Perception is not reality. I was reminded of this yesterday at our Mothers of Preschoolers group. I circulated around the room, chatting and laughing with people. A few new moms came in, nervous and unsure, and I was able to help one with her paperwork and get her settled at her table, and escort another one around to the various child-care rooms to drop off her kids and help her find a place where she'd be comfortable. The experience reminded me of how uncomfortable I felt for the first 6 months or so at this group. I was new to town, had 2 small kids, no friends, and wanted to fit in. I remember hanging up my coat and standing alone in the foyer, looking around at the pockets of women talking, desperate to find anyone to glom onto and try to forge a friendship with.
I realized yesterday, with a jolt, that new people likely look at me at our Mothers group and see someone who fits in, is friends with everyone, and belongs. In some ways it's true, especially compared to how I felt for the first year I attended. This is my third year now, and I have made some friends, slowly over a period of time, and I do feel like I belong, especially since I've been on the Steering Team for the last 2 years. However, the people I perceived to be so popular in my first year of attending and wouldn't dream of talking to, I've come to know them a bit and my perception wasn't reality. It seldom ever is. I think that we make up a world, especially when we feel on the outside, and we imagine that everyone happily gets along inside of that fairy-tale place where we don't belong. It simply isn't true. We are all women trying our best, with strengths and weaknesses, to be friendly and have friends, and there are plenty of personality conflicts along the way that those looking from the outside in won't see. The people on the outside feel that there is an inner circle, but such a thing doesn't really exist, and if it does, the inner circle is just as insecure as the outer circle, they just work harder to hide it.
Every once in a while we all need to check the reality against our perceptions. It takes a lot of work to fit into a large group, particularly one made up solely of women, because so often women are trying to put forward an image that doesn't match with reality. In essence, we often try too hard. I was aware of this yesterday for myself - in a way I was "working" the room, and it wasn't until later that I realized how this must look to new moms or women who are naturally shy and feel left out. I have an extroverted personality so it comes much easier for me, but it still requires effort. There are many people I still don't know in our group, a small number I am proud to call friends, and many who are genuinely nice but due to time constraints or personality differences, we are acquaintances and not friends. That's okay. It's simply not possible to be friends with everyone, but I want to work at bringing in the ladies who feel they are on the outside, the ones who probably think I have a million friends in the group and therefore they would never approach me. We don't want to get too comfortable in our safe havens. We must reach out to those who are struggling to find their place in these large social situations. It's important to remember how our actions are perceived, and to remind ourselves that the perception may feel like reality to others.