Loneliness, Tribe, and the Beauty/Pain of Not Belonging

One day in 4th grade two girls told the entire class to ignore me and pretend I didn't exist. I remembering wandering from person to person at lunch and on the playground looking for someone to talk to without any response. I felt like a ghost who didn’t exist, let alone belong.

Up until then I began to think not belonging was all in my head, but then the reality of being completely excluded couldn't be ignored. I will never forget that day as long as I live as it exemplified for me the life-time feeling of not being seen and feeling invisible that still haunts me to this day. 

I remember looking in the mirror having a mini-existential crisis about feeling I wasn't supposed to be here on Earth and wondering how long it would take until someone noticed and I would be sent back. I would often stare into my own eyes and wonder what was actually  behind them that I would never be able to see. Most of my earliest memories are of the nagging sense I didn’t fit in. I remember feeling that way with my family, and the black sheep trend only continued from there. This patterning became the most painful around the age of 7 (my first Saturn square for you astro-geeks out there) when I was living in Germany and I didn’t have many friends and was often bullied (see example above).

In high school, l had a small group of friends who spent a lot of time together whom I adored to pieces. Even so, I often couldn’t escape the feeling that they didn't understand me and that I didn’t belong and eventually we stopped being friends (I still miss them). In college, I joined a sorority mostly for the sense of community, only to come to face-to-face yet again with that fact that I didn’t fit in there at all. This strange aching alien feeling continued year after year until I moved to San  Francisco, the land of misfits, and joined a graduate school program where I felt at home for the first time in my life. I often describe it as the island of lost toys who are all akcnowedge and weird together, but somehow make sense together...I could sense everyone else in the program was also a black sheep in his/her family (and I feel that way about most people who come to California, in particular, San Francisco).

Even though I had friends, I can remember very few times I actually felt I fit in. It is the reason I dislike odd numbers, a fear that I will yet again be the one left out or not included (thank goodness my  family has an even-numbered four people). This patterning of black sheepdom brought me a lot of pain for a really long time, it was always in the background whenever I was with a group of people. I was constantly noticing why I didn’t fit in or fretting over how much people noticed. I often used it as a way to shut people out and isolate. 

I know I am not the only one with this experience as the desire for belonging is what fuels many romantic relationships and our sense of connection. A place to belong found through an “other" as way to hide the immense loneliness of our current societal structure. Psychologically a driving force for starting a family is the desire to have a tribe of one's own. I have an intense fear of creating a nuclear family as a tribe without any outside influence or balance. In addition, the tribal fear of not belonging used to be a matter of life and death, without a tribe people would go hungry or not have resources for survival. Even if you didn't fit in with the tribe there was still an acknowledging of your important role and place in it.

Masses of people are utterly lonely who don't really have a tribe to belong to, perhaps we try to cover it up by connecting with as many people as possible or becoming far too attached to one. These dependent relationships or conversely, superficial relationships, don't actually nourish the depth of connection we crave as humans. In a large city I think the rate of loneliness is even higher as people have to work so hard to survive they often don't have or make the time for connection.

I think a lot about what qualities create intimacy and long-term relationships and I believe the three main qualities we all crave in community and friendships come down to these:

  • Consistency (staying in touch frequently and often)
  • Reliability/Trust (showing up when you say you will)
  • Conflict (working through challenges knowing you both care enough to do so)

These certainly are reminiscent of secure attachment, I believe the flavoring is a bit different with friendships as they take more work than romantic partnerships in many ways because you have to be willing to make more time.

Sometimes I think a part what makes me so alien is my low tolerance for not feeling connected and my rejection of wanting to feed loneliness with a partner.

Without one or two really close girlfriends I become depressed, while I enjoy men and look forward to having a long-term, life partner, I know that my friendships are what will ultimately allow the relationship to flourish. 

Astrologically I attribute this to many factors in my chart in particular Chiron in the 11th house (pain of not fitting in), Sun opposite Uranus (feeling like an alien), and Venus/Saturn opposition (isolation/loneliness). Though to me, this core human experience has a different flavor depending on your chart and the different ways we try to fix it.

Ways I have attempted to cover up loneliness (yours may or may not mirror these hard-to-look themes):

  • Comfort food
  • "Force" cuddle my cat
  • Zone out with movies or TV
  • Being a workaholic or too busy to feel it
  • People pleasing, attempting to earn love
  • Playing the victim, attempting to get attention
  • Sleeping
  • Inactivity
  • Fantasizing a romantic partner

Until we understand loneliness happens whether we are in or out of a relationship, many of us will attempt to cover it up with the wrong relationships. Here are the things to do instead of isolate more, which then can lead to even more psychological disorders beyond depression:

  • Admit we are lonely and/or talk to others about it
  • Do things alone, I am a queen at this I have to brag
  • Reach out to someone, otherwise perpetuates story of being an outcast
  • Be a good friend, show up, listen and be reliable
  • Join a Meetup (this one is cheesy suggestion, but I think it is better than starting online dating)
  • Understand difference between loneliness and solitude as sometimes we really need quiet time
  • Write in a journal, take the time to feel
  • Exercise or walk in nature
  • Connect with a community (not online)

While the pain of not belonging will never go away forever as it is a part of being human, it has a beauty to it that Ii appreciate. A beauty filled with constantly changing, isolating, reorienting to who I am…and with it, where I belong.