The Outdoors Taught Me To Go With the Flow
Social floating: a term implying lack of depth. Social flowing? Not judging myself for how I naturally am.
by Lee Phillips
I’ve never started off an essay with a confession before, but here goes. My entire life, I’ve hopped from friend group to friend group, cycling through close “best friends.” I broke hearts in elementary school. In middle school and high school, I bounced around different social circles. When I was a freshman, I made friends with seniors. By the time I was a senior myself, and my older friends had left, all the people in my grade had made good friends without me.
Then when I moved to New York, it seemed that everything centered around social circles. There were more genres of it than ever before: the fashion parties, the scene kids who went out every night and always had a table somewhere. There were the different art scenes, people who gravitated toward each other because of creative impulse. No matter what brought them together, I marveled at people’s ability to form large groups of friends and then actually, consistently, get together to do the cute stuff — go ice skating or throw dinner parties.
At one point, early in my New York days, I made a conscious decision to infiltrate as many groups as I could. It wasn’t as sinister as the word infiltrate makes it sound. I simply wanted to take part in the social groups that I admired, and I knew I’d have to be intentional about it to make it happen. I vibed with everyone from the LES rough and tumble to the fashion snobs to the ravers and the Bushwick filmmakers. Eventually though, I’d always move on, drifting apart, or outgrowing. And while my contact list expanded, I still didn’t really belong anywhere.
The truth is: I am a detached, non-committal, social floater. But I’d always felt like there was something wrong with me for it. I am in no way a cold person, so why didn’t I have a community or big friend group? Could I just not be contained? Or did I have commitment issues? Was I a free spirit or a social climber?
Okay alone. Lee wears The Exercise Dress in Scarlet (left) and Pickup 1/4 Zip in Dove/Bone (right).
For the first time, I wasn’t inundated with the feeling that I had to go out. It was the total opposite. I had to stay in, and I loved it.
When the pandemic hit, all those questions got tossed out of the window. There’s nothing like a global crisis to put a pause on existential ponderings. Like so many others, I went into survival mode. It wasn’t about what I wanted anymore, it was about staying safe — and that meant being alone.
When one of my followers asked me how I dealt with the “crippling anxiety” of not being able to socialize, my simple response was “I don’t need to.” For the first time, I wasn’t inundated with the feeling that I had to go out. It was the total opposite. I had to stay in, and I loved it. And when I felt ready, I explored the mysterious outdoors with a new sense of self. I was recharged.
Without the preconceived ideas of social fulfillment, a space opened up where I could simply just be me and enjoy it. Suddenly, opting to connect outwards wasn’t filled with comparison or questioning. There were no bars to be invited to, no parties to miss, no FOMO or people to run into. It was just me, the fresh air, and the ground beneath my feet. It felt good because it came naturally to me. Isn’t that what a social life is all about? We say “if it’s meant to be, it will be” about romantic relationships, but why can’t we keep this same energy with our social ones?
Even the term social floater sounds wrong, tied up in negative connotations. Floating implies a lack of depth. It feels judgmental. Social flowing — now that’s more like it. Social flowing means that when I turn toward the world, I’m grounded in intuition. I’m listening to what I truly want from my social life, allowing that change, and not judging myself for how I naturally am. What social flowing does not mean is dragging myself out of bed and going to a party when I don’t want to. It doesn’t mean forcing small talk with people I don’t have anything in common with anymore, and it definitely doesn’t mean making lists of my friendships and treating them like a to-do list. (Yea, I did that.)
These days, it looks like solo walks around my neighborhood and doing yoga in my room. It means spending quality time with my man and dressing up for dance parties with my roommates in our living room. I’m learning to take stock of all the small things, the couple minutes in between meetings when I can look out my window for a second. Instead of wishing it was sunny, I’m accepting the cold and grey. I’m playing in the snow like a little kid, making igloos and snowmen and having snowball fights and sledding. The other day I took a hike into the woods. Despite the snow on the ground, I was captured by the beauty of the barren trees. Leafless vines twisted in all directions around them. Juxtaposed against the white sky, it looked like a masterpiece.
These things that before might’ve bored me are now full of excitement and life. It turns out, when I’m not in my head about situations, I’m able to be present. When I allow myself to be me, my true-life essence is freed. And it makes everything feel so much more special, a fog lifted to reveal everything in full color. There is a profound beauty in letting go of control. That’s all that flow is, and it’s what the natural world does all around us all the time.
Even when I don’t have time to escape into the woods, I can see flow in the tree outside my bedroom window or the pigeons making nests under the subway tracks. I even see it in other humans, kids chasing each other down the sidewalk or swimming in an open fire hydrant. Flow is the force of life, and it’s unconcerned with what it looks like, or whose watching. The vines I marveled at weren’t concerned with what tree they were growing on, or whether the tree next to it was better. They just were, and that’s something I’m finally starting to understand.
Lee Phillips is a freelance writer and narrative director living in New York. She likes writing fiction, poetry, screenplays, and oversharing in personal essays.
Edited by Joanne Xu. Featured photos courtesy of Lee Phillips.
How have your social perspectives changed this year? We want to hear below.