Desire for Belonging

Many times in the past few weeks, I’ve felt like the outsider, the one who doesn’t fit in with the cool girls, the one who isn’t asked to play at the playground, or sits at home on a weekend night when everyone is out partying. I so want to be in the inner circle, part of a tribe, to belong. 

I re-read Brene Brown’s discussion on belonging versus fitting in.  “Fitting in” is assessing groups of people and then twisting yourself into a human pretzel in order to get them to let you hang out with them. Belonging is showing up and letting yourself be seen and known as you really are.  For many years I was trying to fit in for a feeling of belonging; now I just want to belong.

Belonging has been a deeply held need of mine for years.  I used to say I wanted to be Norm on Cheers – I want someplace where everyone knows my name and is happy when I arrive. I don’t want to be on the sidelines watching the game being played. I want a seat at the table. I want to be on the invite list. I want to feel like I belong.

In high school, I did the human pretzel, from pledging with a sorority (considered a highly rebellious thing in my school) to playing a sport (I am not a natural athlete) to singing in the choir (with the band geeks) and joining a church group. Yet, I never fit it and was always on the edge of things; I never made the inner circle in any group. This feeling of not belonging continued in college and even in my job/adult life.  I very often felt like I was on the fringe of things, not part of the inner circle. A few times towards the very end of my career I started to feel like I finally belonged, and then I retired!

My feeling of not belonging has flared again.  I know it is compounded by our move distancing me from some close friends. And compounded by the on-going social isolation of the COVID resurgence. And compounded further being in a new place where I am not yet on people’s radar.  But there were individual moments recently where it was so obvious I wasn’t part of the tribe invite that I ended up in tears.

According to Brene Brown, “Belonging starts with self-acceptance. Your level of belonging, in fact, can never be greater than your level of self-acceptance, because believing that you’re enough is what gives you the courage to be authentic, vulnerable and imperfect. When we don’t have that, we shape-shift and turn into chameleons.”

Well, I’m trying to be my authentic self. So, why do I feel like I’m back in high school and not being invited to the prom (I wasn’t)?  Do they view me as not active enough, not smart enough, not spontaneous enough, not friendly enough to be asked?  Maybe it’s because I’m not a good friend. Maybe it’s because I just dabble; I’m not full into anything – not sports, not gourmet cooking, not latest best seller reading. Why am I NOT ENOUGH?  Oh dear, this not belonging feeling is activating my Compare & Despair… or vice versa!

I don’t want to change myself to fit in, but these feelings of being not enough, being on the periphery, not being part of the tribe, are heart-wrenching.

Do you have a place you belong?  Do you have somewhere to go where everybody knows your name?

Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name
And they’re always glad you came”

Picture credit: A sunrise this week… lots of rainy days and Red Tide back, so no beach walking.

33 thoughts on “Desire for Belonging

  1. I know this song….and I tried to get along with a variety of people and through organisations when we retired away from Sydney to somewhere new. I thought I knew that by joining and volunteering it would help me. Nope, I was shunned but then I am a sensitive soul and may have feelt that more than most. I still don’t belong here…and it’s now 7 years but I am also now content with what is far more. I seriously know that I gave so much of my best. I am not part of this demographic socially nor professionally. I am only part of some by age. I love my blogging community because there is no real age or other barrier. We connect. I can’t wait for lockdown to be over because I have some coffee chats to catch up on but that’s it. And now, I am good with that. I think I have learned to accept what is. For me, for now. Thank you for sharing your post as part of Monday’s Life This Week. I do enjoy seeing my blogging friends pop in with a post to share and a comment too. Always appreciated. Next week, the optional prompt is View. I hope to see you there too. Take care, Denyse.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I was walking with a (potential) new friend yesterday morning and she also talked about how some women in town actively shunned her. Seriously? There’s one thing to not go out of the way to be friends, but to actively shun someone? (I DO believe it’s true … that is not my incredulity!) I can chat with people I’m not especially fond of (PC way of saying don’t like) if I meet them at an event or walking the dog. I can find something to chat about even if we don’t connect of any level. The “don’t be friends with them if you are friends with me” is so 8th grade! I’m hoping to find like-minded folks for some things, but have also come to realize I can do things on my own, or with hubby. And I need to give it all time as well…. Covid-resurge, extremely hot & humid oppressive summer heat, and Red Tide kept everyone pretty isolated.

      I like linking into your Life This Week as I’m still finding new folks to read!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Pat, Every word of what you wrote resonated with me. I take some small comfort in the knowledge that we are all still in 8th Grade. You know that time when you went into the cafeteria and weren’t invited to sit at the cool kids table.

