As a toe-headed, eager 5-year-old, I remember showing up for first grade stylishly dressed in crisp new Garanimals -- remember those? -- and stiff new leather shoes that my mother had picked out for me. She kept telling me how handsome I looked. And I, of course, believed her until I walked into my new classroom to find I was the only boy who wasn't wearing sneakers and jeans.
I didn't mind, though. I kind of liked dressing up for school. And besides, I didn't really like to do things like play in the sand box and get dirty at recess.
Somewhere around fifth or sixth grade, I broke my mother's will. And, for the first time, I headed off to school wearing the coveted jeans and sneakers. But it was an empty victory, because I quickly found that dressing just like everyone else didn't give me a feeling of fitting in.
By the time I made it to high school, I had resolved my wardrobe issues. Since preppy was my thing, jeans and sneakers rarely entered the picture. And that made me a hit with the girls, which confused the hell out of me.
I always seemed to be able to strike up close friendships with popular girls -- so close that many people, including the young women themselves, assumed there was a romantic link between us.
At times, though it was strained, there was. But it didn't satisfy me or any of them.
While I didn't appear to have girl problems, my lack of male friends was a real sticking point with my parents, some of my friends' parents, a few teachers and many of my peers. Not that I didn't want to have more guy friends. It was just that, for me, it was hard to be friends with guys my own age. It brought up complicated feelings that I now know I wasn't ready to face at the time. So once again, I found myself unable to shake the uneasy feeling of not fitting in.
College, I thought, had to be a different situation. Surely my painstakingly chosen, small, liberal arts university would be the perfect place for me. It just had to be. And so I quickly set about the task of fitting in. I met a girl, rushed fraternities, hit the party circuit.
But instead of ending up with the perfect close-knit group of friends -- à la St. Elmo's Fire -- I ended up with bad grades and the freshman 15. So much for my idea of fitting in.
Years later, as a wide-eyed 22-year-old, I came out of the closet and heaved a huge sigh of relief. I was ready to accept myself -- sexuality included. I would finally feel like I fit in, I thought. But you know what? The feeling never came.
It still hasn't. And I am beginning to think I probably won't. And that's OK.
Each year it becomes increasingly clear to me that what really matters is being true to myself -- not trying to fit into categories created by the people around me. Committing myself to the search for true self-understanding, though not always as easy as "fitting in," is what's really worth pursuing. And that's a resolution that should be at the top of my list every month of every new year.
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