Geeks Vs Loneliness: belonging

A few words about fitting in...

“I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member.” That was what Groucho Marx told the Friars Club in a letter refusing an offer of membership. I love Groucho and that’s one of his sayings that resonates with me the most, because right now, as with most of my life, I’m not a member of any club that I can think of.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t spend a disproportionate amount of my time trying to feel like I belong to something. Don’t we all?

If you look at Maslow’s Hierarchy Of Needs, right smack in the middle is belonging, and it’s a need that drives so much of what we do throughout our lives. Loneliness comes from the sense of not belonging anywhere, being out of place, unloved and not needed, and that’s one of the worst feelings anyone can have.

To get a sense of the importance of belonging, you’ve only got to glance at geek culture. As geeks, we all loosely fit the stereotype of not really belonging in mainstream culture (even though you could argue that much of mainstream culture these days is dominated by geeks), so we cling to smaller subcultures instead.

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Whovians, Trekkies (*cough* Trekkers), Potterheads… geek culture is made up of lots of fandoms, where die-hards gather together to share their passion and feel like a part of something. We even have ritual gatherings (Comic Cons) where we can dress up in our uniforms and meet in person rather than on Tumblr.

But… it’s still not that simple really is it?

I love lots of geeky things. I’ve been to Destination Star Trek, Star Wars Celebration and plenty of Comic Cons, but have I really felt like I belonged when I was there?

No more than I did at university when I joined the Rock ‘n’ Thrash Society. I was so excited at the chance to meet up with like-minded music fans as part of my new life at uni, but when I turned up I found myself in a room with people I actually had nothing really in common with. I left and never went back.

Maybe it’s the Groucho in me, or maybe it’s the shyness and introversion, but whenever I’ve tried to belong based on my interests, I’ve ended up feeling more alone than ever. If I don’t belong in these groups, which groups do I belong to?

Perhaps I belong to a larger group of people who don’t actually belong to anything. We float around social media joining in conversations but rarely starting any, because we don’t really belong to any circles on there either.

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But there’s more to belonging than feeling cool and accepted by your peers. There’s that other kind of belonging, the kind that lasts, that’s deeper than who you talk to on Twitter.

And I do have a place where I belong. It’s at home with my wife and two little boys, a place where I’m always welcome and where my theories about the Twin Peaks finale mean even less than they do on the internet.

My kids would rather watch The Cat In The Hat (*shudder*) 100 times than watch Star Wars once (for now…) but they’d rather watch it snuggled up with me than any other way. That’s belonging, and it’s about the heart rather than the head.

So maybe I’ll never be cool, I’ll probably never get to 2,000 Twitter followers and I’ll always be alone in a crowd, but at the end of every day I’ll come back to where I belong with the only club I really need to be a member of.

If you’re feeling lonely and like you don’t belong, here are some suggestions that might help:

Never lose track of who you are: When we try to belong, we often end up trying to change something about ourselves to fit in. But if you don’t fit in as yourself, you’ll never belong by trying to be someone else. Find people who value you for you.

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Remember that social media isn’t the real world: Every social media platform out there is a distorted filter where lots of people put lots of effort into making their lives look much happier than they really are. Seeing all the group selfies on nights out when you’re home alone can make you feel that much worse, while it’s easy to feel unpopular when you’re not part of a clique or your posts are being greeted with tumbleweeds rather than likes. If social media isn’t improving your life, step away from the phone.

Don’t be afraid to try: While I’ve talked about going to things and still feeling like I don’t belong there, the only way to get out of a lonely rut is to give things a go. Try and find your potential tribe wherever they might be. If it doesn’t work out, try something else.

Remember that we’re all the same really: Everyone feels lonely and vulnerable and ugly and scared, no matter how confident and popular they might look to you. We all have that need to belong to something or someone. Even Groucho Marx did. So there will be people out there who are just like you.

Thanks, as always, for reading. You all stay awesome.