The Mind-Boggling Stuff We Do to “Fit In”

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Thinking about youth and the stuff we do because everyone else is doing it so we better do it too to try to fit in. In so many ways I went against the grain – particularly at a time when people were most desperate to fit in (adolescence/early teen years). By then I did not care anymore.I escaped all the dangerous teen peer pressures one hears about (the parties, drugs, drinking, teenager pregnancy or whatever) because I had a firm grasp on the fact that that was not who I was and that was not what I wanted.

But when I was a child, I was so cripplingly shy that I felt I had to engage socially somehow, and the worst nightmare for a person like me was something I frequently tried and hated. This was the obligatory childhood sleepover. So many times I was invited to someone’s house to spend the night – and I went. In fact I would beg to do it, even when my parents did not want me to. Either inviting someone to my house or going to theirs – hell, sheer hell. I spent the entire time miserable, counting the minutes until it was over – no matter how close the friend was. But usually I did not have really close friends for very long… because I was too shy and insular and could not hang on to them, they would move away, we would be placed in a different class each year and thus be separated (and that was enough to cleave a friendship in two for little kids), because because because. No good reasons. Just that I was as much a drifter then as I am now. My brother has friends who date almost to pre-verbal times in his life. I would have been lucky in my early years to keep a friend through one school year.

This is not true now in adulthood at all – no matter where I move in the world, I have held on to close friendships, although some of course drift. But I attribute this to the fact that I have always been trying to have adult-style friendships even when my peers were not capable of having those kinds of friendships. (Not that I never engaged in any of the sniping and backstabbing of teen times, but when I reflect, I think the times I did that were almost always in an effort to cheer someone else up – yeah, I know, tearing down someone else to make another person laugh is not that mature – but it’s what I had at the time.) I have been trying all along to be the good, solid, trustworthy friend a person could turn to in any kind of crisis. For the people I loved and cared about most, of course. I have also been a careless friend to those who just were not as important – or in times when I really needed to focus more on myself.

My point – the dreaded sleepover. I am not sure at what point I fully embraced my hatred for the sleepover… the forced sleepover I was trying to incorporate into my life. I spent all of elementary school engaging in this wholly awful, awkward experience just to seem “normal”. I remember even reaching a certain level of desperation, inviting people who were mostly just people I sort of knew at school and thought were “cool” (until I spent a few hours with them outside of school and realized I had no desire ever to talk to them again). THE-WORST-EXPERIENCES-EVER. Yes, so bad, it requires all caps. So bad that some of the residue lingers in my brain quite vividly, despite these things happening almost 30 years ago.

I never wanted to be that kind of social – I don’t like sharing my space or time generally – and now I am very selective about who shares my space. But such selectivity never came into play, and I shudder to think of the time I spent with so many people who were like a specially designed form of irritant – sandpaper just for me.

Once I finally got over this shyness (when I was 12 or so), which happened suddenly when I woke up one day realizing that I had no idea how I could feel inferior to or intimidated by people who were basically idiots, I guess I felt that I was living in a freer way – living in my own, albeit developing, identity. There were plenty of ups and downs, but I think I was living and choosing friends in a more authentic way, not just driven by what I felt I should do. While this is still sometimes a tricky road to navigate (balancing being humane toward people and reserving my time and friendship for those I feel are deserving), especially on a personal level, the concept of living without bring guided by feelings of “should do”/obligation is a powerful directive that I have taken to heart.

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