Tuesday, January 22, 2008

High School

I hated high school. HATED. IT. Not in a "Phew, glad that's over!" kind of way, but in an absolute detesting it, dreading every day of it kind of way. It wasn't like I was ridiculed daily, or bullied. I had a few close friends, one of them I still keep in contact with. I tried hanging out with a couple different crowds but I wasn't athletic, wasn't into drinking or drugs and the brainiacs seemed too immature for me.

One of my closest friends my first couple years of high school, Carrie, gradually got in with the cool crowd and was one of the most popular girls in school by the time we graduated. We still hung out senior year, but she always wanted to invite people from the in crowd and didn't understand why this made me uncomfortable. I didn't know how to talk to them, how to relate to them. She always said that they thought I was really nice, but that didn't make me feel like I belonged. Carrie would always tell me that the popular gang was receptive and if I just sat with them at lunch they would start talking to me, I could just show up at their parties and no one would blink an eye. But injecting myself into a group of people with which I had nothing in common didn't seem like it would satisfy a need within me to connect. So much to her dismay, I never did. I think this made her mad, like she had to choose between them and me. There were more of them, and I certainly couldn't get her a date so I don't blame her for spending most of her time with them. In hindsight, I'm a little impressed she stuck with me at all.

So basically, as a high schooler I was hyper-aware that I didn't fit in. Some of my friends didn't care that they were on the outskirts, others never seemed to notice. But I always felt angry that high school had to be so much about being normal. Normal as in sterile, boring, conformist. I felt reminded everyday that your worth in high school was based on your athletic ability, which guys are interested in you, how many people signed your yearbook. So when it came time to graduate, I wasn't really able to look back with good nature and simply think that high school kinda sucked. I really just wanted to forget it all. Put it behind me and start life as a student of the University of Minnesota, where there were 50,000 people. I had to fit in somewhere. And I did. I made great friends there.

But I still feel like there is a chasm between what I feel about those days and what others feel. So many people keep in touch with their high school clique, and it always reminds me that I didn't really have that. As much as I try to pretend those years didn't exist, I'm reminded that for some people, those days were really good. And I get a little jealous.

I have one friend from high school that I still keep in touch with, Jessica. We were close in high school, and both went to the U of MN. We talk much more about the college days than the high school days. She didn't fit in well either, but didn't care. She still likes to keep up with the gossip from the popular crowd and tells me who got married, who got divorced, who has children, who's in jail.

This past summer was our 10 year reunion. Jessica desperately wanted to go, even though she lives in California. Ironically, I had no intention of going even though I happened to spend the whole summer in Minneapolis. But Jessica scoured the online newspapers, had her parents look for announcements in the mail and checked the high school website often. Nothing. It seems we weren't having a reunion.

I bring all this up because out of the blue Carrie emailed me a couple months back. She hunted for me on the internets (I'm not too hard to find) and wanted to know what I was up to. I haven't spoken with her since freshman year of college. And rather than looking back nostalgically recognizing the awkwardness of that time period, I still wanted nothing to do with it. I wrote her a short note back telling her I was married, a physicist, living in Florida. She told me what was going on with her, how she still kept in touch with the popular crowd (not surprising) and was disappointed not to see me at the reunion, which was apparently by invitation only. Not announced publicly. Reading this brought back all the feelings of exclusion. And anger for poor Jessica who went out of her way to find a reunion, only to not be invited. I never returned Carrie's second email.

So if you could stand to read this much of my whining about something that happened ten years ago, give me your input. How did you feel about high school, and do you still carry those feelings with you? I recently both read Prep and listened to an episode of This American Life where people were still pissed off about high school and I felt like I related a little too well. But in both these stories, it is stressed that so much of those feelings are perspective, not necessarily reality. Carrie is probably right, if I would have just tried to fit in, my experience might have been better. Do you agree?

14 comments:

Minnesotablue said...

