On Belonging

I had promised myself I wouldn’t cry at this reunion.

In one of the few photos from our fifth college reunion, we’re all smiling: former roommates, wingies, best friends. I’m the only one in the group whose red, puffy eyes and tentative smile are giveaways of the tears I’d just wiped away prior to the camera’s flash.

And who knows why? Preparing for my 20th reunion, I couldn’t remember the reason for those tears.

And here I was, 15 years later, with the same group of girls, in a different bar, sobbing in the bathroom.

This was the final night of our lovely reunion. We’d had so much fun making meals together, hiking in the Colorado sunshine, marveling at the changes to our campus, and talking talking talking. So much talking!

And drinking.

I’d already had one drink too many when we got to the bar, and although I’d decided against having another, I couldn’t resist the delicious-sounding Moscow Mule and somehow found myself ordering it. I’m a fool for anything with ginger ale.

But the tears couldn’t be pinned on just the drinks (however, what appeared to be black eyes the next day could).

I’d been lucky to see my best friends many times over the years, mostly thanks to the selection of Denver and Phoenix for many of the conferences I’d attended in my professional life. And of course, Facebook. So, despite my absolute aversion to social phone calls, we’d kept up pretty well. But the weekend had still been revelatory.

It turns out that the idealized vision I’d had of my friends’ lives due to the patina of their Facebook posts were curated illusions. They had all struggled, far more than I’d imagined. The fantastic social lives of my childless friends and the happy, well-adjusted family lives of the others… weren’t.

Not that I spent much time on Facebook anymore. I had realized it was a black hole for me, one that sucked away my time, disrupted my sleep, and left me feeling more isolated, alone, and inferior than ever. I mostly used it to repost photos from when my kids were small, to share news articles, or maybe the link to a rare blog post. If you’ve followed my blog, or have taken a look at the most “recent” posts, you’ll know that rare is an understatement.

Just prior to my flight to the bathroom, my friend and I had been talking about Facebook, and how it makes me feel lonely.

“I like your posts, but don’t always get them,” she’d said.

This particular friend is brilliant. We share many of the same quirky tastes in music, literature, and men, and she is the only person to have ever out-scored me on tests in college (or on the internet). If I could count on anybody to “get me”, surely it was her. But here she was advising me to post things that appealed to my audience like so-and-so does.

An amazing writer, with two successful careers–one clinical and one bloggy–she knows about audience communication. Defending myself, I showed her my phone, scrolled through posts–almost all cute photos of my kids that Facebook had asked me to reshare.

“What’s so esoteric about these?” I implored.

“Oh, I hadn’t seen those,” she said, and turned to talk with another friend.

She didn’t see me begin to weep. Quietly, I ducked my head and hid my tears.

I don’t want an audience, I thought, I want friends. I want to be understood. I want to belong. 

Unable to stop crying, I silently left for the bathroom. Leaning against the wall of the toilet stall, I sobbed and sobbed, praying for nobody to come in. Praying for somebody to come find me.

Thirty-some minutes later, I pulled it together enough to rejoin the group. My sweet roommate from freshman year, another of the most brilliant people I’ve ever known, asked me if I was okay. I nodded, clearly not able to speak. She started telling stories of when we shared a room, that first year of our adult lives. So many little things I’d forgotten, some silly, some profound.

She made me feel I belonged, and was understood. And I’m so grateful. We are never alone.

 

 

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Part of the solution since 1973.

2 thoughts on “On Belonging

  1. I completely relate! It sounds like you have a great group of women and I’m glad you felt reconnected by the end of the night. You write for you and what makes you feel alive and that is brave.

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