My husband, while not nearly as good at Words With Friends or Bejeweled Blitz as I am, is almost always emotionally wiser than I am.
This morning over coffee and Marlboros, he dropped this little bit of wisdom on me:
“It drives me crazy when I hear people say ‘this is just like high school’. Um, no, actually, it isn’t. In high school you didn’t have a choice.”
He went on to tell me about what a unique social experience high school is because here you are trying to figure out who you are, and you’re basically trapped in a very small space with all of these other people who are also trying to figure out who they are. “It’s actually pretty cool, if you think about it,” he said. “And it’s no wonder people talk about their high school years for the rest of their lives. When else will you be forced to find ways to get along with people, whether you like them or not? After high school, it’s all about choices.”
Genius. Pure genius.
At the time, we were in the middle of a conversation about an experience he’s been having with a close friend. But as soon as the “high school” reference flew out of his mouth, my brain immediately went to the Internet. Just yesterday I read a post somewhere about the high school like atmosphere of BlogHer (and my GOD people, are we seriously ALREADY talking about this?). If you’ve been around blogs for more than 3 days, you have no doubt run across or found yourself in the middle of some form of “drama” or another – and it is freaking inevitable that someone will eventually drop the HS bomb.
As adults, referencing something as “so high school” is the easiest way for us to designate something as stupid or beneath us.
The difference, as Jared so wisely pointed out, is that there is not a single social situation we can find ourselves in as adults that is, actually, at all like high school. Because now? It’s a choice.
Good, bad or otherwise, we get to make choices now about who we surround ourselves with. We get to decide where we live and where we work. We get to choose who we spend our nights and weekends with. We get to choose who we sit next to at a party and who we exchange emails with the next day.
As adults, we have a scary amount of control over damn near every aspect of our lives. Control that, if you remember, most of us were dying to get our hands on in high school. Ohhhh, to be young and have someone else to blame again.
Unfortunately, having choices can be kind of a bitch.
Let me go back to the BlogHer reference as an example. (For those of you who aren’t bloggers or BlogHers, this is a big annual conference attended, mostly, by thousands of female bloggers.) The “this is so much like high school” usually comes out when one woman feels like she’s been snubbed by another woman or group of women. Accusations begin to get thrown around about why someone was snubbed or someone else wasn’t. Feelings are hurt, friendships are defended, and before long someone is rolling their eyes and pointing out that “God, this is just like high school all over again”.
Except – as we’ve learned – it’s not.
Because every single one of the grown women who attend this conference, and others like it, has choices about who they get to be around. They can choose to be around people who build them up, or people who make them feel like crap about themselves. They can choose to seek out the approval of people they respect, or choose to surround themselves with people who simply respect them. They can choose to try to “fit in”, or choose not to give a crap. Every single one of those choices is a valid option with consequences. And whatever those consequences are, we kind of have no choice but to accept that we are responsible for them.
This realization – which I’ve slowly been coming to myself over the last little while – was a much needed slap in my own face in a lot of ways.
I, too, have been guilty of uttering the “this is so fucking high school” mantra. And I realize now that while those words weren’t true, they were a signal to myself that “hey, dumbass, you put yourself in these situations. Whether or not you choose to remain here is also your choice. What are you going to do about that now?”
If I choose to maintain a relationship with someone because I don’t want to make waves, I can’t be upset with anyone but myself if that relationship causes me stress or feelings of inadequacy.
If I choose to maintain a relationship with someone because I think that it’s mean to not be friends with them, then I have to accept that I alone am responsible for the time and energy I invest in that relationship.
If I find myself getting all worked up over the idea of someone not liking me, then I have to accept that I am choosing to invest the energy necessary to find out how that person feels about me. And I can tell myself all I want that it’s natural or understandable, but the easier choice of least resistance is still, in fact, a choice.
I tend to make the easy choices when it comes to my friendships. I talk to the people who talk to me first. I go back to the people who make me laugh, even if the laughter is hiding a lot of ugly shit. I give in to the fact that sitting around talking shit about people feels so damn good at the moment, and ignore what making that choice says about me in the long run. I surround myself with people who make me feel better about myself for the duration of a party, and choose to put that above people who inspire me to actually be better.
I have, consciously or otherwise, made a lot of easy choices about friends in the past. By the sheer grace of God, I have been fortunate enough to have stumbled upon some friendships with really great people in spite of myself. I have been lucky. I have also, I have to admit, made some really great freaking choices in friends.
EDITED TO ADD because I finally found the words in comments and I think it’s relevant enough to point out in the post itself:
“From now on, when I find myself saying “this makes me feel like I did when I was in high school”, I hope alarm bells will go off in my head and say “except, you know, now you are NOT… so you’ve got some choices here that you didn’t have back then, Missy.””
Going forward, I’d like to start to making more of those really great freaking choices and less of those easier but not necessarily better choices. I’d like to choose to invest my energy in people whom I respect. I’d like to choose to spend my valuable time getting to know people who emulate characteristics that I admire. I’d like to choose the long-term sense of honor and privilege that comes from knowing you’ve earned the friendship of a person whose approval does actually mean something to you, in lieu of the short-term rush of just being able to have a good time with someone. I’m not sure how easy these choices will to be make over and over again. After all, the allure of an instant feel good time can be strong.
But now that my husband has gone and made me freaking aware of my own responsibility when it comes to friends and social situations, I think it’s going to be hell of a lot harder to blindly continue making the easy choices.
After all, I’m not in high school anymore.