    Well, as it turns out, even the kids at the cool kids table didn’t think they fit in. We are all filled with anxieties about acceptability and accpetance and somehow it actually doesn’t change much over time. 🙂

    So, if there is any comfort from this take comfort in that more people feel the way you do, even if you don’t see it. Even the cool ones.

    So, the classic advice is right. You are great all on your own. Its their loss if they don’t want to include you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Douglas, Thanks for joining in the conversation! I’m quite surprised how much this resonated with people and am starting to think the concept of belonging to a tribe might be a fairy tale like Prince Charming. Great for a Hallmark Channel movie, but not real life! What has been real though is all the lovely support this generated, which has helped me get into a much more positive mindset. I love the “it’s their loss if they don’t want to include you”… that is a truly lovely sentiment. Thank you!

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  3. I really identified with your post. When I first moved to my new area 25 years ago, I knew not a soul outside of my family. I still remember 2 neighbors whom I met at the bus stop sneaking off to go far a walk without me even though we had walked together before. I cried. I also remember feeling as though I was on the outside of neighborhood groups, and cried because I thought I would not make friends. All of these years later, I have friends that I cherish, even though some of those friendships have changed in proximity due to out of state moves. It takes time, but as a fellow introvert I know that you will find your tribe. It takes longer to find friendships that are not superficial.
    I am about to retire and bought your book recently. I’m not sure if you have looked into OLLI adult learning classes or something similar. I attend Zoom classes at 2 different schools and love them. There may be some local to your area. In one class that dealt with personal growth, there were 7 or 8 of us that decided to keep meeting twice a month after the class ended. Although we live up and down the East coast, we cherish our meetups and have developed a real support network. The people who take OLLi classes are typically bright and engaging. Many programs are still meeting via Zoom, but you may find a program in your new area that will (hopefully) transition to in person. You don’t need to be an alumna of the school that you attend. Good luck with your transition. Sending virtual good thoughts your way. I look
    forward to reading your book.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Beth! Thanks for joining in the conversation. I’ve looked at OLLI in our last location, but with the back and forth travel, never found time to sign up for things. I ended up taking a number of courses on-line, but that doesn’t create connection, obviously. There is an OLLI locally…I’ll put it on my “explore list”.

      You are right to remind me that finding friends things take time. It was the non-invite moments that got to me, which you totally understand! But getting this on paper and hearing all the positive support has been so helpful. I’ve got a better mindset about things for sure.

      Good luck with your own retirement transition! If you have any questions as you start to work through the book (thanks for getting it!), just reach out to me direct. I also just did a number of weeks Throwback Thursday’s which captures some of the elements in the book. Wishing you the retirement lifestyle that’s uniquely right for you!

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  4. Oh, if you knew how much this post helped me right now! I’ve always struggled to fit in, never succeeded. In my early 20s, I stopped trying. Later in life, I started trying again without thinking I did. Then I realised I’ll never fit in anywhere and decided to just create an enjoyable life where I’m least ill-fitting. But lately, I’ve felt again when it comes to social media, online acquaintances, that I really do not have a tribe anywhere, I’m just an oddball wherever I go. In some contexts, it’s just a feeling – but that’s bad enough. Lately, I’ve been thinking that maybe I’d better go offline, do my things, and stop trying to socialise. Wait until we can socialise fully IRL again (because IRL I mostly don’t get this feeling anymore).

    The difference between fitting in and belonging makes so much sense! Especially regarding self-acceptance. Reading those words about belonging was medicine for my soul today – because belonging when defined like that, seems so much more appealing – and perhaps more healthy.

    I can totally relate to “dabble into everything”. I’m a total jack of all trades…
    I can also totally understand your feeling of not belonging after moving to a new place during a pandemic. Moving is always hard unless you already know people in your new area.

    Is there a book by Brene Brown where I can read more about this?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for your comment. It always brings a warmth to my heart when I can connect with someone like this. With all the positive support, I’ve decided I’m working on creating my own “circle” – doing the things I love and seeing if anyone wants to join in with me. I’m even going to be OK if it’s just me (big breath on that as that is a huge challenge for me). I’m a planner, so this works OK for me. I hadn’t been planning… because COVID.. that’s compounded things, plus the move. So I’ve got a list of 8 things for this fall. It’s not gonna be a tribe, but I will be me and I will do the things I enjoy. And try really, really hard not to be upset if others don’t “invite me to their party”. I’m gonna create my own party…even if it’s a party of one (or two if I need to pull hubby along!) and focus on enjoying my life.

      Here’s the article that inspired some of this post:
      https://www.oprah.com/inspiration/life-lessons-we-all-need-to-learn-brene-brown

      Her book is The Gifts of Imperfection. I have read it (awhile back now) and found it very insightful.

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      1. Thank you! Is this the book where she talks a lot about shame? Then I think I have it! I’ll find it and read it again.
        I totally love your idea about creating your own party! That’s the right way to go. Do what makes you happy, even if you have to do it alone.