Magnetbabe: As old as I am, I still remember those feelings and you brought a lot of them back to me. We moved around a lot so I was never really a part of any group and always felt on the outside. I didn't have any friends in high school because I was never in any given school long enough. Also,I wasn,t the type to be recruited by others because I was terribly shy, never had the right clothes and I was always kinda lost in the crowd. However, I have heard occassionally of someone with whom I was acquainted with during that time and find myself chuckling if they haven't had a decent life. Wrong I know but hey, revenge is sometimes sweet.

Beth said...

I met my husband in high school. I never fit in with any crowd, but I couldn't say I was a true loner. OK, I was a loner, but it was self-inflicted. Plenty of people signed my yearbook, invited me to parties, I usually had a boyfriend, and I wasn't hard on the eyes, but in the core of my soul, I HATED high school. I hated getting up in the morning to go and I couldn't wait to get out every afternoon. I can't explain it now, but my husband felt the same way.

When we left high school (we graduated the same year), I remember a teacher saying that I would some day look back and say, "These were the best years of my life," and I said, "I will never look back and say that. It won't happen." And it never has.

I've never returned to reunions. I have been asked. My husband has been asked to invite me to reunions. He was VERY MUCH a loner so I find it funny people would ask him to ask his wife to attend.

I graduated 20 years ago this year. I'm 37. I have two teenagers, one in high school, one in middle, and I have no desire to look back and go to reunions.

I only wish I had been a happier me back then. I do wish I had been more involved, actually took learning seriously, showed off a bit more of my talent, but I don't wish I was more social. I went to a lot of drugfests, it never ended well.

I remember going to an old neighborhood bar about 10 years ago on a fluke and being told by some jock that the captain of the football team wanted to ask me to the prom, but didn't want to get shot down in public. I was not the kind of girl who would go to the prom with the captain of the football team, but that was the only time I really wondered what life would have been like had I taken the easier route (popularity) instead of the harder one (constantly going against the grain).

I think mine was a good choice. I think I learned more, but I wonder if I would have liked school more if I just went with it.

I only hope my children choose what makes them actually happy. This is a very deep subject.

LL said...

'Tis a deep one.

Very few people like high school. I had some good times, but I went to a very small school (180 kids including jr high). I say that because there were only a handful of us, less than 10 actually, that weren't of the predominant religion around these parts. It made it tough. Especially since the predominant religion doesn't like "nons" and treats them accordingly.

All that said, I had some good times, I had some bad times, and I had some ugly times. I was invited to my 10th, and I suppose I'll be invited to the rest too. I didn't go to the 10th, and I doubt I'll go to the rest either. I already see all the people from my class that I really care to, so there's no point in seeing the rest.

Jeni said...

While my high school years didn't have me as the debutante or social butterfly, my grades were decent enough, I was on the edge of the popular crowd and the smart kids -a friend, not exactly a player though for sure. But I was either dumb enough -or maybe just plain naive -to the whims of my peers that I enjoyed high school for the most part. A friend of mine though was one who definitely marched to the different drummer's tune! She was a very nice girl but her actions and dress often excluded her from others. I didn't know till probably 20-30 years after our graduation that she had absolutely HATED high school -for a lot of the exclusionary reasons you cited but she never accepted the fact some of her isolation was self-imposed too. However, our class has had reunions for our 10th year and then, since our 20th, at every five year interval since. THis girl though has gone out of her way to try to attend as many of our reunions as possible, enjoyed each she's been to and has been welcomed eagerly at each one too. Kids who back then were very much on the "outcast" type list now come to our reunions along with the geeks, nerds and prom queens, etc, etc.
But our reunions are inclusive of EVERYONE from the class too. Never has been a segregated thing, it has always been open to anyone from our class, which is how it should be! (Well, my opinion there anyway.) And, the older we get, the friendlier everyone gets too - maturity does eventually come to almost all of us I suppose.
If you recall, my 45th reunion was this past June and I did up a big posterboard with all kinds of old photos of our classmates as well as a few too of kids from other classes. Regardless of each person's old status in school, I wish you could have seen everyone looking at those old photos and sharing memories - good, bad and indifferent. I've had a great time at each class reunion I've attended, look forward to the next one already too, in 4 1/2 years from now.

gabrielle said...

