Monday, November 12, 2012

Where Do I Belong?

How Do We Live When We Lack a "Core-Group"?

Building an Identity and Strengthening Connections

Throughout my life I have always belonged to a community or considered myself to have a "core-group." Growing up I attended a small, private, all girls school which was a community within itself. I graduated with only 53 people, most of whom I'd know the majority of my life, and knew intimate information about nearly every single girl. As a student and "Lifer" (having attended the school since Kindergarten) I was automatically granted membership in this community. Within this already tight-knit community I had an even smaller community, a "core-group," that consisted of about 12 girls. We did almost everything together. We ate lunch with the same people at the same table for nearly 7 years. We knew the ins-and-outs of each other's lives. We partied together, we cried together, we laughed together, we confided in each other, and we grew up together. I identified with this group and always felt as if I belonged whenever I was surrounded by them. As I departed from the safety of my small, close community upon graduation I nearly instantly became a member of yet another community. 
Graduation day with my grade school core-group-
When I started at The George Washington University I joined a sorority within the first three weeks of my Freshman year. The sorority became my new community, my pledge class an even smaller community within it, and the girls I bonded with became my new "core group." These core-groups and communal affiliations provided me with a number of benefits. I was able to construct an identity for myself with respect to the communities and groups to which I belonged. I could reveal elements of who I was simply by referencing the name of sorority, the school I attended, or by mentioning a few of my friends. These groups also offered me a sense of comfort and belonging. I felt at ease and as if I was similar to the other people who made up my core-groups. In high-school we could relate through shared memories, mutual experiences, common likes and dislikes, as well as similar upbringings. We also had a dedication to each other because we had known one another for so long. I felt safe and protected because I had the support and love of my core-group of friends. 
Sorority "sisters"-
I had similar feelings regarding the girls I pledged with in college. Although we had not known each other very long we quickly bonded via common experiences, similar preferences and backgrounds, as well as the hardships that often came along with pledging a sorority. These core-groups also guaranteed that I never needed to be alone if I did not want to. In grade school I always had a friend to call or text or instant message if I wanted to do something- go out, see a movie, have dinner, go to the mall, or just hang out in someones basement. I always had something to do and I never felt alone. In college my pledge class provided me with the same type of resources. I could contact nearly any girl I pledged with if I wanted to join a pregame, go to a club, grab dinner, go the gym, or study at the library. Again, I always was able to find company and never felt loneliness. 
However these feelings of community, belonging, and connectedness now seem like distant memories. 

Now that I have transferred to The University of Pennsylvania I have no group affiliations, no core-group to rely on, and now small-scale community to which I belong. As a transfer student it can be difficult to find a niche in which you feel comfortable or gain access to a group who you have commonalities with. I am not saying that I don't have any friends. I feel blessed to have met as many people as I have. I am grateful to the wonderful people who took the time to get to know me and reached out to me. I have a number of friends whom I could contact to go out with. I have even been lucky enough to make a couple true connections with people who I believe I will remain friends with long after college. However the differences between these friendships and those of my past is crucial and definitive: my current friends lack a common thread. Many of my close friends aren't close with each other. Some of them don't like each other or don't even know one another. While I have plenty of people that I can greet when I see them on the street I lack a core-group that I can identify with and depend on. I no longer have an abundance of phone numbers that I can use if I want company or something to do. I don't have a cohesive group of people who support me and care about me. I am no longer surrounded by people who I can relate to and who typically like the same things I like and feel the same ways I feel. I miss the communal bonds of my past. I often feel lonely, lost, or confused. And I can't help but ask the question: Where do I belong?
"Where do I belong?"
The last time I remember feeling as if I was part of a community was when I was in eating disorder treatment this past Winter. The program consisted of less than 30 girls and although I didn't get along with all of them I felt connected to each girl because of the commonality that brought us all together- our eating disorders. Even within this tiny community I had a core-group that consisted of a couple girls who I became exceptionally close with and could confide in and easily relate to. Even when I return to the Renfrew Center, another facility I spent time in, to visit or attend a group, I immidiately feel comfortable. I always feel as if I belong when I am in the eating disorder community. Being surrounded by girls and women who completely understand my struggles and pain fills me with a sense of comfort, provides me with a sense of belonging, and makes me feel safe and at home. When I look at my life now I become scared. The eating disorder world and community is my last point of reference for feeling as if I belong. Fellow patients are the most recent group of people I have been able to identify with. These treatment facilities are the last places that I felt any sense of community, any sense of true safety, and any sense of belong. It makes me afraid that I am no longer able to find these things in the outside world. I am uncertain that I will ever find a core-group outside the walls of a treatment facility. And I am not sure that I will ever be able to find a community of people with whom I connect outside the eating disorder treatment world. I am terrified that the answer to my question- "Where do I belong?"- is, in residential treatment. I refuse to believe that this is the correct answer. 
The safe haven that is the smoke shack at Renfrew, Spring Lane
Although those friendships are real and invaluable I know as well as anyone that treatment isn't real life and bouncing in and out is no way to live. Constantly being in residential treatment prohibits you from creating a life for yourself outside the walls of treatment or foster relationships outside the eating disorder community. I know that this is not the type of life that I want for myself and I have to have faith that I will find a place where I belong somewhere in the real world, the world outside of treatment and outisde the eating disorder community. I must believe that there will be a point in my life when I'll be able to find another community of people, another "core-group" of friends, or at least something similar. I have to think that there are people in this world who are like me- priority and goal driven, value life, seek happiness, interested in a variety of things (fashion, psychology, quotations, 60's music,) have experienced hardships, put life into perspective- and I will be able to find them and even perhaps create a new collective group in which I feel as if I belong. But the question is what do we do until we find this group of people? How do we survive when we lack a "core-group"? 
Like a thumb print our identities are one of a kind-
What I am learning is that when we don't have a group to help support our identity or use as a point of reference we need to learn to build our own, individual, unique identity. Just because we don't have a group to help us formulate who we are does not mean that we cannot build a strong identity on our own. I suppose the key is knowing who we are, making choices and behaving decisively in ways that support this sense of self, showing off who we are- in the way we dress, in the manner in which we speak, in our interactions with others, in the work that we perform- and sticking to our personal belief system. Remaining dedicated to our own identity, standing our ground, not allowing other people to alter the way we act or think, can strengthen the identity that we build for ourselves more so than any group ever could. We may not be a part of something larger than ourselves such as a group identity. And we may not be able to drop a sorority name to quickly reveal information about ourselves. When we acquire this information we have the chance to form a personal identity that is ours, that cannot be replicated or duplicated, and that represents us accurately. The following quote by Sarah Breathnach does well to support this notion and the connectedness of identity and belonging.

