Seeking joy and meaning in a joyless mind and meaningless existence

Friday, January 12, 2024

Longing for Belonging

Waiting all day by the telephone
Wondering if you're gonna call
I'll go out to my friend's party
Wondering if I belong
Well do I, boy?
Belong, belong, belong, belong
Do I belong, belong, belong, belong?
{The Hidden Cameras, "Do I Belong?"}

Loneliness, isolation and a profound sense of not belonging are dominant themes running through my life. I have difficulties with social interaction that can make interpersonal relationships particularly challenging, and my severe neurotic symptoms tend to make me want to disconnect from others to reduce the mental and emotional stimuli I have to navigate and process. Conversely, at the same time I long for company and connection. I think this is a systemic problem in our society, exacerbated by social media (which I don't touch), but of course, I can only speak to my experiences.

There are two other gay men in my department. One of them is a good work-only friend where we chat a lot on our in-office days, and we exchange a lot of NSFW text messages after hours. It's nice to have someone I can share tacky, adolescent humor and my lustful thoughts over hot guys I see during my day with, but he has never shown any interest in spending time outside of work. I know the other one well enough to exchange brief pleasantries, but we've only had a few extended conversations. Every week on our team day in the office, the two of them go out for a friends lunch of sassy gay talk together. As the third gay guy who's really friendly with one and friendly enough with the other, I feel hurt that I'm excluded from their lunches, even as I acknowledge how irrational and unfair that is. I wouldn't invite everyone in the office I have a friendly relationship with if I were to go to lunch with a co-worker, and it's egocentric to think they have any reason to consider me. And yet, I'm resentful all the same, mostly borne of my desire to connect and spend time with others.

A Yokel in Athens

The sounds of the May term, the scents of the Cambridge year in flower, floated in through the window and said to Maurice, “You are unworthy of us.” He knew that he was three parts dead, an alien, a yokel in Athens. He had no business here, nor with such a friend.
{E.M. Forster, Maurice}

My hurt feelings at being excluded from the weekly lunch excursions (no matter that it's a case of "benign indifference") reminds me of what happened to me at the Memphis Pride event last June. My company sponsored a booth, and I volunteered for one of the shifts there and to walk in the parade. I started talking to a guy who works in an entirely different part of the company. I was attracted to him, though quickly found out he had a serious partner, but we got on really well in a friendly way. Throughout the day, we continued to talk. I expected him to make polite chit chat and then drift away, which is the norm for me for such interactions, but he made a point to walk with me and continue spending time together. We eventually connected with his partner who was at Pride with a different company, and they continued to want to keep me around. I can't tell you the last time someone I didn't already know well made a point to include me and act as if they wanted me there.

We all got on very well, and I was so pleased with how the day was turning out. They were both very social people and seemed to go out and do things all the time. I started to hope that I could be part of their friend group. Maybe I could get invited out and actually start doing things, more than the once every two or three month I see the straight couple who are my only real friends in town. During the course of the day, they also met and befriended a young hetero couple. The two couples dizzyingly became fast friends. They almost immediately started making plans for a post-Pride event that evening and brunch the next day. In my rapidly devolving status as fifth wheel, I was conspicuously excluded from all of these future activities. As noted above, I understand that no one is obligated to spend time with me, but the way they planned things right in my face while leaving me out just gutted me. Was I not even worthy of common courtesy to not blatantly arrange activities that leaves out someone in the group right in front of them? My hopes for finally finding a friend group were abruptly dashed, and I left Pride feeling absolutely terrible about my self-worth and despairing at ever finding the kind of social interaction I crave.