Have you ever been in a crowd of people and felt alone? Obviously, this has happened to me or else I would not be writing about it. Looking back over my drafts since 2018, I’ve started posts about “being on the fringe” at least three times. None have made it to posting. But still, I continue to feel this way.
In recent years, I’ve stewed, worried, and contemplated why I feel this way and what exactly makes me feel that I am “on the fringe.” There are a multitude of reasons for feeling fringy, and I recognize those later in the post. But, in some company, the feeling occurs over and over and over again. This could be a problem.
Are you asked about your daily life in conversation? I’m not talking about being asked about one’s children, their activities, their jobs, or them becoming young adults. I am referring to being asked YOUR opinion or being asked what YOU are doing to keep busy. For me this would include being allowed to expand on a piece I recently wrote or a piece of jewelry I am making, or even a class I plan to teach. When that interest is not shown, it makes one feel that they are “on the fringe.” Maybe this feeling isn’t shared by everyone but it is how I feel. I have a few friends who are good at asking about my daily life. I appreciate their effort and try to return the same. But, I also have some that do not ask and therefore, I feel like the young daughter, Violet, from the Disney movie the Incredibles who is there but shrinks into the background over and over again.
So what are the contributing factors in my life that are making me feel like I am on the fringe? And, by fringe, I mean that I don’t fit in. I’m on the edge. I’m not like most people. It’s not that I’m doing something illicit or undercover, or unaccepted. It’s just that I don’t fit.
I’m not good at small talk. If I were better, I would feel less pushed to the side. I’ve dealt with this for years and thus, I’ve become better at small talk. I realize this is part of functioning in a society, so usually I can compensate when a conversation turns towards small talk. But, not always – and then, well then, I feel exhausted.
The Absence of a Single Profession or Line of Work
I’ve not had a long career in one discipline. Instead, I’ve had several fairly important jobs, requiring a fair amount of education but since I have not stayed in one profession for more than ten years at a time, I seem to be a jack of all trades and master of none. I do not identify with a single profession and am definitely not defined by “what I do.” You know what this means. It’s usually a simple question, “what do you do?” And, there are simple answers for those that identify with their jobs. “I’m a doctor. I’m a lawyer. I’m a teacher.” I’m actually many things and the question, “what do you do?” is often hard for me to answer. I think this is a reason that I’ve always worked to have a credible reputation through extending my education in whatever sector I happen to be working. Still, I think not belonging to one group or having a set of work related friends contributes to being on the fringe.
For example, I have a fair amount of medical knowledge but since I have not been employed in healthcare for twenty-five years, and never where I reside now, my medical opinion is not often sought. But, it does not mean I don’t know things. Unfortunately, googling medical issues has become commonplace and it makes for assumptive diagnoses that tend to replace what knowledge I might have been able to offer. Googling also does not replace a thorough medical exam or the years of experience and applied education that physicians and physician extenders can offer. This group knows things that google does not. Believe me, they do! And, don’t get me started on quasi-medical websites found on the internet. Any kind of answer can be found, and if you search long enough, you’ll find one you like – It just might not be from Johns Hopkins, Mayo Clinic, or Cleveland Clinic – the sources I would trust. I am still very protective of medical providers, having been one. Diagnoses are complicated things – not as easy as Google makes them seem.
My intensity puts people off. I am intense. I think a lot about life and am, in general, a “serious” person. This doesn’t mean I don’t laugh but I do have trouble relaxing. I notice everything – much more than most people – and then spend time thinking about the things I notice. I wish I didn’t. Believe me. Being intense is part of who I am, and it does contribute to being on the fringe. Sometimes, people just don’t know “how” to take me. That’s okay. I have some friends who “get this” and for the most part they “get” it because they are also intense individuals. And, fortunately, my husband – who is less intense – can tolerate my intensity. It is also something I work to reign in.
When it came to our boys being in school, my husband and I found ourselves amongst a group of “older” parents. We did not start having kids until I was 31. It was not a choice, but the way it happened. By the time I was 39, I had three. Now, lots of people have kids later in life, but many start much younger. So, when it came time to attend school functions – we found ourselves on the fringe, again. Luckily, over an extended time in our school system, and by staying in one community, we did meet other parents who were slightly older as well. Believe me, that helped.
Lack of An Early Start in Sports
When our boys were small, we had them involved in the summer library program and youth sports through park and rec. It was enough. Our oldest took piano lessons for almost ten years, as well. But aside from that, we always considered our family life first. This meant that t-ball was not joined because the practices were always at dinnertime. Swimming lessons took place at the YMCA in the morning. Tennis and soccer were through park and rec at times that didn’t interfere with family meal time. But, this is NOT what most families were doing. Early starts in league sports at ANY time of day and travel leagues as young as middle school were common. It wasn’t until our youngest (the baby I had at 39) was interested in sports that we got involved in any of this. Our late entry definitely made us different. We were outliers or “on the fringe.” The parents all knew each other, they knew the coaches, they knew the venues, they knew a lot….but not us.
So what’s my point? Is being on the fringe bad?
All in all, I would not have changed any of the ways we’ve done things with our family or the paths I’ve personally chosen. This I know. So, being on the fringe isn’t necessarily bad, because I have remained so by choice. But, when I’m in a room of people and I feel “fringy” I occasionally have to poke myself and say – “It’s okay, Carol. There are good people walking right beside you on the fringe, too!”