Despite all the people I have met in my life, many of whom have become friends or chosen family, I have always felt like I didn’t belong among them. Among my actual family, I feel like I’m not a part of them because I don’t speak Spanish. So when we attend events together, I can’t communicate or relate to them because I can’t understand them. It’s also easy for me to make friends, but it’s hard to keep them. With the many people I have befriended , I notice that I don’t share many interests. I figure we can still be friends despite that, but that hasn’t been the case. Although people have many interests, including movies, TV shows, celebrities, and trips, I would not contribute to the group conversations and end up feeling left out. Well, in the online world that wasn’t the case. I was able to find friends who share similar interests. We would have long talks, get to know each other, and join other groups with people who also share our interests. A new report published by Harvard University suggests that 36% of all Americans—including 61% of young adults and 51% of mothers with young children—feel “serious loneliness.” Not surprisingly, loneliness appears to have increased substantially since the outbreak of the global pandemic. This pandemic has been a problem for many with the lockdown and social distancing, but for a few, it gave them an opportunity to form new friendships and be part of new groups online.
Before the pandemic, we were able to go out and hang out with friends and family at gatherings, parties, reunions, and other events. While we feel that everything should be good at these events, we still feel alone despite being surrounded by the people we care about because no one is talking to us. And now during the pandemic, we’re feeling even more left out and unsure of what to do. We tried to reach out to others, but it looked like no one wanted to do the same with us. So we started looking through the internet to find a friend or group with whom we could connect. Once we find a community through online forums and events, we finally feel like we belong. Now that the world is slowly going back to normal, we can visit with the friends we made online. Are the friendships we make with those we meet online stronger than the friends we have in real life? Does losing your online friends hurt more than losing a friend in real life? Is being in an online group better than being part of a group in real life? In the article Feeling Left Out? Reasons Why and What to Do, the writer suggests you take stock of what you need in a fulfilling friendship or relationship. “Check if your expectations are realistic. People have different expectations from friendships and romantic relationships,” the article states. “Some people need a lot of time together, while others want to have a lot of alone time. While some people prefer to have two or three close friends they do most things with, others prefer to have many friends and acquaintances. As we get older, our friendships change as well.”
In a recent survey, a group of people were asked a series of questions such as, “What is your experience of being an outcast in your family or friend groups?” “What tools helped you to overcome this?” “Which hurt more: being outcasted by friends/group in real life or online?” “With the friends you have now, did you meet them online or in real life first?” And “Why did you seek out an online community?”
One responder, Riku, has also had trouble developing friendships with his peers due to a lack of social skills, but turning toward online communities has helped him create a virtual group of friends. “Video games and Discord were things that helped me get through some tough mental issues because I find it easier to talk online and make friends through mutual interests,” Riku said. “There aren’t many people I’ve met in real life who would come up and talk to me just to get to know me. I’ve always just gone through life being alone so I think meeting the friends I have now through discord possibly saved my life. Without them I know I wouldn’t be here today.”
Similarly to Riku, for my friend group, my social skills are poor to begin with, so I don’t have many friends in real life that would bother inviting me anywhere. Video games and discord mainly were stuff that helped me get through some tough mental issues because I find it easier to talk online and make friends through mutual interests. Being outcast by friends/groups in real-life hurts more. Most of the friends I have now I met online first through Discord, a platform for chatting and streaming online games.
Emi, who studies computer science, is a long-time member of a Discord community for college students. She feels left out due to not having shared interests with others, plus being socially awkward and very quiet. But Emi has found ways to create her own community. Getting a job in customer service and meeting friends online have been two ways that she has made this happen as well as being able to speak with people who share the same interest as her. It has also been great to “be able to play games together instead of being alone,” she said. Also, possibly losing those online friends would hurt more for her than her real-life friend.
