fit (not) in.

What is it about wanting to fit in so badly? Why, just why?

The great thing about being 22 and not 13 or even barely 19 as I’d been once upon some time ago is that I’ve learned to say no and act upon it. I’ve learned that I have a voice and that I can make it be heard when the situation necessitates it.

But wisdom isn’t learned once, twice – it is a continuous acquirement.

As I am writing this, I’ve spent the past hour sitting in the quiet and darkness of my studio feeling… Sad. Emotions I don’t know to name, thought processes I’ve yet to understand. Week 1 has officially just completed and I want to say that I think it’s gone by fairly well – I’ve made leaps and strides definitely in trying to make new friends. I’ve tried to do the social thing, making extra efforts to go the extra mile by attending events and seminars, striking conversations with anyone who is sitting next to me. Oh I’ve made strides alright.

Then tonight happened.

Honestly, it’s not like anything even happened what more anything stupid or something I would be ashamed of. But I’ll let you in on a secret: in the past 3.5 years that I’ve been here in the States, I have never experienced an American party. I’ve alway politely said no and all that jazz because I know that there’s alcohol involved which is irrelevant to me and if there’s food, I don’t take them so it makes no difference either. Most of all though, honestly I think I’m afraid of the crowd, the scene and the vibe. I am not hip, nor am I cool – I’m barely in the know about American TV shows, nor am I a movie buff or a gamer. I don’t listen to American and British music much too, which further delineates me from mainstream mass and the general crowd.

But tonight I made a last-minute decision to check out a party, because it’s hosted and organized by the graduate student council. I figured it’s a half-formal thing i.e. things can’t get too out of hand like in the case of house parties. I didn’t tell anyone I was going because the idea was that it’d be easier to sneak out and leave an hour after my arrival. I dressed up a little and easily took a night stroll to the next housing building where the outdoor party was held.

I was early, but a steady crowd was slowly forming. Of course everyone made a beeline for the beverages – I spotted a few kegs and lots of what I guessed were beer bottles, but I was only concerned about the sodas and snacks. I didn’t spot anyone I knew so I stood near the fountain until a guy approached me. One easily became two and three, and suddenly there I was slowly fading in the background again as their conversation reached a kind of excitement that I couldn’t relate to. Like the socially awkward person that I am – I made a quiet exit.

I did a couple of rounds of the area and finally spotted a familiar face, a course mate whom I hung out with all week; she was with some friends and asked who I came with. I made up some excuse about changing my mind at the last minute but clearly that’s strike two in where I’ve gone wrong – it’s socially uncool to attend this kind of events alone. Like the others, they quickly made their way to the drinks and within seconds I lost them in the crowd and darkness of the night. I did a few more rounds of the place but didn’t know anyone and didn’t have the guts to suddenly put myself in a group or introduce myself to another loner at the corner. The place was heavily packed by ten that without realizing it, I’d banged into someone and his cup of whatever. The liquid spilled to my Birkenstock and I knew then that it was alcohol because the residue evaporated in seconds.

It hit me then that this feels wrong, all of it. Quietly and unnoticeably, I made my exit.

And so this explains why I’ve been sitting in the quiet and darkness, afraid of what I’ll need to own up to in the light. Like I said, it isn’t that I’ve done anything wrong because physically nothing happened but the moment I reached the studio and exchanged the outfit for my comfortable yukata, it hit me with such force – this unsettling feeling.

Sadness? Anger? Betrayal? I sat unmoved for a good sixty seconds before finally texting Eldest Sis, the soul-sister. I feel dirty,” I finally wrote. I can’t explain it,” I continued, Nothing bad happened but it’s like this regret over having done something that’s against the fundamentals of who I am?” I paused, uncertain of the exact points I was trying to get across.

“It’s like…” I began again, “…I’ve betrayed myself. In wanting to fit in or mold into something. It’s like tonight… I’d compromised. Suddenly I feel like crying and I can’t for the life of me explain why because I didn’t even do anything to begin with. It’s as if I feel like I need to be more flexible, but there’s also a part of me that wonders just why do I need to play the game by their rules so much, as if my way now is unacceptable? That’s not true, I know it’s not.”

