what does it mean to belong?

June 11th, 2006

I keep expecting to belong. Belong in my house, belong in my city, belong in my country. Maybe that is the error in my thinking right there, that I expect to. And it's not that I definitely don't belong. But neither do I convincingly belong. And that raises the question: what does it mean to belong? It's not the place alone, I know that much. I've been to Milano, Amsterdam and Paris in the last few years, all supposedly magical places, but I haven't felt the magic. And what is so special about the place where we live? Really just the fact that we live there. So what else is it? The people? Do friends make us belong, feel at home in a city? I've never found it easy to make friends. As a kid I wasn't good at it. And that's telling in a way, because it's easier to meet people now than it was then, but back then when I did make a friend, it was more likely to be someone I really got along with. Nowadays I can meet people all the time, but I don't necessarily enjoy spending time with them. I'm pretty picky at this and maybe it's just down to the fact that my standards are too high. But I just don't like spending time with people I can't really communicate with, people who don't get me. And I don't often meet people who do. Sometimes when I do I try too hard, get my hopes up and in the end it doesn't work out for one reason or another, that can be quite a let down.

I think back to being a kid and feeling that I belong. How did I feel coming home from vacation? What made me enjoy that? I'm not sure, I can't remember it specifically, it was just a feeling of belonging. Maybe it was school to some extent, feeling I belong in that class, with those people. I'm sure it was that among other things. But being part of a group has always been problematic for me. When I watch the World Cup now and I see these players playing for a team I can imagine how they travel together, train together, eat together, hang out in the hotel, all the stuff that goes with being in a group. When I think that I think "that's not for me, that's not who I am". Playing sports, sure it's fun, I've always loved that. But being part of a team, spending time with these people outside the game, I don't like them that much. That part was always a waste to me, I always used to wish in those moments that I was elsewhere. It's probably the reason I've never played on a team for a long time, it's probably what's keeping me from joining a team now.

In a sense it is a nagging feeling of "this not being all that it's supposed to be". I cannot say how many times I've felt that, felt content, felt happy, but not fulfilled. So when do I feel that it's all it can be. When I'm playing sports sometimes. When I have one of those long, meaningful conversations that go on for hours. When I'm working really hard on something just because I want to make it work, which is pretty much the feeling of hacking, making something work not because it's particularly useful, but because it matters then and there.

So where do I belong? And when will I start belonging?

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8 Responses to "what does it mean to belong?"

  1. erik says:

    I relate very strongly to that. I also have a paradox of feeling 'home' at my parents' house and that town where I was born and spent 18 years of my life (same house even!) but when I stay there for longer periods I realise I don't belong there anymore. It's a sad feeling.

    I'm still figuring out where I do belong, or what I need to feel that I am where I belong. It's not a place, I've figured that out during my travels. It's the people for me. But in student life people come and go. It's part of why I no longer enjoy being a student. I don't want to be 'astray' (to use a strong term) anymore...

  2. numerodix says:

    You know I don't understand these people who can be content wherever they are. I haven't known a lot of them, but I have known a few. They go to school in one place, then they move to a different school, take a degree in a different country, take a traineeship abroad and so on. For some of them that's a cycle of 3-4-5 different cities, countries even. They keep moving around. I don't understand how you can be happy that way. I don't understand what drives them. Because it's not part of some master plan, it's very random where they happen to end up, they couldn't tell you a year back what they were planning. They weren't planning at all, it just came up.

  3. Random says:

    The question as to what it means to belong is a very complex one, I can't really answer it myself. I guess it's just a sense of acceptance, who, what and where you belong to gives meaning and context to life.

    I can't speak for everyone but I've moved around a lot and I'm one of those people numerodix spoke of. For me, I'm just happy because I have learnt to only belong to myself and the rare few things that aren't influenced by where you live. If you can find that satisfying than thats enough.

  4. me says:

    hust a question do you feel you know who you are? are you certain about your identity?

  5. Lindy says:

    I think sometimes you know where you belong, but it's a case of 'not wanting to' belong there and secretly hankering to belong somewhere else.
    But maybe it's about realising you don't pick a place, a place picks you.

    Deep down I know I belong in London, UK, but I hate it here, I'm fed up with the place, I've had a hard 25yrs here and I'm bored and I want something else, something more!

    I keep telling myself I belong somewhere else in the world, but maybe I don't. Maybe I'll get there and find I am insanely homesick for London and all that is familiar. My Mum, my friends, my family, my house, my bed, my Heinz Tomato soup.
    But then again maybe I'll get to 'wherever', fall in love, have a family, find new friends who really get me and find another beloved soup.
    Time will tell... but for now, I'll accept London is my fate - even if I am not there.

  6. NOLA says:

    I have been thinking about what it means to belong and it makes sense that it is so hard to figure out. I don't think it has so much to do with place as it does with who raised you, how, and how that eventually leads you to identify with yourself. To belong in my family met to conform, which created all sorts of problems with belonging. Now I realize that I just need to initiate in whatever way; with people, with out people, with tasks, with my thoughts. Helps with alot.

  7. Michelle says:

    For me, to put it simply, to belong is to be accepted, content and comfortable.
    So in society there are many different groups of people, where you belong is where you feel secure and happy I guess. I think one person can belong to many of these groups as there are many sides to a person and we all have different likes and dislikes.
    Me for example, i have friends who like Rock music and dislike R&B whereas i like both, then we'd feel more comfortable talking about Rock music most of the time and i would also have friends that like R&B ect.
    Sometimes one group, one place or one person just can't make us feel totally satisfied, and that's why we have many friends and relationships. Depending on my mood and needs i hang out with different people. Instead of thinking i don't belong to one specific group, I’d like to think i belong in many.
    As one of the replies above points out the difficulties of travelling while maintaining a content private/social life, I think that's more of a ‘living in the moment’ thing, I’ve personally been moving around while studying from city to city. Never once did I felt "alone", I knew my goal and I knew myself, everywhere I went I made new friends but I would still call and email my other friends to catch up, so it wasn’t like I was making new friends and ditched the old ones. I don’t know where my career will take me in the future so I’d like to just be content with what I have now.

  8. mandira says:

    i think you should try to belong to yourself and then you will belong every where ... at least that's how i got over the feeling of not belonging, somewhere inside there are things you cant accept

    you need to find what they are and why you cant accept them. the answers will teach you belong to yourself