This one is a doozy, y’all, so as the famous line in my favorite movie goes: “Hold on to your butts.”
I grew up like an only child, even though I’m not. I have a brother and a sister. By the time I came along, though, my brother was in high school and my sister was going to college. My childhood was a whole lot different than theirs but aside from them telling me all the time when I got older how different it was, I didn’t know the difference. When I got to kindergarten, I met a girl who had a similar family situation to me. Yes, I wasn’t alone! This was my first experience in feeling like I belonged. I liked it.
Over the years, I found myself “belonging” in other groups. In 5th grade I joined band, and would be part of that group until I graduated high school. In 7th grade and 8th grade I was in track. When I got to high school I befriended the nerdy/punk/stoner kids even though I was never truly any of those things. My senior year I joined yearbook. In college I naturally hung out with other students in my major.
I have always been pretty friendly, outgoing and extroverted, so it wasn’t difficult once I found these groups to make friends. I got along with pretty much everyone but found that I really only got close to one or two people from each group. Once the group was no longer relevant – like when I graduated high school and was no longer in band or yearbook, or when I graduated college, I didn’t hang out with most of the people I met through those groups. I know people who get together with their “groups” as adults – I’m not one of those people. I made a close friend or two in each group and they have remained my friends throughout all of life’s experiences.
As a full on grown up, if you’re not hanging out with the groups you grew up with, it’s tough to find new ones. Groups usually form around common interests and beyond my career, I didn’t have many. I had running but I felt like I didn’t belong there for a long time. I had concerts and roller coasters, but I didn’t have a lot of funds to go do those things with groups of people on a regular basis.
After my husband and I got married and moved away from my hometown I felt especially lonely. I was an outsider, and like I said I didn’t have many interests to help me find “my people”. The people I worked with were all born and raised here and had their own groups. I felt like I didn’t belong anywhere.
My husband’s family is Catholic, and I started going to church with them when I moved here. I saw this great community and an opportunity to belong to something. In 2014 I decided to pursue RCIA to become Catholic. The experience was incredible. I learned so much about the faith and myself. I met some amazing people. Eventually, though, I realized I didn’t belong there either. It wasn’t anything anyone did to make me feel that way, it was me. Just like the other groups that faded away I’m the past, this one did too, but the experience did give me a few friends – namely my friend Katelyn, who is now one of my closest friends.
In 2015 through some really strange circumstances I found an online running group. There were members from all over the state. I was active online in the group, but wasn’t quite sure about the in person activities with a bunch of strangers from the internet. Funny, some of my closest friends now are “strangers from the internet.” I asked if anyone in the group was from my area, and there were, and that’s how I found my local running group.
I joined the Facebook group for my local running group but wouldn’t dare go to any group runs. Was I really even a runner??? I did run/walk intervals and I was pretty slow. Eventually I got up the courage when I started training for my first half marathon in 2016 to ask if anyone my pace/running style would be at a group run. That’s how I met my friend Staci, who I ended up running my first half marathon and my first marathon with.
Around the same time I ventured to an in person meeting with people from the other online running group. Somehow I ended up getting extremely close to the group leaders. Over the next couple of years, these two running groups became my best friends and family. We traveled together, did group runs together, I celebrated my 30th birthday with them. I finally felt like I was where I belonged! I found my community.
Until a bunch of stupid crap happened. I left the online running group but stayed in my local running group. I loved having a group of local friends, people I could run with, people I could call and get coffee with. I felt like these were people that I could reach out to if I were in need, if I were in trouble, and they would be there for me. I remained friends with a few people I met in the other running group, and somehow I fortunately reconnected with Paula, my best friend. We don’t live too far away from each other but not super close either, so while we talk in some way shape or form every single day, I was grateful to have my local group of friends.
And then COVID-19 happened.
Group runs weren’t a thing, or they weren’t supposed to be. The isolation both destroyed me and also healed me. I realized I had spent most of my life feeling like I needed to be part of something to be whole. And while being part of something is absolutely wonderful and can be fulfilling, for me I realized it was draining. I realized I was trying to make up for something, trying to avoid something, rather than working on myself and dealing with things.
Social media became so draining, frustrating and even infuriating for me. The attempts at virtual social interaction were fun at first, but then I felt like the insecure kid at school again. Did I really belong? Was I really part of the group, or was I just along for the ride? I was so sick of questioning it that I just left. I left most of the online groups I was part of, the group chats, etc. When I’m part of a group, my extroverted, outgoing, friendly side is full force. When I’m not, I’m more of an introvert. For that and I’m sure other reasons, I noticed that once again the group of friends I had was dwindling away.
This time I don’t feel the need of urge to find something different. It’s not that I don’t miss the groups, the people, the runs, the races, the trips, the conversations, being included – oh, I really do. Ask my best friend how many times I’ve cried about how much this all sucks, how lonely and unwanted I feel, how much I feel like I’m just a sucky person and friend and that I probably deserve this.
But I’m also so tired of chasing that somewhere I belong. I’m exhausted from wondering why I’m not included, and blaming myself. I’m mad that I’ve let other relationships not get the attention and work they deserve because I’m so focused on feeling like I am part of something, and so focused on not feeling like I’m missing out, that I’m just too exhausted to feel… anything else.
I don’t write this for people to feel sorry for me, or to call anyone out, or to ask people to “please include me!” Also, just because I didn’t mention your name doesn’t mean I don’t consider you a friend. There have still been lots of friendships that have outlasted my belonging to any group.
I write this for myself, because this is hard. As much as I’ve made peace with the work I’m doing on myself, with the realizations I’ve had, with the silver linings… this is still hard. It’s therapeutic for me to put these words to, well, this isn’t paper but whatever, you know what I mean. I’m not sure that I’m somewhere I belong, but I’m really working on figuring out who I am and where I want to be.
If you made it all the way to the end of this, well, there it is. Life will find a way. Or something like that.