Before you read any further, I suggest you click the video below. It will set the tone of this post…plus I really like this song right now and I wanted to share it.
As some of you may know, I am 28. I graduated from high school in 2004. For those of you who aren’t mathematical geniuses, that was roughly ten years ago. Recently it seems like I just woke up one day and stepped out of bed and into the plot of my very own teenage drama on The WB (Does anyone remember The WB? It was the big sister of The CW…pretty much the same audience, but it was in the late ’90s and had less supernatural elements and more teenage angst.), complete with heartache and confusion and angst. Stupid angst.
I suddenly care about what people think about me and if I am invited out places and if people like me. I haven’t done that in ages. It’s like I went back in time to 2000 and suddenly I’m 14/15 again and doubting every single thing that I do or say. I feel awkward and like I don’t fit in. I’m starting to question who I’m friends with and if they are really my friends or if we are just friends based on convenience. I worry if people genuinely like me or if I’m just that girl who they invite to certain things because they feel like they have to. I am constantly hyper aware of everything I do and say and think. It’s honestly like I am back at St. Joe’s and it’s my freshman year and I want everyone to like me. I feel like I should be wearing a bunch of black eyeliner, straighten my hair, and pout a lot, a la Avril Lavigne circa “Complicated”/2002.
I want no part of it.
High school wasn’t particularly terrible, but I struggled a lot with myself on the inside, as all of us did. I felt like I didn’t fit in, but I think I did a pretty good job of pretending like I did. I was skilled at smiling when acceptable, laughing when necessary, and saying the right thing so that people liked me. I had plenty of friends and was well-adjusted and liked. You would have never guessed that I felt alone a lot of the time and that my thoughts weren’t on the same frequency as everyone else–that I had an AM mind in a FM world. I felt like I thought about stuff that the average teenager didn’t think about and struggled with things that a lot of the girls at my exclusive, all-girl Catholic high school didn’t deal with–I had a lot of anxiety and stress. My dad was still drinking very heavily and gambling heavily and was rapidly becoming more and more physically, emotionally, and verbally abusive by the day. We were also getting poorer by the day–my entire freshman year we didn’t have a home phone and we used the pay phone on the corner to make phone calls (I did a really good job of making light of the situation and cracking jokes about it to try to hide my embarrassment). We didn’t drive. I struggled with an eating disorder all four years of high school. I had to keep everything that was going on at home inside. All of that made me feel like I was older than my peers in a way, that I was more mature than most of them were at our age. I felt like an old woman at times…but I was good at pretending. I cracked jokes and was loud and funny to try to hide the fact that I had incredibly thin skin and was constantly afraid that no one liked me or wanted to be my friend. I worried all the time that there was something wrong with me because I wasn’t preoccupied with makeup or boys or clothes or the latest trends as much as my friends were.
I had my son at 19 and that made me grow up even more. I didn’t go away to college, so I didn’t have the four years of drunken debauchery that most of my peers did. Because of my dad (who has been sober for nearly 8 years), drinking never really appealed to me anyway, and even though I am outgoing, large parties fill me with a kind of social anxiety that I have never understood. The older I got, the more I figured that none of that mattered once you were an adult because you were an adult and left all that childishness behind.
But I have realized that it is actually the opposite. You never leave high school behind because that is where we found ourselves and started to carve out our identities. I read something where it was speculated that we physically grow up, but mentally we are forever intrinsically who we were back in high school. Adults still have cliques and gossip and show off around certain people. The mean girls never leave the cattiness and bitchiness behind. They still have to be the center of attention and brag about how “bad” they are. The claws still come out, they still try to intimidate others and make them doubt themselves. The nerds are still as awkward as they were as teenagers. People like me still feel like they don’t fit in with the world and that perhaps they aren’t supposed to fit in. I have always found it strange that I can be surrounded by groups of people and still feel alone. I’m extroverted but painfully introverted at the same time. My skin is still ridiculously thin. I still struggle with an eating disorder. We all suffer from self-doubt and self-esteem issues and a lack of self-confidence and crushing self-consciousness. We all have a desperate desire to fit in and be accepted by our peers. We like to pretend that it went away after we graduated from high school and became adults because we don’t want to admit that most of us are just physically older versions of our teenage selves, because if we did, does that mean that we never really grew up? That opens a whole can of existential worms. If we never really grew up, does that mean that our parents never really grew up? That they feel the same way we do about life? That they are just physically older versions of their teenage selves who have just gotten really good at hiding their insecurities and fuck ups? Do they worry about the same things we do on a daily basis?
We all miss high school on some level because even though there were cliques and drama and endless teenage bullshit, deep down…we were all equals. We were all kids trying to find ourselves and find our places in the world. And in all honesty…we are still all just kids trying to find ourselves and find our places in the world. And even though going to the bar on my off days and getting drunk doesn’t appeal to me, I just want to know that my friends thought about me enough to want to include me in their plans. I don’t want to feel like I’m an afterthought and that I’m the odd one out. I don’t like feeling like I’m not included because no one wants me to be. I don’t like this do they/don’t they internal struggle. I’m tired of feeling 16 when I just turned 28.
That’s quite enough, Dawson. Can we change the channel?
“Your clothes are soaked and you don’t know where to go / So drop your chin and take yourself back home / And roll out your maps and papers / Find out your hiding places again…”–Lorde, “The Love Club”