High school was painful for me too. I felt a profound sense of loneliness and alienation. In retrospect, this was not a new feeling, but it was intensified during this time. For as long as I can remember, I have been an outsider for reasons of genealogy, isolation and my own proclivities. In HS this sense of not belonging was magnified, in the context of cliques and the yearnings of adolescence. I remember during these years, it was difficult to find a sense of peace. Today some of the sting has faded and I look back at this experience as one of many stepping stones that helped me to settle into myself, to feel comfortable in my own skin. I used to feel rejected because I didn’t belong to any of the in crowds. When I reflect back on my relationships historically, I realize that I am very particular about who I spend time with. I have cultivated intimate and enduring relationships over the years, mostly with other misfits. This is not to be glib about the angst of my HS days, but rather to put it in perspective and to say that the passage of time has softened the hard edges for me.
HS is an uncomfortable memory but uncomfortable memories are distinct from regret. Regret is a beast of a different color. I have profound regrets about specific choices I made about family and career. There are times when I second guessed myself and made important decisions with my head instead of my heart. I don’t know if I can ever come to a resting place, a place of acceptance with having made these choices that weren’t true for me.

Scott said...

I actually posted a long time ago about a reunion that I went to. For me high school was a slow torture. It could have been completely different if I were happy in my own skin. If I could do it all over again, I would have been wiser with my time.

You posted on comment on this thread, which attracted a lot of other comments as well. It's the exceptional case that people enjoyed the experience.

hhboots said...

I wasn't a fan of HS either,I found it all too intense. And even though I dated one of the basketball players althrough school,went to all the parties,prom,sadie hawkins,and the reunions, etc... still I felt the same...lost,different.
Going to a catholic school I think made it worse. By saying that I mean, one would think they would be understanding of people and their diversity be it... financial,race,etc. I found it to be the TOTAL opposite! I was shuned away a couple time when I went to the guidance office with concerns/feelings I had.Hence the reason I have issues with the catholic religion and school system.
I keep in regular touch with one friend (who happens to be my children's God-mother)and sister of the basketball player. We started getting together one a month for DLS GNO. Now the girls who show up regularly are NOT the girls I hung out with in HS but knowing them now as adults... I wish I had.

Dianne said...

The only saving grace for me during high school was when I made the decision to hang with the hippie-dippie kids. A lot of my passion for politics (and herbs) comes from those days. Scott saying HS "could have been a lot different if I was happy in my own skin" really struck a chord with me.
I was so sorry to be me - sorry I was fat (I am half the size at 50 that I was at 16), sorry to be poor, sorry that my family was nuts.
Funny thing is - a lot of the kids thought I was cool because I "appeared" to be so strong, so above it all, so aloof. What irony - I was aching to find a way to be liked and if I had just embraced me I would have had more friends.

magnetbabe said...

Everyone-
Thank you so much for your lengthy, heartfelt responses. It really helped me to see that experience like mine are not uncommon.

minnesotablue-
I had the shyness problem too. Must run in the family. And I don't think it's wrong to feel a little vindicated when karma comes back around to people who had it easy in high school.

beth-
Thank you so much for sharing your story. I always heard that line too about those days being the best in a person's life. It really worried me at the time. I thought "Is this as good as it's ever going to be?!" Whoever said that was wrong and probably traumatized many people because of it! Seriously, if those are the best years in anyone's life, that is really sad. At least you met your husband there, something good came out of all that horridness! And I have often worried how my own kids will handle high school.