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  5. It’s always good to write these posts even though they can be hard, Pat! You are doing well, all things considered, taking into account the compounding of every thing happening at once. You are a valued blogger and writer and the comments here attest to that. Your post resonated with many and I can hear your pain and hurt in your words. You have a lot to offer, so just keep doing what you’re doing and being you! Take care.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Deb, especially “valued blogger” comment!. The support of the blogging community is amazing. The comments have really inspired me and helped me feel not alone. I’m facing forward with more positive energy for sure.

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  6. It looks like your post resonated with many of us. Even though I’ve lived in my hometown just about all of my life, I’ve felt like an “outsider” with different people or groups now and then too. I think it has a lot to do with being more of an introvert than an extrovert. I don’t feel comfortable injecting myself into new groups. Fortunately, over the years, I’ve developed several tribes where I’m completely comfortable. I imagine you will too. You are “enough.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Janis. It’s amazing to me that you feel this too, with your living always in same place! Yes, I’m hearing the feelings are quite universal… I am not alone! Sometimes it’s just helpful enough to hear that. The comment of having “several tribes” shifts the interpretation of the idea for me. I can have my conversation buddies and my foodie friends and my book club. And I need to give myself time in this new place… it’s actually only been 4 months, with a COVID resurgence and hibernation season. Yeah, I’ve learned no-one goes out here much in July-August! Unfortunately that means I have high hopes (too high?) for the fall.

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    1. Annie, I have to remember it’s only been 4 months here… in a COVID resurgence. With all the support from this community, I am looking ahead with a more positive mindset, and some patience. Not a strong point for me!

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  7. You belong as a writer/blogger! I enjoy your posts. ‘Twisting yourself into a human pretzel’ is how it feels when you try to fit in. The comfortable people will gravitate to you when you’re comfortable with yourself and feel content. COVID isolation has given me perspective as I look out my window and watch activity of others going by. Everything’s on my time schedule now. I read what I want. Blog when I want. And socialize when I want. Nice place to be.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for saying I belong to as a writer/blogger! While writing out posts always helps me process through things, getting the support from this community is an added benefit. I’m going to do the things I love, initiate activities (safely with COVID), and hope folks do “gravitate to my circle”! Doing things when I want … I need to appreciate that more!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Well, of course, this one really resonates with me. I have always been on the fringe as I like to call it. I have several groups of friends that I love, but I’m never in the core. I never have been. I think it’s me. I’m actually a bit of a loner. And I always seem to like different things than others. And I feel like I think differently than a lot of women. I think you do too. We aren’t giddy. We aren’t wanting to talk about grandchildren. We like in-depth conversations and we use scientific thinking to analyze things. I’ve accepted that’s who I am. And am usually ok with it. But, I know you and I know you just need time to get into the group. You are a fantastic organizer and super fun. I think moving and Covid is taking its toll. Sometimes, “this too shall pass” needs to be the motto. I know it’s been a long journey with Covid but even this too shall pass. We will learn to live with Covid whether we conquer it or just move on with it as we do with the flu. Not to mention the best days of Florida are on the way! Hang in there!

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    1. Candyse, I knew you’d relate! And of course, leaving you is one of the compounding pieces of this. Finding those people to have “substantive conversations” with is such a challenge! I created a list of things to plan this morning and am initiating them, COVID or not! Even if it’s only me and Tim. And I’m making sure I stay linked in with my far-flung-friends more often, too. It’s also on my to-do list. LOL.

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  9. Pat, Just a quick reach out to give you a big virtual hug and let you know I see you.  It was very brave for you to post this.  I’m sure you felt very vulnerable doing it.  I’m super proud of you for standing in you fear and discomfort and being “real” with your readers. I hope you find belonging where you are.  You are a fabulous woman, just right just the way you are.  By being unapologetically yourself you will eventually find “your people” who love what makes you you. If you want to chat and catch up, I would love to hear from you. All the best Kristina Martinez301-452-6988

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Kristina – Thanks for thinking I’m fabulous! Oh yeah, I held this post for 2 weeks and re-wrote it a bunch … and still felt very vulnerable putting it out there. But it’s been wonderful to hear from folks (some I know well and some who know me because they read my blog) and feel the support. Thanks for that support!

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  10. I can definitely relate to this. Even in small groups, I often feel on the periphery. I even can feel like an outsider with my own family!!! I used to let it bother me but not anymore. It is what it is, and if belonging requires more work, then I’m ok with the way things are. About the only time I feel I belong is with my childhood friends. But I enjoy the friends I have now and while they might be closer to each other, it doesn’t mean our friendships aren’t valued. Moving isn’t easy and it’s bound to be tougher for a while to meet others. Hang in there.

