From the time we enter our elementary school years until we enter our senior citizen years, we are always trying to fit in. Where do we belong? With what group of people do we share interests? Where should I live? And if you’re a pre-teen or teen, how do I get into the “popular” group?

My 12-year-old daughter is dealing with that last struggle right now. She attends a wonderful high-tech middle school in Boca Raton, Fla., a wealthy community. Most of the students who attend that school, however, have parents who give them anything they want. Every day my daughter deals with the fact that she doesn’t own an iPhone or some type of smart phone and she doesn’t wear Abercrombie clothes. She also doesn’t look like the “popular” girls. She doesn’t have straight-straight hair, she has acne, and she has started getting a little figure. All of that, she says, makes her different — puts her outside of the “popular” girls group. Oh, the tragedy of being different!

Boston -- Where I fit in (c) FreeFoto.com

Boston -- Where I fit in (Photo supplied by FreeFoto.com)

I know exactly how she feels. I tell her that things will get better — that middle school is, and has always been, difficult for girls. I tell her to not try to be friends with everyone but find close friends and stick with them. They’re the ones who matter most, not the bitchy Boca snobs who look down at you because you have curly hair. I tell her to do activities that she loves and that she’ll make friends with kids in the same clubs and groups.

What I don’t tell her is that the struggle to fit in will continue.

I can think of just a couple times in my life where it wasn’t so hard. Ironically, one of them was during middle school. Somehow, I was in the “popular” group. I don’t know how it happened because we were not wealthy, I wore mostly second-hand clothes, I was not considered pretty, my family situation was different than “normal” (my mother was divorced and had recently announced that she was gay), and I was the new kid. We had moved to a small city in Vermont from Springfield, Mass. By middle school girl standards, I should have been an outcast. But they accepted me.

The real struggle to fit in started in eighth grade when my mother moved us to a tiny nearby town — Roxbury, Vt. I had to leave my “girls” behind and start all over again — new house, new school, new people to try to befriend. On top of that, now I was living in the country! That’s no place for a city mouse like me.

Try as I might, I never got a new group of girls — friends to hang out with, talk for hours on the phone with, go to the movies with, share secrets with. At first I had a couple of close friends, but my time with them was spent primarily at school. Then I started joining clubs and playing sports, hoping to find my group. It didn’t happen. What did happen is that I floated among all the groups — I was with the jocks during basketball and softball season, with the drama kings and queens when I was in school plays, with the band when I was a majorette, and with the partiers when I started going to parties. I was friendly with lots of people, and I don’t think anyone disliked me, but I was always on the fringe.

I think three things contributed to that:

  1. I was the new kid in a very small high school. (We had only 60 kids in our graduating class.) Ninety-nine percent of the other students knew each other from the time they were in kindergarten or earlier. They had long-time established friendships, and it was difficult for new kids to be accepted.
  2. I lived in Roxbury, a tiny country town about eight miles from Northfield, the town in which the high school was located and where any potential friends lived. Hanging out with neighborhood friends was not an option. On top of that, kids who lived in Roxbury were labeled as hicks and white trash. (As if Northfield is so sophisticated! Believe me; there are hicks and white trash in that town, too.)
  3. I wasn’t as open as I could have been and didn’t invite friends to my house because I didn’t want them to know that my mother was gay. During this time she started living with her partner, whom she’s been with for 30 years. “Normal” did not include having a gay mother, especially when you lived in a small country town. And when you’re in middle school and high school, being normal means everything. As my daughter can attest, you do not want to stand out.

By the time I graduated from high school, I was desperate to escape to a city. I graduated from high school and basically never looked back. I landed in the only place that in my 41 years has felt right — Boston, where I attended Northeastern University. The first time I rode the T to NU, coming above ground from the Symphony Hall stop to the Northeastern/Huntington Ave. stop, I truly felt like I had found my home. I literally and figuratively went from dark to light.

I spent five wonderful years at NU, meeting many new and interesting people (one of whom became my best friend), taking some fantastic classes, hearing amazing lectures, going to the theatre, going to the symphony, going to concerts, dancing at clubs, and working at great jobs during my co-op stints.

After graduating from college I stayed in the area, living in the suburbs until I was married and had my daughter. When she was a year old, my husband persuaded me to move to Delray Beach, Fla. It’s the biggest mistake we ever made. Again, I left what I knew and loved, this time for the promise of less-expensive real estate and lifestyle and the support of his family. (The only thing that came to fruition was the house.)

From nearly my first day here, I’ve wanted to go back. But I stuck it out because I don’t give up on things easily. I decided to tough it out and make it work. I got a new job and tried to make new friends there and through my daughter’s friends at daycare. When she entered elementary school, I joined the PTA with the hope of making friends through that group. I also tried to make friends via her different activities — dance, piano, and Girl Scouts. However, the same thing that happened to me in high school happened here. I became friendly with many people, but real friends were elusive. I can name just two people here who became real friends.

After living here a couple years, I was fortunate to get a job working from my house for a company based outside of Boston. That meant I could go “home” a few times a year for work, and it allowed me to meet many more people who became real friends. I lost that job in December, but I did not lose those friends.

Boston is my home and where my heart is. For the past four years, I argued with my soon-to-be ex-husband for us to move back. He wouldn’t budge, and it’s one of many reasons for our separation. But this year I’m finally taking matters into my own hands and moving back to Boston. It’s where I fit in.

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