I’ve never fitted in very well.
At school I was the silent one who didn’t feel the need to speak. If I didn’t open my mouth until lunchtime, whose business was that but mine? As a teenager, I didn’t feel an overwhelming need for any kind of social life – my own company was generally more diverting than that of others my age, who tended to have odd obsessions with things like boys (that was always going to go well) and clothes (even better) and make-up (are we seeing a pattern yet?)… Sixth form was a bit better, when I was discovering interesting music that others appreciated too. I had several people I talked to at breaks and even occasionally on the phone. Always one at a time, of course – groups were never my thing.
At university I was a bit distracted by some quite serious mental health problems, which kept me from noticing that I was still very uncomfortable with people. I didn’t know how to act in groups – they made me feel strange, and I couldn’t be myself or say what I meant in them. I formed intense friendships that turned out to be largely one-sided. I was uncomfortable with my own oddness. At the time I put most of this down to my dodgy mental state. It was only later that I realised it was mainly just a continuation of weirdness that had always been there.
Internet forums were a delightful alternative to conventional socializing. I found two messageboards in particular, around this time, where I learnt that there were ways to communicate that didn’t involve the discomfort and exhaustion of face-to-face discussion. It seemed almost possible to avoid the negative side of the group dynamic altogether in those particular online settings. No awkwardness, no shyness, no having to think on my feet when my brain doesn’t work that way, lots of time to consider what I was saying, lots of ways to avoid discussions that weren’t helpful or interesting or possible.
I don’t know why my early experiences of internet messageboards were almost entirely positive, but they were – I can only remember a very small number of negative experiences related to these two posting boards. Maybe part of it was that the internet was still new as a setting for discourse. Whatever it was, though, I haven’t been able to replicate that experience in an internet forum since. And I do keep trying.
Today I was again reminded that now, even on the internet, I can’t escape the ‘group fear’ and the not-fitting-in. Group dynamics are everything, online or not. Strong personalities take charge. People hand out roles and fit themselves into boxes. Inconsistencies are everywhere. There is no justice. I don’t speak the language, I don’t know the rules, and I’m always falling behind everyone else. You could even call it ‘disabling’. If you wanted to.
I’m hugely lucky that I have friends who understand that I mostly need one-to-one interaction, a girlfriend who thinks like me on this issue, and people in my life who don’t mind my social quirks and oddities. But still. Sometimes I’d like to fit in *just* a little a bit better, even so.
TG minus seven days