Tribes

Tribes

Over the past few weeks, I’ve spent time with dozens of people from wide-ranging walks of life—from my brokest, most liberal friends to my blue-collar, conservative family members, from suburban high school buddies to that one Porsche-driving, senior executive pal (you want him to be an asshole because UGH RICH PEOPLE AMIRITE but then he’s one of the greatest people in the world, which is both infuriating and why he’s one of only two men to be featured on Adrift on Purpose so far), from West Coast to Midwest, from lifelong connections to new acquaintances—and while some interactions leave me full, others leave me depleted.

Especially at home in the Midwest, conversations haven’t felt as fulfilling as I’m used to. I think it’s because I’m talking to so many people outside my tribe—people who, through no fault of their own, aren’t able to relate or even understand me or my experiences.

In California, I surrounded myself with like-minded people who were also queer or liberal or vegan/vegetarian or sardonic or dealing with mental health struggles or just trying to find ways to relax and be happy. I found a lot of laid back, compassionate, and ambitious people. People who sought adventure and were health-conscious and maybe a little woo-woo. People who had a lot of relationships. People who lived to entertain. The people I chose often responded to anecdotes with some version of, “Yes! Me too!”

I’m just now realizing the power of that kind of validation, the way we relate to each other through shared experiences and grow by finding people who bring out certain qualities we want to expand in ourselves and stretch us to become who we want to be. When you share some common ground, the Yes! Me too! helps you feel connected and normal, like you’re on the right path.

Conversations outside the tribe often feature responses like:

  • “Wow.”
  • “Interesting.”
  • “Neat!”
  • “Weird.”
  • “You’re so brave.”
  • “That’s cool.”
  • “Huh.”
  • “What’s that like?”

You end up volleying unrelated stories, interviewing one another, or talking about the most mundane common ground, like other people or the weather. (To be fair, the weather in the Midwest is BANANAS. We’ve gone through three climate changes in the time it’s taken me to write this far.)

Nothing is wrong with this kind of conversation, and it’s an invaluable life skill to be able to talk to anyone at any time (one I’ve certainly not mastered but which I try to improve by forcing myself to creep around the edges of conversation circles at networking events until someone politely lets me in so I can pretend to be equally enthused about the future of automated email marketing). You just can’t expect to get the same kind of connection from an interaction like this as you do from talking with a person who really understands the nooks and crannies of you.

Part of the goal of nomadism is developing a better understanding of the world and the space I want to inhabit within it. While I don’t want to be closed off in one of those much-maligned Liberal Bubbles (terrible places where we RESPECT EACH OTHER and EMBRACE DIFFERENCES), I do want to prioritize time with the tribe. Those are the people who keep me grounded, who help me push forward, who make me feel like everything is okay. Even when I’m adrift in every other area of life, I feel anchored by a simple, “Yes! Me too!”

When you’re understood—really, deeply understood—by another human being, you begin to feel like the world is friendly and you have a place in it. I’ve been lucky enough to experience that feeling, and now I can’t do without it. I won’t.

 

Too Soon to Tell

Too Soon to Tell

My sister gets married this weekend. As festivities ramp up, I’m coming to terms with how much EXPLAINING I have to do about my situation. I keep seeing people I haven’t seen in ages, and they want to know things like how my life is, why I’m a nomad, and what I plan to do next.

If I were being honest, I’d answer:

  • My life is—NOT GREAT. I’m filled with regret over leaving a stable environment and fear that I’ll walk backward into a version of myself I worked so hard to leave behind. Most of the time, I’m thinking about money. Obsessing. Terrified. I miss privacy and being in control of my environment. I still have nightmares in which all of my car windows get smashed in. I miss everyone I left behind. I miss mountains. I miss serenity.
  • I’m a nomad because—I’m an UNSATISFIABLE MONSTER. I had a perfect life in San Diego—perfect—and I was still unhappy. If I understood why, I probably wouldn’t have thrown away every good thing I had just to see what would happen if I did. BUT I DID OKAY.
  • Next I plan to—Is “lie in the fetal position and cry” an option? Because that’s all I want to do, pretty much all the time.

While I know this period of turmoil is part of an adjustment process and things will get better in time, I’m still very much in it right now. This makes small talk deeply uncomfortable. When I hint at the truth of my situation, people are quick to look for the silver lining. “But doesn’t it feel liberating?” If you mean I’m liberated from HALF MY WARDROBE and my SENSE OF WELLBEING, then yes. Very liberating indeed.

When I try to play up the good parts of my life, I can hear the effort and how unconvincing it is. I utter bullshit phrases like, “It’s been really fun and interesting,” while my head screams OH GOD I SPENT ALL MY MONEY and, “Life’s too short not to try it, right?” to the tune of IT BETTER BE BECAUSE I’M ABOUT TO TAP THOSE RETIREMENT SAVINGS.

Surely, they can see the farce. No one believes the plastered-on smiles, the attempts to paint pretty pictures over the crumpled canvases of our lives. It’s like your recently divorced friend telling you about their newfound freedom and purpose when you know underneath their words is I stalk his new girlfriend on Instagram every night while binge-eating Cheetos—DON’T JUDGE ME. (Lord knows I’ve been that friend.)

Going through chaos is embarrassing enough without feeling like everyone can see right through you, without having to dance to some optimistic melody to make your conversational partner feel better despite your both knowing it’s a big stinking charade. Sometimes the only thing you want is to say, “I’m not okay right now. I hope someday I will be, but I’m not yet,” and then not immediately walk it back, not toss glitter on it, not pretend you were JUST KIDDING LOLOLOOOOOOOOL.

I do believe I’ll be okay—at least, I hope I will—but I have no idea whether it will be on this path or not. It’s too soon to tell.

My fantasy for this wedding is that when people ask about my life, I meet inquiries with, “It’s too soon to tell,” thus completely satisfying my conversational partners’ curiosity and causing them immediately to switch to more interesting matters like how great the cake is (it’s vegan-friendly FANTASY CAKE) or which White House staffers got a rose this week and will be advancing to the next round.

Of course, I’ll play my part. I’ll answer questions and accept silver linings and smile through it all like the super-amazing, reliable older sister I am, but deep down, I’ll be pining for a more honest exchange.

“I don’t know right now,” I could say.

And they could tell me, “It’s okay, you don’t have to.”

Wouldn’t that be nice?