Non-monogamy is full of weirdos.
I mean this in the best way since I’d classify all my nearest and dearest, and myself, under that umbrella. It seems that people who are drawn to non-traditional lifestyles like kink and open sexuality tend to be those who haven’t necessarily fit into all the typical boxes in their live and have spent a lot of time looking for the ‘other’ where they belong.
I can’t overstate the value of finally finding your fellow misfit toys and clicking with a crew who feel like your people. In high school, many of us had community in the form of theatre, choir, or band (or other clubs for you non-music geeks), but as adults, it can seem harder to find tribes of like-minded people, or at least fellow outliers.
What’s tricky is that even in a group of people who really get you, have lived similar experiences, have similar outlooks on life, if you’re like me, you still don’t necessarily feel like you fit in. Imposter syndrome is a demanding mistress. I have been in countless places where I’m surrounded by people who appear to like me, and all I can think is, ‘They don’t really want you here. They think you’re a pathetic puppy following them around. No-one would notice or care if you disappeared.’ It makes it difficult for me to truly engage and embrace a community when I always feel like I’m outside it.
Like many were, I was psychologically bullied by my ‘friends’ as a kid. I was anxious and insecure and they played on that to their advantage. If I didn’t do whatever they wanted, they would stop talking to me, withhold their friendship and affection, until I caved and would be included again, possibly with new and more oppressive conditions on my acceptance. One of my most challenging mental battles is shaking off that early messaging of not fitting in. Into my 40s I continue to constantly attempt to prove my worth and have a really hard time expressing differences of opinion or when someone has hurt me or asking to get my needs met due to the fear of losing the love and affection of my people.
It’s a pretty impossible and unsustainable way to live, and it has bitten me in the ass on more than one occasion. I have consciously been attempting to express my needs more often and to remind myself that it is an essential part of having authentic relationships. An insightful friend put it very well when she said, “You have to be willing to have the conversations that could end the relationship.” I am bad at this. Very, very bad at this. Particularly when I’m insecure in a relationship, I am notorious for brushing off the small hurts, sucking up the discomfort to keep it as easy as possible for the other person to continue to like me.
There’s a quote on my phone, which I copied from something (but neglected to include the original source and my google fu hasn’t managed to track it down, so if you know the answer, I’d love to hear it!), “but pretending that you are some sort of wantless angel will destroy you because you aren’t being honest.” This guts me every time I read it because I realize that my attempts to keep things on an even keel are a form of dishonesty. I’m also aware that I’m essentially casting the people I’m involved with as heartless brutes rather than loving humans who would be willing to have a relationship with a whole person with the accompanying needs (I typed ‘pesky needs’ initially because I basically consider any I express to be huge hassle to all involved). It comes from a place of my own lacking self-worth but can be insulting and hurtful to those who love me (Flick and I have had this conversation on more than ten occasions).
Feeling like an outsider is so familiar that when it’s not the case I am almost less comfortable. When someone (or someones) embrace and include me quickly and seem to like me out of proportion to how well they know me or have any reason to like me (in my infallible judgment), I’m immediately suspicious and have my guard up. What do they want? What angle are they working? They’re clearly trying to get me to drop my guard so I’d better reinforce those walls and start mixing up cauldrons of hot tar. Yes, I do visualize people trying to get to know the real me as tantamount a siege.
My brain is a ping pong match of conflicting responses. I alternately work incredibly hard to prove my worth and do acrobatic tricks (occasionally literally) to have people see, want, and like me versus slamming up barriers in a defensive and suspicious reaction to those who want and like me without having seen the show first. It leaves me in a constant state of imbalance and ensures that I almost always feel alone and outside, even with those I’m closest to.
This phenomenon isn’t unique to me, and one of the ways I’ve bonded with a few friends and loves is our shared feelings of outsiderness (not sure that’s really a word, but google docs seems okay with it). I’ve read enough of others’ work to know that feeling like the odd one out is not-uncommon. Consider this me virtually taking the hand of those of you who feel particularly lost in these feelings, giving it a squeeze, and reminding you that although you may be alone, we’re alone together.