I’m not a flag-waver

When I first met my husband, I was in awe of the many distinct and close knit communities of which he was a part. He doesn’t do anything casually, so when he takes up a new hobby, he becomes obsessed. He learns as much as he can about the activity, the gear, the community around it and he relishes every opportunity to learn more and connect more closely with the people involved. He’ll see someone riding a motorcycle he’s interested in and just stop the guy on the street to talk. An hour later they’re setting a time to meet for coffee and a month later he has a new close friend.

The end result is that he is not only highly proficient and knowledgable in a wide array of disciplines — deep sea diving, shooting, the Portland Timbers, motorcycles, vintage Jeeps, mountain climbing…the list goes on and on — but he is also to varying degrees an integral part of many of these communities. These people know him and respect him. They’re friends and colleagues.

I am not this way. Don’t let my outrageously loud laugh and inappropriate cursing fool you. I’m an introvert at heart. I have a tough time approaching strangers and striking up a conversation. Once I have an introduction or what I feel is a worthy first approach, I can be charming and the conversation will be facile, but damn do I need that introduction, that way in. This holds true far more in a small group or one-on-one environment than it does in a larger organization or community.

I have long thought that this awkward feeling I have stems from a genuine awkwardness in these situations — that I am stiff and strange — that I don’t make friends easily. As I’ve stared at Eric in wonder and compared his behavior to my own, I have realized that I’m not actually awkward. I can be rather charming and charismatic. It’s not that people don’t warm to me or that I can’t find a way to open a conversation.

So what is it then?

I’m an outsider.

Or rather I feel like an outsider.

It doesn’t matter how long I’ve been in a group or community. The legitimacy of my claim in being there is somehow irrelevant. Or at best it’s so flimsy that even a minimal challenge will derail my confidence and have me retreating to the corners. I have been this way for as long as I can remember. As soon as I make a name for myself within a community or a segment of people, I start to feel uneasy, unsure of myself and doubtful of everyone’s acceptance. I take a step back. I remove myself from the environment. I make myself an outsider.

Work is altogether a different beast. I am confident in my work and as long as I am employed in a place, I naturally lead, take charge, flex those type-A muscles. I will retreat from the social aspect of work, however, which undermines my success in the conference room. I was the same way in college. Dominant in the classroom, but insecure and detached in social settings.

Even now, as Eric’s wife, I am welcomed with open arms into the many communities which he calls home. I love the people. I am close with many of them. Yet when we’re all in a group, I feel like an outsider. I don’t ever feel like one of the gang, so to speak (if you were my 70 year old mother). He says that I’m just not a “flag-waver” and to a degree he’s right, but it’s more than that.

I choose to be an outsider.

This is a revelation for me. It’s something I’ve always instinctively known, but never really owned, never really said out loud.

And now that I know it, what do I do about it? Do I try to change? Do I accept it and adjust my life and expectations accordingly? I honestly don’t know, but I’m sure it will be something that I consider heavily over the coming weeks and months.

Originally published on www.thebetterjonesproject.com

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