I don’t have a tribe. I don’t have a “clique.”
I’ve got no group of friends from high school or college who took turns being bridesmaids for each other, then hosting baby showers, and who now get together for playdates or wine. I never had a one.
I am a loner, and I am done apologizing for it.
I am done trying to pretend I am not a loner. And it’s time to normalize this.
In kindergarten, I made buddies with a boy we’ll call Liam—we both got moved to the same table of shame at the front of the room for talking too much. Once, we were sent to the office because of an argument over a red crayon. He wanted it, and I broke it. We were constantly finding ourselves in trouble for one thing or another. Each time, I was told, “I have no idea why someone like you is keeping company like this.”
Later, this trend in types of friendships continued. I had friends from all walks of life and from every cliché clique imaginable. I was fascinated by the notion that I was “supposed” to have a set group of friends—because I simply did not.
As a young adult, I tried desperately to build a tribe. I convinced myself that I could never quite achieve this because of my military spouse’s life of moving so frequently.
Then I convinced myself that it was a me problem. That I’m too “intimidating.” Too honest, too raw, too real, too brash. I say what’s on my mind before I think about it. I have no poker face. Whatever I’m feeling or thinking is immediately plastered across my face, and there is nothing I can do about it (though I have spent an absurd amount of time trying). I analyze and absorb everything around me constantly. I have never outwardly shrieked giddily from excitement. I crack dry, sarcastic jokes when most might show giddy excitement or anger. I am not a crier nor a hugger.
Part of my personality is a trauma response—the part is classically INFJ.
Part of it is learned: I learned to stifle myself. To be ashamed when asked if I watched the new “Borat” and I reply with, “No, but I watched a docuseries this weekend that was fascinating.” I learned that my affinity for having truly deep, philosophical conversations is neither welcomed nor wanted. I learned how to feign interest in what I find to be meaningless things—like sports games—to survive social events. I learned that alcohol made me “fit in” better. I could be social with it, and I exploited this to the nth degree.
Last year, when the tragedy of losing my newborn son struck, I found myself feeling abandoned and alone—normal parts of grief. I took to Facebook knowing full well it was a false community, but not quite believing it. I blogged about how Facebook is really Fakebook because it allows us to dole out watered-down, insincere condolences via emoji. It allows us to “connect,” but we are more disconnected than ever.
We’re constantly scrolling through the highlight reel of someone else’s life and then feeling bad about ourselves because of it. Choosing the “hug” emoji and leaving a “thoughts and prayers” comment on our “friend’s” post, but never truly trying to connect with this friend. And all while giving ourselves a hearty pat on the back because we “did our part.”
We cannot be truly sincere and grounded and meaningful when we are reducing our emotions to sad faces.
And that’s when it hit me. These false communities on the internet perpetuate the idea of a friend tribe based on the illogical notion that everyone we have ever met through all different time periods of our lives should be our friends. We believe we should have a tribe because of its representation on social media; having a tribe is now part of kitschy, pop culture goal, an accomplishment in life.
Ayn Rand said, “You love only those who deserve it. Man has free will. If a man wants love, he must correct his flaws and he may deserve it. But he cannot expect the unearned.”
It’s important to note that Rand believed love to be an act of selfishness. Though she was heavily criticized for her philosophies on objectivism, she would likely argue that we simply cannot be as freely loving to a tribe of friends because it is not possible.
I am speculating here, but I do not believe we can be truly connected to whole groups of people in the ways we expect from a friend tribe—for a lot of reasons. One of which is Ayn Rand’s philosophy above, and another being that humans evolve. We are supposed to. Tragedy will come. Happiness, too. Milestone life events will pass. All those things have a profound impact. We learn and grow through them.
We have different friends in different seasons of life, and this is a concept that I will argue is far more normal today than the “tribe.” Tribalism used to be solely for the purpose of survival, and we no longer need that in the way we once did. The problem is that the concept of having a tribe did not evolve along with us. We ignored the importance of truly connecting, of feeling heard, safe, secure, and loved when we quashed individualism and authenticity with these false representations. And now we pay dearly for it in other realms, like politics and religion.
I reject the notion that I must have a “tribe of friends” to be fully content, happy, satisfied, or successful.
In large part, I think the tribe is an illusion of security.
I don’t care if you show up at my birthday party. I don’t care if you send me a holiday card or gift. I don’t care if you comment on every single photo I upload to social media. I don’t care if you text or call me every day.
I want to know the big things: Will you sit with me in the dark? Will you be there when my sh*t hits the fan? Can I count on you when things go awry and there are no brunches with bottomless mimosas? Do you know me well enough to know something is bothering me because of the tone of my voice?
So, to the loner girl struggling to fit in, to feel accepted, I see you.
To the one who’s feeling left out by the “You’re Your Tribe!” T-shirt culture: make no apologies for saving all of yourself for those folks who earn it. Stop trying to mold yourself into a shape that you do not fit. Stop denying yourself the gift of authenticity. Stop living your life on mute. Those few friends who I know you have will love you anyway. None of the rest of them matter.
By the way, I remained friends with Liam long after he had a falling out with drugs and jail, despite the dismay from those around me. His friendship meant more to me than whatever inner demons he was battling. On graduation day, we each unknowingly gifted the other with a single, red Crayola Crayon.
And that’s what matters most of all to me. Love and connection. Non-judgment. And compassion that spans decades.