Outside Looking In

Jan 3, 2020

For about half of my life, I’ve felt like an outsider looking in. As far as I can tell, this started back in middle school when my parents moved me from one school to another. In my previous school I’d been the popular kid and a teachers’ pet, so I naively took all that bluster and confidence with me to the new school. This ultimately culminated in a dressing-down by the class teacher with my classmates taking turns complaining about me. Rather unpleasant as far as experiences go, and the stain of shame stuck with me all the way to graduation.

Going to college helped me fit in with my peers, but the feeling of being an outsider returned after I graduated from college and joined the workforce. I was the youngest kid in the company I was working at, and working with middle-aged parents wasn’t exactly the most fun experience ever. In high school I’d felt inferior to my classmates, here I felt superior to my colleagues who had no hobbies or interests. In both cases, I didn’t see myself fitting in and subsequently felt misunderstood and alone. Part of this was a cultural clash - the path most self-respecting Indians followed in life was:

  1. Get pushed out a vagina
  2. Go to school and study
  3. Go to college and study
  4. Get a job
  5. Marry the person your parents picked for you and pop out a few kids
  6. Sacrifice the rest of your life so your kids can follow this algorithm

Unfortunately, I grew up reading books written by western authors about life in the west. While my peers were watching the sappy trash that Bollywood puts out at a regular cadence, I grew up with movies like The Pursuit of Happyness and Serendipity. As a result, I wanted a life where I could pursue my dreams. I wanted to find someone and fall madly in love rather than have a business-like marriage. Did I feel superior to everyone else around me? Yes, most definitely, and I’m not proud of it. But a part of me also envied the people around me. I sort of felt like Cipher from the Matrix. Having taken the red pill, wide awake to the reality around me and wishing like hell that I could go back to sleep and languish in ignorance.

The feeling of being an outsider came back stronger than ever when I moved to the states. I expected the opposite to happen - after all, this was the life I’d been pining for all along. It should’ve felt like I’d finally reached my destination. But all of my insecurities came crawling out of the woodwork - insecurity about my heavy Indian accent, my early baldness, even the color of my skin. I looked for help online, found some recommendations to work out and started lifting. Losing fat and gaining muscles turned out to be exactly what I needed - I shed some of my body image issues and became a tad more confident in public. Graduating and joining Amazon in Seattle helped out more - I was lucky enough to get into a team of friendly engineers who welcomed me warmly and helped me feel at home. Talking to a therapist helped me identify some of the negative self-talk I’d been indulging in and set me on a path of constantly expanding my comfort zone. Life became exciting again, and I felt like I finally belonged; not because my environment had changed, but because I had. I felt secure in my identity, and no longer felt the need to change myself to appease others.

Which brings us to the here and now, dear reader. A few weeks ago I had the privilege of being dumped rather abruptly and unceremoniously by someone I’m crazy about. She didn’t have a strong reason for breaking up with me, just that she didn’t feel “that spark”. And the lack of a strong reason for being dumped simply left me agonizing over everything I said and did, wondering which combination of actions led to the breakup - a downward spiral I was stuck in until a friend assured me that it wasn’t anything I’d done. An unexpected side-effect of being dumped in this fashion - by someone I did feel “that spark” for - is that the feeling of being an outsider has reared its ugly head once more. Looking back at the last paragraph, I suspect this is because I’d been thinking about what I could’ve done differently to prevent being dumped, and this feeling of “I’m not good enough” is somehow tied to the feeling of not belonging. The onset was rather unexpected and sudden (similar to the break-up I guess, which was also unexpected and sudden): one moment I was at a pub devouring a po’boy and chatting with a friend, the next I was looking around at a sea of perfectly happy faces - with perfect teeth, clear, white skin, brown hair and blue/green eyes - and feeling like something the cat had dragged in. The feeling was so palpable that part of me wanted to just get up and bolt from that place. Thankfully, calmer heads prevailed and the urge passed soon enough.

One of the last things my therapist said to me (she had a baby and decided to take a break from work) is “you deserve to be loved, same as everyone else”. It wasn’t the first time she’d said something to that effect, but it didn’t really resonate with me. What does that even mean? You “deserve” something if you’ve earned it in some way. One can deserve love in a particular relationship, I don’t think it’s possible to generically deserve love in a non-specific manner. Maybe it’s just a matter of semantics though; if she’d told me that I’m lovable, I probably would’ve burst into tears. Because I think that’s one of my major hang-ups: at particularly low points in life (like this one I guess) I believe that I am inherently unlovable.