For as long as I remember myself, fitting in had been terribly important. A sense of being or doing something like everybody else gave me a warm glow and a sense of belonging; being "out of tune" made me feel like an outcast, someone who will never feel comfortable. I desperately longed to learn the steps of the dance, and every stumble brought me immense frustration. I guess it is natural when we are young, and even when we are older.
In addition, school, and later university framed my life. The order of it made me feel secure. I didn't have to question what I was doing and when. Also, being a bookworm who had already learned it all at home, I had the opportunity to please my superiors (the teachers) and help other students. It was a great confidence boost.
Fast forward a few years, I got on the track of teshuva (becoming religiously observant). This changed a lot, but not all. While the identity of my new group/community changed, the desire to belong, to fit in, did not. I simply had new ideas now about how my life is supposed to look, how I'm supposed to behave, in order to be like everybody else, to be inconspicuous, to avoid standing out.
There were new, but no less extensive, mental checklists. Married at 22 - check. A child at 23 - check. Another child at 25 - check. A long skirt, a certain type of headcovering - check. Inward sigh of relief. Now I'm like everyone else. Finally.
Of course, things were different now. For one, I became a homemaker. My hours were my own now, and though it was an unusual experience, and I spent my first few months of married life floating on a cloud of relative disorder, I became empowered by it. I came to direct and organize my own day. I became more efficient. Contrary to what some warned me of, I did not get bored. My brain cells did not die one by one. Just the opposite happened - 6 years down the road, I'm always busy, always occupied in a productive way, always with something interesting to propel me forward. And I write. A lot. I stopped treating it as a childish hobby and began thinking of it as something mature and talented people do as well. I might be crazy, but it makes me happy.
The mental checklists became harder to comply with. Regular job - not check. Children in daycare by age of 1 year - no, definitely not check. "Why do you only have 2? I'd have thought you'd like another one by now!" - strong urge to tell the busybodies to go for a long walk and air their brains to find words like "tact" and "consideration".
I was naively happy when we moved to a community where most women stay at home and most children are raised at home at least until they are 3 years old. Still, I didn't always fit in. My background was different. My clothes were a little different, and so were my pastimes. I did not have as many children as those who have been married as long as I.
Then it was time to throw all the comparison tables and mental checklists out of the window. I will never be like everybody else. I will never fit perfectly, no matter where I go. And at this point, I'm fine with it. It helps that I am married to a man who often feels like a big fish in a small net, so to speak, and never stops to think twice about what others think of him. He is supremely unconcerned, and I find this admirable.