never fitting in

got into a conversation on my friend Michael’s blog about not fitting in – a feeling I’ve pretty much always had, ever since I was a kid. and as a kid, it bugged me a lot, I wanted nothing more than to fit in, to be accepted, to be considered cool.

my level of coolness at that stage was pretty close to zero. I didn’t have the trendy clothes, the jeans with the right labels. our family was – though not poor in objective terms – much less wealthy than others in our neighbourhood. the other kids wore the latest jeans and trainers, whilst I was dressed in hand-me-downs and clothes my mum made for me. the others in my class talked of holidays abroad, or of doing fun things at weekends because their parents had cars – we depended on public transport, and in Israel there is no public transport on the Sabbath, so if you have no car you’re kind of stuck.

other factors that made me uncool:

my parents were old… well, in the eyes of children they were ancient :) my mum was 44 when I was born, my dad 55. I hated the fact that my mum looked old enough to be my granny (a bus driver even asked me once, when boarding the bus with her, if granny was paying for me – cringe!!!) because not only was she a lot older than most people’s parents, but she let her hair go naturally grey – I don’t remember my mum ever going to a hairdresser in those days. she looked – *gasp* – frumpy. pretty much as I do now :)

and I was good at school, even at stuff like maths and grammar… it wasn’t that I was the class swot, I didn’t make a special effort, it just came naturally. a high IQ runs in the family. not my fault, honest…

and since the age of about 8, I had to wear glasses. major loss of coolness points.

and there were all sorts of “cool” things that other kids got to do and we weren’t allowed to. like going outside with no shoes on.

I think it was around age 14 that I decided to do something about it, and simply stopped doing my homework. My school grades dropped drastically, but at high school I suddenly had friends! Suddenly I was part of a gang, and it felt great. Acceptance, a sense of belonging – what I had always longed for.

Every now and again I’ve had these interludes, of being part of a gang for a while. I had this when I went to university, there was a bunch of us who regularly went to the bar after lectures (this was an evening college, mature students attending lectures after a day’s work) and not only did we hang out together a lot, we definitely were the cool gang, the ones who went to the bar and drank and smoked, as opposed to the “boring” group who went to a cafe because they hated being in a smoky environment. (I’d be in that group now… I stopped smoking at the end of second year I think. or was it third? anyway, I stopped smoking and then became a lot more sensitive to the smell of smoke.) (is smoking still “cool” these days? I’m not up to date.)

It was when I started doing counselling training that I realised how much effort I had – on and off throughout my life – been putting into trying to appear cool so that I would be accepted into “the gang”. trying to fit in. wanting to belong. wanting a bunch of people who would always be pleased to see me, always want to include me in what they were doing – one of my great fears was of being left out, of discovering that everyone has gone (to the party/the pub/picnic/whatever) without me.

It hasn’t totally gone, I still notice it every now and again. Looking to people around me to prop up my confidence, my self-esteem. Needing to prove that I’m not a sad no-mates kind of person – because I spent a great chunk of my formative years being exactly that, and it was painful.

Of course I know the theory: I shouldn’t look to people for these needs to be met, I should look to God for my basic needs. The fact that God loves me is amazing and wonderful and yes, the more I dwell on it and absorb it, the better. Like the carpenter tells the little wemmick in that book “You Are Special”: just keep coming to see me, just let me remind you how much I care… Yes, it helps, it helps a lot.

but I still also have this need to be liked by other people. and I don’t think wanting other people to like me is wrong, it’s just that it needs to be given the right level of priority – not the be all and end all, not something that I absolutely have to have and I’d do anything for. (paradoxically, I think the more you strive for it the less likely you are to get it, because people generally don’t like someone who appears very needy.) (but then again, I know that this is something I’ve always been aware of and have therefore, out of a deep desire to be liked by people, made a huge effort to look like I’m not desperate.)

as far as coolness goes, I started letting go of that about a decade ago – it started not with a conscious decision but with back pain. my lower back started hurting and as a result I couldn’t wear high heels any more. the change of footwear affected my style of dress – those short sharp suits just looked ridiculous with flats, so I started wearing long flowy skirts. wearing long skirts meant I was no longer a slave to tights, I could wear socks when it was cold, much more comfy.

and then there was the stage when I left my admin job in London and went to live in Wales with my friends who ran a small retreat house. smart London clothes would have just looked incongruous in a place like that. (hmmm, do I hear the familiar sound of meirav trying to fit in? oh yes…) I ditched my smart handbag, and my smart townie coat. I started to learn the art of dressing down, again so that I could fit in in my new environment. and at the same time, I wasn’t earning money so had to watch my dwindling pennies, therefore I stopped going to the hairdresser and let my hair grow long and wild and untamed.

and with time, this became my identity. now I just don’t remember how to dress smart. when a friend got married I went on a desperate shopping spree and managed somehow to find an outfit that looked sort of ok, though my shoes totally didn’t go with it… my clothes and my shoes are now chosen for comfort, more and more so as I get less young and more creaky… my niece visited last year and pronounced my trusty old cardigan to be scruffy :)

I’m not in any particular “gang” these days, I have friends here and there. (including here…)

And I think I’m no longer trying to appear cool. or normal. at least not most of the time – I still catch myself doing it now and again, it hasn’t totally gone. Maybe I need to go visit the carpenter more often.

