If you have read my previous post Nearly Nomad you will know I have a concept of community involvement I call “The Tramp Theory”. In short this theory states that people who live particularly independently/transiently experience a unique form of what I would call “fear of missing out”.
In my mind I remember this scene from Lady and the Tramp (which I haven’t seen for years), maybe at this point it is a scene in my mind alone, I couldn’t tell you whether it is actually in the movie. Essentially, the scene I’m thinking of is Tramp looking through a bay window at a happy family with their kids and their dog and there’s a certain wistfulness in his expression, though up until this point he has been preaching the benefits of being able to live your own life on the streets.
For people who move around (personally, I spend eight months of the year at university and four months wherever I can find a job while interspersing that time with trips home and the occasional holiday) I think this feeling may not be uncommon. You see a community and they’re dynamic and involved with each other and a part of you wishes you had those long-term connections.
I often look at the few friends I have, many of whom have spent most of their lives very close to their hometowns and maintained friendships from elementary school and high school, and feel a pang of jealousy. Honestly, I have had good and bad experiences hopping about the way I do (before entering university I varied my location considerably more), but for the most part I don’t regret them as they have taught me a lot. What I do regret is never building a really natural skill for developing friends.
I would consider myself an introvert but in person I come across very outgoing and bubbly–maybe even a little domineering or over-confident– this exterior appearance of assurance though, has not aided me in developing the depth of friendships I desire. I have very few phone numbers in my phone and the vast majority of the good friends I have are spread out across the country (and a few across the world). I honestly can count the number of people I would consider “friends” on two hands.
Growing up I had a group of friends I fell into simply by vicinity (and parental interference): until the age of eight or so I lived on a block with lots of kids on it and we all got along (I mean block-wide water fights type got along), when we moved from there to a new school I again developed a decent sized group of friends (the popular group for want of another generalization). It was a falling out at the age of ten that really started me towards Tramp-hood. I decided I didn’t like how the other popular girls behaved and distanced myself somewhat, and they took offence as only little girls can. From that period on I don’t think I’ve ever had more than two friends in one place at once, and certainly never had a community of people in one place.
Don’t get me wrong, I have some really amazing friends, but one tends to be two hundred kilometre in that direction, another five hundred in that direction, and so on. I just don’t have one central community of people I can text and say, “Lets get together and play board games!” and actually get enough people to play something that requires more than three players.
The idea behind what I call the Tramp Effect is a degree of envy towards more stable people I suppose. The Tramp Effect is when you feel like your pressing your nose against the glass watching a community of people interact in a beautiful way but feel an invisible barrier between you and those people. You might be standing in the room, you may even be involved in the interaction somehow, but you are still at a distance from the intimacy of the community.
I often experience this when I visit my sister’s community. During university my sister developed amazing connections with people both at university and outside university via young adult groups, church activities, studying together, and mutual acquaintances that never fails to leave me awestruck. She generally spends at least two meals a week with large groups of friends and even more of them with smaller groups, she has had fabulous roommates and is an extremely gracious host, she can organize birthday parties and going away parties with ease and there is always a good turnout, and she participates in a myriad of evening activities as a volunteer or as an observer or participant.
I have been privy to these meetings when I visit her and her friends are universally accepting however I find every interaction feels as though it has a caveat–Oh, that’s ______’s sister, of course we’ll be welcoming, of course we’ll humour her. Now, I know this is a bad perspective to operate from but it has been my default all my life. My mind always niggles me with thoughts; Oh, they’re just talking to me to be nice; Oh, I don’t want to text them and suggest doing something if they might feel obligated to do something with me even though they don’t really like me that much.
I’ve mentioned this theory to a number of people and explained it and I generally get one of three responses:
- “You just need to put yourself out there! Commit to an activity–that’s why your sister has such a great community, she gets out there and does stuff!” To this I say, easier said than done. As I told you earlier I think I come across almost overly transparent and outgoing, but I have found it seems to put people off more often than not. Further, I spend so much time trying not to have a resting bitch-face or attempting not to speak as bluntly as I would without a filter that I tire out. Past that, I just hate imposing on people or putting them in an awkward spot–I don’t want to invite myself to something someone else doesn’t explicitly want me at, or what if they don’t want to come but feel obligated when I invite them, plus my preferred activities often don’t align with others (think reading, knitting and watching a movie, going for a long walk, or going to a pet store to pet kittens). I also hate being blown off when I do make a plan with someone (because I spend so much time hyping myself up to actually participate in something) that people being flaky makes me nervous to make any plan to begin with.
- “I totally get that! I feel like that all the time!” Coming from the person with five friends waiting a few steps away because they want to hang out. I have nothing against this person, they may actually feel exactly that way, but it is sort of hard to believe. Regardless, they at least have enough people they text regularly to have a group chat or a games night, or go fishing with (can you tell I really want to go fishing?).
- “I know, but really having tonnes of friends isn’t important–its about quality.” I get the whole quality over quantity argument but it doesn’t help the no-one is available to hang out blues. Also, the Tramp Effect isn’t really about having more friends but about having a good community. It’s about that base group of people some of whom may be only acquaintances, but most of whom you are comfortable texting to hang out.
I think part of the difficulty is that making finding friend groups as an adult is nothing like as a kid or teenager. When you are younger they sort of fall into your life.
What do you think? Do you feel the Tramp Effect at times? How do you find a community as an adult? (Any other closet introverts out there?)