In wanting so badly and trying so hard to find a group I could blend with, I’ve gone out of my way yes but perhaps skewed too far out of comfort zones and self-norms. It’s foreign territories and I’ve always been terrible at that. But what’s more pressing is that I’m questioning over and over in my mind, just what is it about wanting so badly to fit in that has me doing so many things, making so much effort to try to get to know as many random people that I can? More than that – why is it that when doing so, I’m always at the expense of another? Why do I accommodate my accent to theirs, hold back from speaking up about my own interests and basically, suppress the real person that I am in attempts to make friends? Why isn’t it the other way around – why can’t it be the other way around? What if I retain my Malaysian English accent and have them try getting used to it and not be afraid to confess aloud that the reason I don’t have a red cup in my hand is because I’m a practicing Muslim? Why can’t I map Malaysia into their mind’s map as opposed to trying so hard to pretend I’m familiar with all of North America or wanting to accommodate, thus bringing up my years in Philly and the domestic travels I’ve done?

Why is it that this irony holds – in the quest of trying to fit in, I am becoming increasingly far away from my real self?

It begs the realization and thus, question of who is this girl they’re getting to know then? It’s a persona of me, but such a minimal sliver of the real person underneath that I might as well have faked my entire identity. I think this is what makes me most upset and one that has finally hit in full force tonight, right now – I am not being true to myself. More than being honest with others, I am not being honest with myself. If I claim to be 22 and learned, then why do I struggle still? Why do I still hold back so much? Why do I friggin’ accommodate at all times as if I am friggin’ obliged to these random strangers I can’t even commit names and faces to my memory?

I hate trying to fit in, I hate this desperation in trying so hard to belong somewhere.

I hate hate hate that I’m always trying to act up a so-called cooler version of myself, hating it even more that regardless whether anyone buys it or not – I don’t. No matter how convincing, if it is – I don’t.

This adjustment phase is such a bitch.

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3 thoughts on “fit (not) in.

  1. Sometimes no matter how hard we try, we’ll never be able to change the fact that we’ll never be able to fit in, and you know what, it’s perfectly fine. I mean why must be let society or everyone else around dictate what is their definition of what is cool? The thing is, I feel that only us and us alone can define who we are. Not our parents, not our friends and certainly not strangers, just us. I am probably one of the most socially awkward person you’ll ever come across (I swear, I’m terrible at parties/orientation events, you’ll probably see me sitting somewhere in a corner looking as zoned out as possible) but I guess some of us are just born like that. We can change ourselves to meet expectations, yes, but we gotta always retain at least a small part of us which makes us quintessentially, us. I sort of get your dilemma about the drinking issue, because people around here drink all the time. I’m not an alcohol drinker, it’s just something that’s never attracted me, despite the fact that clubbing/drinking is what most people our age do. I don’t know, I kind of suck at it anyway, I get all dizzy and tipsy after a glass (which is why I only make an exception to my no drinking rule when I’m with my family). I don’t think that there’s anything wrong about you not conforming yourself to that, you know, the whole drinking culture. Being Malaysian myself, I’ve got a few Muslim friends so I truly respect that. I don’t know if it’s an Asian thing but my parents are against girls drinking (our drinks can get spiked easily, it’s not safe for us) and personally I don’t fancy because it means that there’s always a potential for trouble. Haha I totally sound like one of those “say no to drinking” advocate agents but really, it’s alright to be ourselves, even if it means that we’re weird and unconventional or even a bit uncool. Cheer up, will you? As cheesy as it sounds, you ARE amazing, just the way you are. ;)

      1. Hey girl, sorry for my late reply – I’ve been emotionally whacked and days are terribly long when these emotions hit. Thanks for cheering me on and reminding me that’s there’s one other person out there who’s as socially awkward, person-at-the-corner, “no I don’t drink, it’s okay” and uncool, ha. The issue here truthfully isn’t that I’m uncool (or about the idealization of “cool” in general) – I know it and have long accepted that about myself; I’ve always been quirky – but that I play up this act almost reflexively each time. While I’m fine being uncool, it’s becoming clear to me that I still have issues about being accepted. It’s like in my mind everything about me makes sense (though of course this is a given) but place me out there in the Real World and suddenly for all my self-worth advocacy, my reflexes will be to try fitting into the mold. It typically ends badly – I realize I just don’t fit, one way or another, that it makes me my own little island and on bad days like today… This fact is shitty, plain and simple. My sister tells me to be reasonable and I tell myself that too, but sometimes people are just so much… Work. But here’s the thing: therefore, I am the cause of my own empty island, always so focused on the brokenness of things and self. This new surrounding does wonders to my being and thought processes but also engulfs bits of my self-worth that I thought I’ve steady reins on by now. Le sigh, this adjustment phase is tough. Hope you’re having better luck on adjusting well to your new surrounding – in the long run it’ll be worth it, definitely. Keep your chin up, do something that scares you everyday and find your bliss!

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