January 10, 2016

How to Survive as a Misfit in the Suburbs: 4 ways of Combating Displacement.

skateboard, high heels

I am sitting here in the laundromat while my clothes spin through one more cycle. It’s warm here. And fragrant. And peopled with an eclectic crowd—the young Mexican man with a weepy toddler in his arms, the ageing hippy whose patchouli cloud rivals the blue ocean fabric softener, the elderly Russian couple whose boisterous conversation punctuates the white noise of the dryers.

It strikes me that this is the most at home I have ever felt in this town.

This is a town of mocha lattes from Starbucks and church on Sundays and wardrobes from Abercrombie and Fitch while I am Turkish coffee and temple on the High Holy days and thrift store chic.

This town is triathlon runners’ and mom’s clubs outings and important office jobs while I am walking in the woods, dance clubs, and scrappy struggling writer.

This town is card carrying Republican and sixth generation American and vacations in Bermuda while I am bleeding heart liberal and first generation and backpacking in Belize.

This town is pop songs on the radio and neatly suburban and lawn guys and cleaning ladies and grocery delivery while I am indie melodies and urban dreaming, and weeds and dust and discount produce stores.

Here, I am an imposter, a misfit, a mess of a girl who married into prosperity and order.

I used to waver from revelling in my weirdo status to wallowing in loneliness. But, recently, I’ve tried some new approaches.

Here are the four most effective strategies I’ve found for combating that feeling of displacement:

1. Reach out to the friends I’ve made pre-marriage, pre-kids, pre-suburbs.

If I could go back in time I would congratulate my younger self for picking such fabulous friends. These are my peeps, my support group, mi familia. They’re the ones who knew me when I was just an unformed thought. The ones who grew together and then separately from me, but all from the same wild, creative, weirdo roots.

When I’m feeling out of place, there’s nothing like an old friend to remind me that I do still have a spot, even if it can only be reached through the phone lines or via wifi or sometimes just telepathically. Just knowing that they’re still out there, doing their quirky thing is a comfort. Best of all, I had the good fortune of marrying one of those quirky old friends. Realizing that he still appreciates all of my idiosyncrasies helps stave off loneliness

2. Give the straights a chance.

I have spent far too long discounting people for not being “different” enough. Recently I’ve made an effort to reach out to more people, even if they don’t fit my pre-conceived notions of what makes someone interesting.

What I found out is that that type A PTA mom (who honestly scared the shit out of me) does improv on the weekends, that the business man who works in my coffee shop was in the Peace Corp, that the fitness obsessed lady in my neighborhood has a razor sharp wit, that the polished young professional couple I chatted with at the grocery store are secretly swingers.

I realized that, in order to live a life “outside of the box” I was putting other people “into the box,” people that I’d never even had a real conversation with.

The truth is we are all multi-faceted individuals. Even someone who has lived a “traditional” life has stories to tell, wisdom to be garnered.

3. Stretch your boundaries.

For a long time I was nervous about joining groups like Wholistic Mamas or Wild Women because, really, I wasn’t exactly any of those things. But, what I learned is that there were lots more people like me. People who had one foot in a traditional lifestyle while the other tip toed out to test less chartered waters.

Getting to know these people has changed my outlook on life, broadened my horizons, and caused me to realize that I am not nearly as out-there as I thought. In fact, in many of these circles, I am the conservative one.

4. Find quirky haunts.

Even the most affluent white bread towns have rabbit holes. You just have to do a little exploring to find them. It could be a once-a-month poetry slam at the bar downtown or drum circles at the Unitarian church or even a motley crew hanging in the laundromat waiting room. There are all sorts of ways to find them… stapled down leaflets at the coffee shop, meetup.com, or just the dumb luck of having your washer and dryer break.


Author: Lela Casey

Editor: Katarina Tavčar

Photo: Allie Holzman/Flickr

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