have had the very same experiences throughout my entire life. We all have the desire to belong, yet we also know or should know that we alone know our stream of consciousness, thoughts,and feelings. We are unique, nobody is like us. So it is no surprise to me that all comments above hint at the fact of not quite fitting in no matter what group we happen to be in.

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    • You know, I almost didn’t post this one, because I thought no one would understand what I was talking about. But I have been amazed at how many people have said they feel exactly the same way, both in the comment section and on my Facebook page. There are more of us than I ever realized!

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  10. I totally get this. I can’t do groups anymore: not even as a couple. 🙂 I feel great guilt about this at times, but I realized recently that this move I made was in part to be by myself and go into this barren place. I am burned out because of lots of things. I need to be especially quiet and go way down deep into myself. I’ve been parts of groups in many times of my life: various athletic groups, religious, women’s etc. They served their purpose at the time and I’ve made wonderful friends. But I realized that my old friends are the ones that I like now. I have no need for too many new ones currently. My energy level is low for sharing. Thanks for this blog.

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    • You’re right..being in groups has it’s benefits, but sometimes takes more energy than it’s worth. And there’s no real room for change and growth, which is just a natural part of life. I’m glad you’re taking some time to be by yourself and recharge your batteries, and think about exactly what you want right now. And you know I wish you all the best, always!

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  11. I didn’t take me long to learn I didn’t do groups well. In my younger years I was considered a bit of a loner, and it took a while to be comfortable with groups. I still prefer smaller groups, I go wallflower in the bigger ones. I’m not really a flock member type (although I can play there), not really a shepherd type (although I can do that too if pressed). I like the independence of being able to think for myself, even if it means I have to look outside the box for a broader perspective. I think the more flock oriented folks find that too frightening.

    Your post is a rallying call for introverts everywhere.

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    • Thanks, Dave! I have been surprised at how many people said they felt the same way I do, but I’m beginning to think that being a bit of an introvert is a common trait for creative people, and face it, most who blog are creative people. Like you, I can be a follower and a leader when I need to, but the role that comes most naturally to me is just a bit of a loner. And I’m finally realizing that is perfectly okay!

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  12. As we grow old, like by gravity we find our place, and our true character asserts itself, what it is of importance in youth, may not be as important as we gain in years, as for belonging to a group, it’s greatly overrated. 🙂

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    • I think you are exactly right, the older we get, the more our true character asserts itself. Aging has many challenges, but it also brings gifts as well. And one of the is, as you say, the knowledge that belonging to a group is often overrated! Thanks for the comment!

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  13. I’m happy for you Ann. Self realization and being comfortable in our own skin is liberating. For most it’s unfortunately something that only comes with time, age, and life experiences. I’m a lot like you and fortunately my school years were mostly positive but elementary through high school can be a negative experience for many kids because of peer pressure and cliques. I think one of the hardest things to be is an unpopular girl in middle school or an awkward boy freshman year of high school.

    So Like you I will enjoy the solitude when I have it and relish the time spent with friends, family, and colleagues when those opportunities present themselves.

    Take care.

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    • Thanks, Michael! I agree that the school experience is so structured that it is painful for all of us at one time or another, and sadly, it is painful for some kids almost all the time. As we age, we become more comfortable with who we really are, and stop looking for the approval of others quite so constantly.
      For me, I seem to need a balance of time spent with other people, and time spent alone, to be happy. I’m just glad I realize that!
      Have a great week…and I hope you get a break from the mud and rain soon!

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      • Thanks Ann- we got our break and Klee has blown able to get a lot of outdoor and play time. A new storm comes into tomorrow so it was short lived but hey it’s winter, we need the rain, and Kloe will have to “deal with it” and Holly and I will have to deal with her.

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    • Actually, I could, because you are obviously a creative person who is also a deep thinker. And I’m learning that almost all those people are, on some level, introverts! Thanks, as always, for your kind words, Alan!

