I will always feel like an alien trying to fit among humans, because I don’t know how to blend in. Not really.
I can move among groups. I can talk as though I belong. I can say the right things. I can even lead them to believe I’m one of them.
Inside, though, I will always feel like an alien among others. I will always feel as though I don’t quite fit. And I’ll always hate it that I care what they might think of me.
Earlier this week, I found a group of my school photos from my younger years. It turns out that I have almost every year’s photo from first through sixth grade. In the younger photos, I looked like a happy little boy. By the time I got to the sixth grade — the one you see here — I look older than my years and I look unhappy.
Maybe I simply know too much about what was really behind those young eyes, but I see unhappiness and alienation. I see someone who felt alone in the world.
When I found these photos earlier in the week, I posted one of them — a happier picture — to Facebook, where one of my friends remarked, “You look like a brilliant student who was teacher’s pet.”
That friend knows nothing of my childhood, so I tried to explain that I had moved around all the time as a child, always being the new kid in class — and taking on the persona of “the smartest kid in class” everywhere I went during those early years.
I explained that the other smart kids usually seemed boring to me, but they were the only ones bright enough for me to enjoy spending time with. So I ended up feeling as though I was resented by the normal kids but also feeling that I wasn’t one of the nerds. And then we would move again and the pattern would play out again.
Teachers always loved me back then, because I had been trained — by my narcissistic father — to be incredibly compliant. Since I was bright enough to quickly grasp whatever they told me and I was eager to please them, I tended to get a special place in a classroom.
After explaining all this to my Facebook friend, I found myself thinking — feeling, really — what it was like to be in situations from childhood. It made me feel sad and it put me into the frame of mind I had had back then — openly happy and compliant and stable and apparently “perfect,” but inwardly lonely and hurting and afraid.
As I’ve experienced those feelings again this week — both the good and the bad — I unexpectedly found myself looking at images from my later life as well. I saw with clarity that there’s a direct connection between those younger experiences and a feeling of alienation which remains real today.
I saw myself in leadership roles during my high school years. I saw myself as the leader of my youth group at church. I saw myself in leadership roles at school. And even though those people saw me as one of them — as far as I know — I never really felt like one of them.
I got the positions of leadership that I got because I was good at things that needed to be done, not because I was popular. People followed me because I knew what to do — I knew how to get things done — but not because I was one of them.
When I had political positions later — earlier volunteer positions and then a lot of paid ones after — I moved among people who I knew well at times and among people who were wealthy and powerful at other times. I was required to be social with a lot of people. I played the part. I looked the part. I said all the right things. I laughed at their jokes.
But I never felt that I belonged. I was an alien among them.
I was among them because I was good at what I did, but I didn’t want to spend social time with them. They weren’t like me. I wasn’t like them. I didn’t quite fit over here. I didn’t quite fit over there. I was just the one they turned to when we needed to get things done.
It felt uncomfortable to experience those feelings again, but it was somehow useful. I was seeing — once again — that the man I am today is really just an older version of that lonely and scared — but bright and confident — little boy from so many years ago.
The only times I have ever felt that I fit anywhere have been those times when I felt loved. And I realize now that having someone to love me — a partner in the world — allowed me to feel a little less alien. It allowed me to feel as though I had someone — at the very least — who spoke the language of the Earthlings and could make me acceptable just by being with her.
I feel as though I have an odd sort of disability and nothing about it will ever change. I’ll always be someone who works best alone or in a small group. I’ll always be someone who’s most comfortable with family or close friends. I’ll always be someone who prefers to stay away from the people with whom I don’t quite fit.
I heard someone introducing a new friend to a couple of other existing friends earlier today and he referred to his group of longer-term friends as “my people.” He meant it in a friendly sort of way that had the connotation of all of them belonging to a group — like what it must feel like to be part of a close-knit tribe or band of extended friends.
I don’t really have “my people.”
When I’m finally married, I’m sure my wife and I will have friends together. I hope I’ll like her friends and I hope she will like the few I care anything about. I hope we will have a few friends together.
But I suspect that I will always feel most comfortable being myself with one person — someone I can trust and love and enjoy. I will be willing to spend time in whatever groups I’m required with her. I’ll say the right things and do the right things. I’ll make her proud of me. I’ll go out of my way to please her in those respects and make sure I reflect well on her.
My expectation, though, is that I’ll always be eager to get away from those groups — and eager to get back to the safety of a family to find sanctuary with.