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Fitting In : Aspect 1

I was chatting with a new friend the other day. "New friend", what do I know at this point? I had a friend once in California - she always said "a stranger is just a friend you haven't met yet!" - she was a stranger once, and while we certainly don't spend time together anymore, I still count her among my "friends". Maybe we start there: what is a "friend"?

For me it goes like this, and I've let my subconscious play with this for a while:

- can depend on them in times of need no matter how long you've not spoken

- has shared an emotional experience with you

- thinks about you and shares with you when special events come up in their lives

Yeah, that about sums it up.

So when Betsy said to me, "oh, you seem like the kind of girl that fits in nicely anywhere you go!" it elicited in me a flood of images of times that was REALLY not the case... And fitting in isn't always necessarily the limit of what I am hoping for - especially as the new kid in town.

There was a time in my life that was tumultuous - to say the least. There was drama with my parents. Drama with my siblings. Drama with boyfriends... I always seemed to attract others into my life with their own drama, and somehow I often ended up sharing in that, too. As early as my freshman year of high school, I remember feeling like I didn't fit in. Like all of the friends that I had made in middle school were somehow keyed into some knowledge about socializing that I simply didn't have. They seemed much more confident and mature than I felt - and by junior year, I ended up hanging out with the smokers at the gas station across the street from our school. We were the kids who had problems fitting in at school - which is funny, because while I didn't have actual trouble "fitting in", I did have trouble "connecting" with people. The few people who did know about my family insanity would say things like, "Damn, Liz, you live in a soap opera!", or "How have you not killed yourself yet?!", or my favorite, "I'm just so glad I'm not you."

It is hard to make a real connection with someone who has pity for you, even when for you, this is just life! When I share about some home-life event that makes your eyes pop, you need to know that to me, that was just a normal Tuesday. It did not "add stress" to my life, it was my life, and I didn't think anything at all odd about it. I didn't need pity. I needed people that I didn't need to explain anything to. And they hung out by the gas station, behind a little wall that allowed for privacy.

As an adult I would look at that kind of behavior and make a LOT of assumptions about why kids want that kind of privacy. What are they doing back there that no one else can see? But really, there was a lot of talking going on back there. And a LOT of smoking cigarettes. These were not the stoners, they were the wanderers. I identified as one of them.

I was also in choir, drama, and always involved in cross country (via my brother who was a champion! Woot woot!). And I was also always in school, and if you were to survey the kids from my school, I'd bet that 99% of them would have lots of great things to say about me, and how sweet I was, and how I was such a good listener, and always willing to help out, or lend a smile.... I was always very good at making other people feel better.

But few others could provide me the same relief.

When I was in college, one of my friends dragged me to a party that I had not been invited to. He said, "Of course, you're invited! I'm inviting you, so let's go!" When we got there, people were so happy to see me. Everyone wanted pictures with me (it was the end of our senior year), and I was just so confused. People's image of me must have been grossly different than the one that I thought I was projecting - hmmm. Back to that thing where at some point over the years, I had shared an emotional event with these people. But, of those people, I was hard pressed to find "friends". I didn't get the wedding invitations, or the engagement and baby announcements. But I am excitedly welcomed most places I go.

And there you have it, the difference between fitting in and making friends: it is one thing to be liked, welcomed and accepted, but making friends can be arduous, or sometimes it happens so fast that I'm not always sure the friendship is legit. Twice in my life, women have called me with an offer of "friendship" buffered by some underlying intention on their part. Once was a woman stated that she was in love with my brother and wanted to spend more time at my house in hopes of seeing more of him. Later in life, a woman called because she was afraid her boyfriend would try to sleep with me and hoped that if she and I became friends, I would choose her over him. Oddly, both of these women became good friends over time, but it wasn't because I "fit in", it was because they wanted something from me.

Maybe that is ok - don't we all want something from our friendships? We want to feel like we can trust someone with our secret fears and desires. We want to feel safe having emotional experiences with each other. We want to be thought of....

So, in the spirit of all of this, I leave you with a question:

How can I improve all of my relationships and elevate those friendships to ones that will bring me joy for years to come?

Happy questioning!!

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