When Your Main Social Problem Is That You Don't Fit In
Lacking specific interpersonal skills is a broad type of social problem. Another is being too shy or insecure around people. One problem area is a little different. It's when you don't fit into the social norm, and that's what's giving you trouble.
Not fitting in could mean:
- Having different interests and priorities than most of the people around you (for some reason, the example that always comes to mind for me is someone living in a U.S. town where the entire population seems obsessed with high school or college sports, while they couldn't be any less interested)
- Having different beliefs or values than everyone around you (e.g., being the only artsy hippy in a closed-minded town, being the only conservative religious person in a dorm full of students who love drinking and partying)
- Simply being the odd person out who gets picked on (e.g., being the 'weird' guy at your job)
- Being part of a legitimately marginalized group, like being gay in a more intolerant part of the country
Of course, social awkwardness, shyness, and not fitting in do sometimes go together, however there are many cases where someone feels their communication skills are fine, and they're not anxious around anyone, but their social lives suffer because they're different.
The extent to which someone doesn't fit in could be very subtle and more irritating than anything. For example, someone may mostly be similar to their social circle, but get condescending little comments for one opinion they hold. In the middle of the scale might be someone who belongs to a subculture that's not well-represented in their area, and feels misunderstood and lonely. At the other extreme, someone may blatantly stand out from the norm and be viciously ostracized.
The consequences can vary too. On the mild side all that may happen is someone gets some friendly teasing about their unconventional hobbies, or boring lectures from their straight-laced mom. Many people have a difference or two that draws some light flak, and they mostly just put up with it.
A modoerate consequence may be that many people don't want to be friends with someone. That makes it harder for them to build a social life, but they can make it work with some effort. Severe, rarer repurcussions for not conforming include threats and harrassment, assault, being blackballed from your community, and having your property vandalized.
What can you do if your problem is that you don't fit in? There's no way I can control the outside world or solve everyone's issues for them, but here are my thoughts. The ideas in this similar article may also be helpful too:
Don't feel you have to give in and change
If you're getting hassled for not fitting in, then the implicit message is that you're faulty as you are, and that everything would be better if you just become more like everyone else. That's not the answer though. It's one thing to have actual weaknesses in your social skills, which people are giving you legitimate criticism for. There's also consciously choosing to be pragmatic and superficially go along with social norms in order to get something you want. Those are valid reasons to adjust how you act. If someone just varies from the mainstream in a harmless way, they shouldn't have to give in to the masses for its own sake.
Find your people
It won't be possible for everyone, but if it's an option, seek out a group of your like-minded peers. Maybe there's a particular bar in your town that caters to your subculture, or a monthly meet up, or an obscure club at your university you could join. Even if you're stuck in an out-of-the-way spot and can't meet any real-world friends, there are always online communities.
Live a double life
Sounds dramatic, but it usually doesn't have to be anything too shady. People in certain subcultures, or who have unpopular beliefs, or who are in marginalized groups, may have to do this. They'll decide it's less hassle to present themselves as an average person, while they do their own thing in their free time. At work they'll follow the dress code, and avoid saying anything too controversial. If one of their co-workers ran into them on the weekend, they may not recognize them. People who go this route also tend to develop subtle ways of finding each other.
For some people, splitting into two selves is simply a practical choice. Think of the young clean-cut office worker who goes to hardcore punk shows every Saturday. Others are forced into it, because their true self would be too misunderstood and rejected if it was out in the open. At the sad extreme, people have to lie about who they are to almost everyone in their life, because they'd be in danger otherwise. However, they're still willing to sneak around, because totally erasing core parts of themselves isn't an option.
Leave the area
If the situation you're in is bad enough, and you don't see it getting better any time soon, then it may be the right call to move somewhere else. Maybe you can leave fairly soon, or you might have to hunker down for a while and build up the resources to make a break for it. This is one of the classic solutions, used by people who were raised in stifling small towns the world over. Especially when you're younger, you can't choose where you live, and where you were brought up may be a terrible fit for you.