LL-
My high school was pretty big. I can't decide if that's a good thing or a bad thing. If they would have thrown religion into the mix I would have really been in trouble.

jeni-
Yes, I wonder now if my isolation is self-imposed as well. In fact it is this wondering that prompted me to ask you all what you thought.I don't know how most reunions work, but was very surprised to her about ours being by invitation. It could have just been the way things are done, but they certainly didn't do a good job of notifying everyone. That seems exclusionary to me. I'm glad you have fun at your though. Maybe in another 35 years, I'll feel the same way. ;)

gabrielle-
Yes, I guess I don't regret much about high school. I'm glad you lent the perspective that you did. One thing that I like about being an adult is I get to choose my friends and take control over my social life. And in the grown up world, people don't seem to be offended if you are polite but not friends. In high school, Angie was my best friend even though she didn't go to my school, and the people at Bachman's were way better than school people. But that didn't take away the sting of 9-5 M-F.

scott-
I think you make an important point. Sometimes I wonder how high school would have been if I had the confidence I have now. I think that's true for a lot of people. I totally forgot that I wrote that scathing diatribe about high school on your blog! It was funny to go back and read what I wrote. Like I said above, my feelings haven't changed a bit. It was this gradual nagging feelings that perhaps it was my fault I was so miserable. I think it was more than I cared to admit to before, but still a lot had to do with the shittiness of adolescence in general.

hhboots-
Don't forget that when you were in high school, there was a little girl who idolized you! Much of my distaste for religion stems from exactly what you are describing. The hypocrisy of what people preach about kindness and how they treat others is unbelievable and I can imagine in a high school setting it is so much worse.

dianne-
It sounds like you came out the other side a stronger person. I wonder if the same people I was jealous of in high school felt the same way inside as you did. I know I wrote this on your blog, but I'm glad you took all those experiences and used them to make yourself a great person.

dr sardonicus said...

In my high school there were all these groups - the jock group, the theater group, the dopehead group, etc. I didn't care for that then, and even today I'm not much of a "group" person. I was fairly well liked, but was always an outsider because I wouldn't pledge allegiance to one group or another. I thought the whole high school social thing was silly, and I couldn't wait for it to be over so I could get the hell out of my hometown. I regret that now in some ways - looking back, I tend to remember the good times and not think so much about the bad times, and sometimes wish I hadn't been in such a hurry to graduate from high school, that I would have taken myself a little less seriously back then and enjoyed the ride more. Some things, though, you don't learn until you're older.

fermicat said...

I didn't hate HS as virulently as you. I managed to have a good time with my friends, but I also remember plenty of unpleasantness - much of which was caused or exacerbated by my insecurities. Lets just say that I had a MUCH better time in college than in HS.

I did go to our 21st reunion (apparently, the class leaders are not real go-getters). I spent the evening hanging out with the same people I spent time with during HS. It was gratifying to see that for the most part, all of us geeks and misfits are far more interesting and have done more with our lives than the people who were in the "in crowd" during HS.

Beth said...

My daughter is in HS now. She's much more academic than I was and concentrates on that, but I do wonder how these 4 years will be for her and my son, who is just one year behind her!

Scott said...

Adolescence is shitty. Well put.

Anonymous said...

I went to Catholic school as well and it was murder. Being gay (not openly, though) in a very sports-minded environment was a terrible experience, so I don't think the isolation I suffered was entirely self-imposed. Because of being gay, I went against the grain whether I wanted to or not. Frankly, I'm glad I did. I've grown discontented with the Church over the years and am converting to Judaism as a result. Which, I must say, is quite a slap in the face to that school.
Someone with whom I'd gone to high school died in a plane crash a few years ago, and I remember seeing all these stories on the internet about how wonderful she was, how thoughtful she was, and how everyone would miss her. She was the epitome of a high school popular crowd type. Trust me, she was not so wonderful. Nobody ever mentioned her racist, anti-Semitic attitudes, mean-spirited gossiping, and putting down anyone who differed from her in any way.
Going to university showed me that high school was certainly not the "best four years of my life." I found out just how narrow-minded and ignorant that high school was. So many different people who did not care about sports, homecoming crap, etc. So many people who accepted gays and didn't care about being different.
It took be quite a bit of therapy to work through the depression I went through during those years, and it was a lifesaver for me. My therapist telling me that not being liked for being different from the norm was "not a statement about you, but a statement about them" changed my life for the better. A complete turnaround.
I remember talking about this with a good friend, and she said that looking back on it, it is actually fun to buck a system that is so silly. For me, some great food for thought.