9 thoughts on “never fitting in

  1. I can empathize with this on a lot of levels. I, too, tried so hard to fit in; in high school, in college, in my early adult life, in my middle adult life, always trying to fit in and be liked. We won't discuss some of the nasty and tragic paths this took me down. When you're desperate to fit in and have no self image almost any kind of acceptance will do. But the details of that will wait for a novel when I can give the character a fictitious name. I don't think I do it anymore. I think I've gotten to a point where if people like me, great; if they don't, their loss. All that striving has resulted in the talent of being a bit of a chameleon. I can make myself acceptable in most social situations whether I like being there or not. Of course, there are those occasions when after 15 minutes I get crazy enough to claw my way to the exit just because the people I'm surrounded by are so irritating. My big thing now is just being comfortable with myself as I am and realizing I really am OK. I have friends now who accept me as I am and I accept them as they are. That really is all that matters. If you have to convince someone to like you, they aren't worthy of you.

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  2. yes, absolutely – real friends are those who accept you as you are. but here's the scary thing: you have to allow people to see what you're really like before you can have that kind of friendship. and so you risk rejection. but if never take that risk, all you'll have are shallow relationships in which the other person doesn't know the real you, and you're always living with that fear hanging over you: what if they find out what I'm really like? so it is much much better to take those risks at an earlier stage, show your true self to people and let them decide if they reckon it's worth it. those who can't appreciate the treasure that is the real you – let them go chase after whatever it is that they do value.which makes me think of another area where I've changed – I have become less shallow and materialistic, and so I'm able to value and appreciate people whom the old me wouldn't have been interested in talking to. when I met the man I ended up marrying I thought: if I had met him a few years earlier, I wouldn't have seen the wonderful treasure underneath the simple clothes. I'd have just thought: uncool.

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  3. I don't find it scary anymore. In 99% of situations people get to see the real me right out of the gate. And I make it a goal to be accepting of people right from the start unless they give me a real good reason not to be. The more I get comfortable with the notion that I am a valuable person (a long journey, that) the more I see there is nothing about myself (now) to conceal. If in the course of the relationship someone finds out about my past mistakes and chooses not to like me for them, then they probably weren't a true friend to begin with.

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  4. A very well written blog Meirav. It could have been mine. I even relate to your comments, and mrlaf's in a big way. I had wondered why I wasn't cool or part of the popular crowd, but I didn't do anything to try and make me fit in either. I got teased at school for wearing hand-me-downs and rummage sale clothes, which really bothered me, but nothing I could do about it. When I got out on my own at 18 and started working, then I would buy the odd new coat, new sweater, etc., but I bought what I liked and what I thought looked good. I was never one that wanted to be like everybody else. But there were times, over the years, where I had wondered why I had trouble making friends or even keeping them. Tried to stay true to myself, so I don't think I came off, or come off, as 'needy' or anything. Of course, they could say something to the opposite. Don't know. But I am to the point now, in my old age (haha), where I truly appreciate and love the friends I have, that know me and haven't run off yet, and not worry so much about all the others. I work with thirty other people and made one friend. Do I care about the other 29? Not no more. The one thing that really bothered me is having family or friends that were determined I was going to do what they wanted and be what they wanted me to be, and that's so not fair. I get too stressed out and depressed over it, because I was lacking the confidence to tell them I didn't want to be them, that I wanted to be me, and ended up being a door-mat. But I got angry, finally. If being me is not in the cards for you, then ta-ta. I don't need the aggravation or the headache. Got enough problems without that. Just unfortunate it extends to family too.

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  5. good for you! that you got angry, I mean, not that you spent all that time being a doormat. I'm just pleased for you that you got up in the end and decided to stop playing their game.

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  6. Yeah, you find out in a quick hurry who your friends are and who loves you when you don't see them for all the dust they create when they run off hahaha. My mother is still trying it, but I'm much more relaxed now, and I think it's starting to show. One contact here made a comment, after one of my recent blogs, that it was nice to not see 'a timid, brow beaten person'. :D

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  7. Pingback: acceptance based on false pretences – is it worth it? | Meirav's Blog

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