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  14. I’m SO with you on that. I’ve simply accepted that I’m an introvert and I’m happier in my home with my dog. I can definitely do one on one, but writer’s conferences make me a nervous wreck. I’ve been going to the same one for several years and I even know some people, but like you, I’m always on the outskirts, feeling like the “new girl” who doesn’t fit in.

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    • I used to have a hard time at writer’s conferences too! So many people, everyone trying to make the “good connections” and feeling as if I was always falling behind. Once, I was on the committee that hosted the local writer’s conference, and actually that was so much easier! I had a job to do and I knew what it was, so I didn’t have time to worry about anything else. Thanks for the comment!

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  15. I suppose, Ann, that we need to distinguish between the tendency to be autocratic – to want to plough one’s own furrow – and the subtle sense of alienation that so many quietly feel in their unspoken subjectivity: the “not quite fitting in” you referred to. I think the latter is far more common than the former, but with some – and I think I include myself here – then both exist side-by-side. But like you, I feel no impediment in forging deep and meaningful connections, though. I don’t assume that anyone having a preference for interiority and autonomy (which it appears you and I share) means they are in any sense sociophobic, and regard that entirely as a false conflation. Interesting post, as ever!

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    • Thank you! I have often had people tell me they’re surprised that I consider myself an introvert, because I do have friends and I do have close relationships with others. But like you say, preferring to be independent and being a habitually interior person doesn’t mean we are sociophobic at all. I love other people, I just need some time alone as well, and want to have the freedom to change and grow as I wish, without being constrained by the expectations of any particular group.

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  16. I think I know how you feel, Ann. I like people too, but I never feel I quite belong in any group. Perhaps we should find a number of other people who feel the same way and turn ourselves into a group. That would be interesting. I wonder what would happen.

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    • When I dropped out of my sorority in college (only lasted three months, and that was mostly because I didn’t want to cause hard feelings), my other “independent” friends and I formed what we called “The Friday Afternoon Club.” We met for drinks and snacks after the last class of Friday afternoon, sometimes in each other’s dorm rooms, other times at a local college bar. Anyone who wanted to join us could, the only rule being the newbie had a to buy a round for the others. It was so free-floating (if you were free, you came, if not, you just skipped it until next week or whenever you could come) that it actually worked! I suspect the kind of group you’re talking about would also work, because it would just be a bunch of people who enjoyed each other’s company, with no rules and no expectations.

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  17. Beautiful post Ann. Once again I can relate and in many ways feel the same way. I remember at school I was always the last to be chosen for a sporting team, I was always a bit different and only had a couple of good friends. I was never part of the ‘in’ group. Then when I had my kids I didn’t join a play group, it just wasn’t for me. But I know where I belong. And what’s important. Thanks for another very well written post. x

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  18. Your blog this week rang true for me. As an introvert I have a rich inner life that allows me to enjoy my own company. I often feel alone in a group but as I get older that no longer bothers me as it did when I was younger. I realize I enjoy people on a one to one when I can really engage with them on a meaningful level. I wish our society valued quieter people but we are a culture that values the outgoing personality. Keep writing so I can keep reading.

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    • Thanks, Kim! I’m glad it spoke to you, and it was very kind of you to let me know. I also wish quiet people felt more valued by society, but at least we have got to the point where we realize it’s ok to be quiet!

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  19. I’m terrible in large groups, but I do enjoy small groups. In a small group I can still be a part of what is going on even if I tune out, because it isn’t up to me to keep the conversation flowing. In large groups I really do struggle. Just had a work conference last week, and I quietly dread them. Will I find a small group of people that I can attach myself to, or will I end up just hovering around, trying to look like I don’t mind in the least being on my own? Of course, if I really was on my own that would be fine, but in the midst of a crowd of people, some of whom I know, I feel self conscious. And the funny thing, I am probably more extravert than introvert (though I recently heard the term “ambivert” – someone who is both, and I think that sounds like me).

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    • I think it can be really hard to feel comfortable in large groups, especially when we didn’t choose to join one in the first place. And I’ve never heard the term “ambivert” before, but I like it! I think it describes me as well… Thanks for the comment!

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