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    1. Thanks for the thought that even if I’m not closer with them, it doesn’t mean my friendship is not valued. Really helps provide a different perspective of accepting all different types on connections.

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  11. Hi Pat, wow this really resonated with me and as I read through the whole post and some of the comments I started to wonder if what we’re looking for doesn’t *really* exist. Let’s face it, most people are self-consumed so is it likely we will ever get that feeling from them? Many years back I felt very sad that I couldn’t count close female friends on one hand… I struggled to count 2. Close friendships like I was searching for evolve over time and years of shared experiences and quite frankly I had not opened myself up to that. Over the last several years I made a commitment to myself to start saying yes to more experiences with smaller groups and to initiate more experienced based activities as well. I’m not where I’d like to be but I do feel better than I did back then. And of course, covid has turned us all into forced recluses so that only compounds the problem… hang in there, I feel like there is light at the end of the tunnel.

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    1. Oh my goodness…just this morning in my journal I wrote about being more of the initiator for some experienced based things and even wrote a list with dates! Even if it was before I read your comment. … yes, I am taking your advice!

      A long time ago, I was told that rarely can anyone count a handful (5) of really close people. And that might even include spouse and parent… who were 2 of mine at the time. If I did it today, I’d have to say 4, but 2 are folks I left in Cincinnati! Yes, I left 2 close friends when I moved….it was hard and i had to acknowledge that I needed to move for me and hubby and they would just as likely have moved on at some point as well. I had 1 other close friend do that just 3 years ago – moved onto other things and our relationship shifted big time. Thanks for reminding me of the evolution of friendship!

      I do have hopes for the future here… if we can ever get COVID in Florida under control. 😦

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  12. Thank you for another interesting and thought provoking post. I have been following your blog for around two years and our paths have been similar (retiring from a professional and very rewarding career, then moving – twice in my case – to a completely new area). I am so glad you are continuing to blog, you have been a light in some fairly dark times! Good luck for the future and I look forward to getting your next post in my email inbox!

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    1. Thank you so much for your comment! Being a “light in some dark times” means a whole lot to me. I’ve experienced some dark times in my life and I know how hard they can be. Two moves to new areas? I’m thinking you might have some skills I could have tapped into for our move! I know I need to give it (connection/belonging) time, but the couple of non-invite moments really hit me these past few weeks. I’m starting to be more the initiator…. and maybe another post will come out which shares how it worked! Again, thanks for your comment.

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  13. I found a great place where I felt I belonged on a small Gulf Island of 900 people. They had year around activities that I enjoyed doing.. life drawing, yoga etc. Not a lot of direct social interaction but people start to recognize you. Being in a small place with a captive audience helped. I made a good friend on the same street where I lived. That made a big difference too.

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  14. Hmm, your post makes me wonder about how retirement books always seem to recommend volunteering. I think the point there is to focus on “the work” being enjoyable. Any friendships that come from it are a bonus. Similarly joining yoga, gardening, book clubs have to be more about enjoying “the work” with friendships being a bonus if they occur. Maybe that’s just the introvert in me that makes “the work” more enjoyable than “the people”.

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    1. I actually did some of the volunteer things (In Cincinnati), and didn’t find “connection”. I kept with them cause I liked the “work” as you say, but didn’t find the tribe and belonging. Right now, yoga is all work and no people as I’ve yet to rejoin any studio! But I am going to another Garden Club talk this week, and signed up to help in their Garden sale, too. So maybe…. in time. And yeah, I’ll keep doing the “work” I enjoy! Thanks for your comment.

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  15. Wow Pat – this resonates with a lot of us. Leslie wrote a post for my blog a few weeks ago on this topic and I know it’s something I’ve struggled with on and off for my whole life. I’ve been on the fringe of most groups I’ve been a part of – maybe because I’m not good at putting in 100% effort to be accepted? I try really hard at the beginning and then just feel fake and tend to drift off – especially when I find the group I’m working so hard to be part of isn’t what I had thought it would be. Now I accept that I’m not a Joiner (another of my blog posts!) and that I’m destined to be on the outer of any largish gathering, and that’s okay with me – when I stopped getting my sense of self-worth from whether I was popular or “in” it made a huge difference – I just don’t care as deeply about it as I used to. What I’ve also found is that friendships develop by osmosis and the more I try to force it, the more difficult it is to maintain long term.
    You’re in a new place, things take time, you’ll find your tribe as you keep showing up to things. You just need to be patient and enjoy your own company in the meantime xx

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    1. Leanne, Thanks for the empathy and words of encouragement. Sometimes, just writing about these things helps, but then getting the support of folks makes it even better. This morning I wrote in my journal about initiating things I want to do, and also to give things time. I’m starting to wonder if having a tribe is really just a fairy tale too!

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