Every time I observe groups of teen-agers interact, I’m reminded of why I disliked that period of my life so much. For as long as I can remember, I’ve felt like an alien on this planet, but there was something about those years that made it seem more acute and more painful. It was the start of realizing just how different I am.
For some teens, there’s a casualness to their social interaction that I never felt. I eventually learned to fake it well, but I never quit feeling like a stranger in a strange land.
By high school, I had leadership roles at church and at school, but I never lost the feeling that I was an actor playing a part when I was with others — like some kind of alien wearing a disguise as a human. It was then that I realized I never felt as alone as I did in crowds.
I was thinking about this again Friday night because of sitting in a restaurant watching a group of teens interact. There’s a part of me that wants to say that they made me uncomfortable with the forced casualness of their time together, but there’s another part of me that wonders if they really are casual and natural together — and it’s the fact that they can do that so easily with random people that makes me uncomfortable — because I can’t.
Maybe it makes me feel this way because it reminds me of just how different I felt as a teen — and how I’ve continued to feel like the alien who’s pretending to fit in here.
I’ve talked recently about how I sometimes feel as though there’s a subtle (or not-so-subtle) conspiracy to turn me into a misanthrope. It’s not that I feel better than anybody else, so it’s not a matter of superiority. It’s more about feeling that I’m not from here — and that I’m not really human. So many of my thoughts and feelings just don’t fit with other people. They don’t like me and I don’t like them.
The people I find myself loving and liking are those who are similarly different — others who feel like aliens in their own worlds and family, people who feel as though they’re alone in the crowd, too. I rarely find those people — at least the ones who feel it with the intensity that I do — but I feel strongly drawn to them, as though we share the experience of being among the very few alien oddballs living among the humans.
I know my feelings aren’t unique. Artists and philosophers and just plain weird folks have felt throughout history as though they didn’t belong. But the fact that many others have gone through the same experiences of feeling alone and alien doesn’t make my own feelings any less intense. It doesn’t make me feel as though I really fit.
It’s not that I see other people as being wrong to be what they are. It’s just that they’re different from me. They don’t understand me and I struggle to understand them. I crave my own kind, but they’re few and far between.
I frequently hear people wishing to return to their teen years — calling them the best years of their lives — but I can’t fathom feeling that way. Those were the worst years of my life. The older I get and the better I understand myself, the better my life gets. The years of middle school, high school and college are years I’m happy to leave behind me.
Today, I’m at peace with the fact that I’m an alien among humans — metaphorically speaking, anyway — and I’ve quit worrying about trying to be like them or trying to get them to understand me. I just need somebody who’s “wired up” as I am to share my life of alienness. Then the aloneness wouldn’t feel quite so alone.