Kay, another user of the Discord platform, has also felt left out from family and friends much like Emi and Riku. Kay has been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder and finds it hard to relate to people. “I’ve always felt like I don’t really fit in with the people around me because no one really understood my emotions,” she said. “I’ve always been the weird girl, emo, and extra.” Even though Kay has received a ton of help thanks to therapy, she is still misunderstood by others. When comparing her online friends to her real life friends, Kay found it harder to be outcast by her real life friends. “I’ve always been shy when it comes to making friends, but when I’m online it’s just so much easier to talk to people,” she added. “Almost everyone I’m friends with online is totally understanding and doesn’t really judge all the stupid stuff I do or am into.”
The article “Why Feeling Left Out Stings + 8 Healthy Ways to Cope” encourages those who are feeling isolated to break their silence. “When you’re feeling left out, sitting and stewing in feelings of rejection and loneliness won’t change your circumstances.” As someone who tends to spend their time alone quite often, I would sometimes dwell in that feeling of loneliness. Other times, I’d immediately text my friends to see if they were free or to see what was up with them since people’s schedules tend not to line up with one another. You never know what’s happening with the other person either, or it takes a message to have them realize you haven’t hung out in a long time.
Ms. Jones is a recently retired guidance counselor. At first, her interest was in family counseling, but that later became counseling school-aged children. “The work of the counselor is to improve the individual’s self-esteem, not to focus on the reasons why others alienate that individual,” Ms. Jones said. At this prime age of being a teenager, they have a strong desire to be part of a social group, but being part of this social group to a teenager is the same as asking someone who they are. Without being in a group or worse, getting rejected by one, the teen feels a lower self-esteem. While growing up in the 1960s, Ms. Jones felt misunderstood not just by family but by others due to dramatic cultural shifts and the generational differences between parents and children that often occur. “Yes, I have often counseled students who have experienced rejection from their peers and others,” she said. “I have tried to help students to define their identities. It is not a good idea to compare yourself to others. Identify your strengths, be open to change, and be realistic.” It’s good to express your thoughts to others and to professionals that can help you understand these feelings better. Find what makes you happy, and surround yourself with friends, family, or anyone who wants to share in your happiness.
Justin Ramous, a student at Hostos College, studies in-game designing, likes video games, and hangs out with friends. Within his family, he didn’t feel like an outcast, but he felt this way among his friends. “I somewhat felt like an outcast among my friends because I’m not very smart like them or funny like some friends, but they [didn’t make me] an outcast.” Besides friends, Justin also felt like an outcast with his classmates. During his freshman year of high school, Justin got into an incident with a female classmate. While they were hanging out and talking, the female classmate started to make comments about him, so Justin thought it was a joke and did the same to her. However, she didn’t like that and went to the teacher to tell on him, and he got in trouble for it despite the female student having done the same to him. Since getting in trouble, most of his classmates have disliked him and avoided him. “I felt sad at first, but I overcame this experience by not caring what others think of me because I wasn’t there for them,” he said. “I was there for my education. I did nothing different. I will rather be disliked for being myself than for being a sellout and being fake.” For Justin, this experience didn’t have much effect on him, but his life did change a little bit. “It made me want to make sure that no one ever feels that way,” he said.
While Justin felt ostracized by his friends, Athena Matos, a youth advocate at the Uptown Hub, felt shunned by her family. She was kicked out of her home by her mother after being forced to come out about her sexuality. “It was kind of like she kind of knew and was forcing it so I was never in a position where I was ready to say something,” she said. “And when I did, I got a black plastic bag—a big one. And pretty much, she said, anything that fits in here is mine to take because I have to leave the house.” There are numerous reasons why people get left out; it can stem from culture, religion, education, or not having shared interests. She suggests digging into the dynamics of why the outcast occurs. “Then you have to also look at the people who are doing the outcast thing,” she adds. People outcast others due to their own insecurity and no fault of the person they outcasted. “I still am myself and I’m like, I wasn’t mean to them. I didn’t do anything wrong. I didn’t hurt them. You know, in any kind of way, I wasn’t anything negative to me. That’s just a reflection of them, and they’re projecting it on me.”