Where do you belong? Do you know? Are you sure?
Does your family belong to you? What about your children? Perhaps I should rephrase: From what people, groups, activities, locations do you take your sense of grounding and belonging?
My sense of belonging has evolved over the years. And while I do not feel entirely at home anywhere, I recognize that I never have – with the pros and cons that inevitably result – leaving me with a sort of rootlessness, as well as adaptability.
I also understand that for those who may feel disconnected from family – emotionally or geographically – there may beat a stronger desire to belong to another person. Perhaps that is a spouse, a sibling, a group of friends, an organization, or those you see through a religious affiliation. For others, a similar early disconnection may set the stage for a fiercely independent streak, taking distance from belonging to anything or anyone – except oneself.
Communities We Frequent
My communities have evolved over the years, including both real and virtual connections.
Where I once took great pride in belonging to certain professional organizations, I now find greater satisfaction in an eclectic assortment of individual contacts. And though I make my living in part online, compared to many of my friends, I’m relatively disconnected from platforms that are in popular “personal” use.
This isn’t to say I don’t enjoy my interactions online. Clearly, I do. But I post rarely to Facebook about matters to do with my private or family life, I tweet rarely about my everyday doings, and when it comes to social media, I prefer the “social” in emails, telephone or Skype, while pleased to use most available platforms more frequently as “media.”
I rarely Facebook with my kids; I prefer talking and listening. I rarely Facebook with distant friends; again I prefer the more leisurely written word or the chipper exchange of voices by cell.
Do Our Communities Define Us? Comfort Us? Enrich Us?
As for communities and a personal sense of belonging, I miss a variety of groups that once enriched my life. These include arts groups and business groups and writers groups; the first two I generally participated in via “real” means, and for many years before writing online, I was pleased to discover writers groups in which I participated as early as the mid-late 1990s.
I also miss the camaraderie of “motherhood” that – however busy – was especially helpful when children are young. As irritating as PTA and Parent’s Nights at elementary school can be, even now, I can recreate the sheer happiness of being around so many proud little people – my kids and their friends.
Once upon a time, before marriage and parenthood, my undergrad alumnae network was a source of friendship, contacts and belonging.
During and after divorce, some 20 years later, I was unaware of the online communities that could have helped. “Belonging” would have meant solace, and likely greater perspective. But there was nothing at the time of the sort that has existed for the past five to eight years, best I can tell. If there had been, I would have felt less isolated, been better informed, and safeguarded by the warmth of these empathetic communities.
The Need to Belong
Some of us are less likely to be joiners, which isn’t to say that we’re loners exactly; we may have many reasons for not participating in available communities including time, money and access.
Some of us seem to require a sense of belonging more than others. I’ve observed this in friends, I see it in myself, I note it in those I’ve worked with over the years. And of course we’re familiar with notions of romantic belongingness of the “you belong to me” variety.
In fact, Psychology Today tells us:
Roy Baumeister and Mark Leary (1995) argue that the need to belong is a fundamental human need to form and maintain at least a minimum amount of lasting, positive, and significant interpersonal relationships. Satisfying this need requires (a) frequent, positive interactions with the same individuals, and (b) engaging in these interactions within a framework of long-term, stable care and concern.
I have found all those elements at one time or another in real world and online groups, and in certain personal relationships. What about you?
Belonging Feels Good
Considering the description above of the elements inherent in creating a sense of belonging, surely the stability and caring we feel is a vital motivator to find others in what can be a harsh, isolated, frazzled existence. That said, as we’re all wired differently and seek differing levels of outside approval, the importance of belonging is likely to vary by temperament and circumstances.
As I said, I would’ve been thrilled to have found a “divorced mother” community 8 or 10 years ago, and for that matter, I need to shore up and reach out to find some additional professional communities that are of interest today.
I wish I had the time for a “reading” community, and I confess that I’m wildly envious of those who are able to join online book groups. (I tell myself repeatedly… someday!)
At this stage in my life, these desires to belong are less about need and identity, and more about pleasure. Likewise, one of the pleasures of the passage of time is hoping to serve as a resource for others as so many have done For me.
- What communities do you frequent offline and online?
- Do you see yourself as one who listens, who participates, or who potentially leads?
- Are there online communities you find especially fun or helpful?
- Do you view your time online as productive and personally beneficial?
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