“[I]t doesn’t matter whom you love or where you move from or to, you always take yourself with you. If you don’t know who you are, or if you’ve forgotten or misplaced her [him], then you’ll always feel as if you don’t belong. Anywhere.”

- Sarah Breathnach

What I have also discovered is the importance of strengthening the connections and single friendships that I do have. Just because I lack a core-group does not mean I am a loner, a friendless loser, or am forced to be by myself all the time. It simply means that I need to work a little hard in order to strengthen and solidify my existing friendships. I am not going to lie- it takes work. I need to proactive. I need to make the phone call to coordinate a dinner. I need to send a text to ensure that I am included in a pregame or that I have people to go out with. But I have found that people aren't only responsive but they are in fact reciprocative. I do receive texts and invites from friends even when I haven't actively pursued them. I think the hardest thing for me in not having a core-group is having the feeling that there is no where that I belong. I have specific friends who I am very comfortable with, I could talk with them about anything, we could hang out doing nothing for hours, and when we are together it feels right. When I am with these friends I have that sense of belonging that I so long for. So I guess the lesson is that I don't need a huge group of people to feel as if I belong. That feeling can come from being with just one person. It is my job to strengthen these friendships and put forth effort to make sure I am spending time with the people who I feel this connection with. I need to remain active in continuing and building relationships with people who provide me with that sense of belonging. The following quote helps substantiate this idea that we don't need a huge group of people surround us. Merely one or two people can fulfill our desire to feel as if we belong.

“I don't even remember the season. I just remember walking between them and feeling for the first time that I belonged somewhere.”

- Stephen Chbosky, The Perks of Being a Wallflower

"We just sort of took up by the river one day, we don't belong to each other."
So have I been successful in answering my initial question: Where do I belong? I am not really sure. After having written this post I am beginning to believe that maybe there is no place where any of us definitively belong. Perhaps it is not vital to have a "core-group" in order to feel that sense of belonging. I suppose I know plenty of people who are part of a core-group yet don't feel happy in it or are always on the look out for something different, something better, something beyond the group in which they have membership. I suppose the place where we all belong can be found within ourselves. As I continue with this entry I can't help but think back to a quote, made famous by the movie Breakfast at Tiffany's, when the protagonist, Holly Golightly, talks about belonging and the feeling that Tiffany's provides her with.

"'I don't want to own anything until I know I've found the place where me and things belong together. I'm not quite sure where that is just yet. But I know what it's like.' She smiled, and let the cat drop to the floor. "It's like Tiffany's,' she said...'It calms me down right away, the quietness and the proud look of it; nothing very bad could happen to you there, not with those kind men in their nice suits, and that lovely smell of silver and alligator wallets. If I could find a real-life place that made me feel like Tiffany's, then I'd buy some furniture and give the cat a name.'"

Find your "real-life" Tiffany's-
I think back onto recent moments when I felt that sense of belonging, my own "real-life" Tiffany's and they vary hugely- watching a movie with my parents, having a yummy dinner with a friend, running into a couple old friends at a bar, a small pregame with 2 friends at my apartment, snuggling with Milly in my bed, writing this blog at various locations, smoking a cigarette all on my own, sitting in class, talking to my T.A. about a recent assignment. I guess the answer to my question is that I can belong anywhere! I can find my own personal "Tiffany's" where ever I go, no matter who I am with, and regardless of what I am doing. I find it in brief moments and little situations all the time. It has nothing to do with having a structured community or cohesive friend group. It does not matter where I am located or who I am with. My sense of belonging comes from within myself. When I am comfortable, when I feel as if I am in my zone, when I am being true to myself in all aspects- clothing, studies, interactions, behaviors- I feel as if I belong. No, I don't have a core-group of friends at the moment but that doesn't mean I don't have the ability to feel as if I belong. The key to feeling as if we belong is by building identities that are truly representative of who we are and not wavering from them. We must also continue to reach out to our various friends and strengthen connections with those who feel are similar to us, who we feel comfortable with, who we enjoy spending time, and who bring out the best in us. We can belong anywhere, whether we have a core-group or not, if we are confident and happy with who we are and maintain the friendships that we value most. Lets not be disheartened because we belong right here no matter where here is at the moment.

Look within yourself and you'll find where you belong,
Never forget this or let anyone tell you otherwise!
Moon River, Theme from Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961)


  1. I loved reading this! An insightful journey! An already established group can constrain you within perimeters one can outgrow. You finished this so perfectly. Thanks for the ride.

  2. Your work is really well thought out! Thank you for your encouragement and hard work on the this blog!

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