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


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.

Leave a Reply