I am not, by nature, a loyal person.
Connecting with other people has always been difficult for me. Although I come from a close-knit family and have been a serial monogamist in romantic relationships, when it comes to groups of friends or associates I tend to shy away. I truly enjoy interacting with people, especially those with whom I share similar interests, but I have a little problem with commitment. When things start to move too fast, and it starts getting too close, I bail. Once the fun wears off and things get serious, I don’t want to stick around. To be honest, I’m a bit of a player. I like the flirtatious rush at the beginning, but I don’t want to deal with the long-term time and energy investment.
I’ve been a member of a Catholic Bible study group, a running club, and even a swing dance syndicate. (Hey, swing dance was a thing in the late 1990s/early 2000s. Don’t act like you don’t remember.) I went to their homes, their parties, their events. Eventually, though, I felt cramped by the commitment and began to put more and more distance between myself and my various social groups until I disconnected myself completely.
My longest standing “group” relationship has been with the young professionals crowd at my city’s modern art museum. On paper I seem like a perfect fit. I live in a trendy part of town. I love art. As much as I despise hipsters and yuppies (the major demographic of the young professionals group), I’m a blend of both with just a dash of hippie thrown in. I’m still skimming under the age limit, although I will not be in the “under 40 friends” category for much longer. I’ve been a member of this group for over ten years, but I consider only one of them a friend.
I am a lone wolf, an Ebenezer Scrooge, a ghost.
I knew my relationship with the modern art group was fading fast at an event last Friday. The event, which was held at an offsite gallery downtown, featured the work of a local artist, and more importantly, a donut food truck. I rarely get dressed up and go out, and I had been looking forward to this event for weeks.
Thirty seconds into the event, I wanted to leave. There I was in a cramped room, sipping mediocre wine, looking at mediocre art, and surrounded by people I didn’t know and had no interest in getting to know better. I loathed the thought of being dragged into the false-cheery, superficial, “What do you do? Oh, interesting! Oh, and what do you do?” vicious circle of vacuous conversation. I realized with a sinking feeling that I had absolutely nothing in common with these people other than an appreciation for art.
I missed my dojang, my classmates, and my instructors, and found myself thinking more about the color belt students who were testing that night than the people milling around in front of me in the gallery. I turned on my heel, bought a Cinnamon Toast Crunch donut from the food truck, which made the otherwise dull outing worth it, and rushed home. As I ate my donut in my fortress of solitude (WORTH IT!) I eagerly gazed at Facebook posts from testing students and parents of testing students and looked forward to when I could see everyone in class the following Monday.
It’s been said that you “just know” when you’re in love, and I think the same can be said for when you know you’ve finally found your tribe. It’s taken me over thirty years to find a group of people besides family that I can be loyal to. The funny thing is, I wasn’t really looking for a “community” when I began taekwondo training. I took up taekwondo because I wanted to put a stop to my self-destructive behaviors and do something good for myself. What I didn’t expect to get was camaraderie, closeness, and a desire to serve. Now I have two families.
Maybe the reason why I feel so at ease in my dojang and am willing to stay late, help out, listen, learn, and finally make a commitment to a group of people I’m not linked to by blood is this: I went into the relationship with no expectations. I wasn’t trying to figure out how I could use anyone to fill some kind of void. I wasn’t vying for anyone’s attention or approval, and perhaps for those reasons, my very high walls began to crumble. They bring out the best in me, which sadly hasn’t been the case with my other relationships.
So maybe that’s the trick to finding your tribe, in whatever form that may be: when you’re willing to give more than you get, you’ve found them. When you don’t hold anyone to the impossible expectation of making you feel better about yourself (because that’s your job, not theirs), you’ve found them. When you find yourself thinking about them often and counting the days until you can see them again, you’ve found them.
Meanwhile, I think it might be time to change my membership level at the modern art museum.