Welcome to High School
As I’m sure I've mentioned on this blog before: I don't really 'get' girls.
I grew up with boys and really didn’t have to deal with any girls on a regular basis until primary school. This came as something as a shock to the system. There were bizarre power games, manipulations, bitching, put-downs, theft of intellectual property... and these were from my friends! By the end of year 6 I gave up on being in the cool group and just pissed off. I spent my lunchtimes volunteering in the school's Special Education Unit. I read every book in the school library that wasn't about trucks or dinosaurs. I knitted through recess. I was teased without mercy, but suddenly I didn't care: for one thing, the people teasing me were no longer pretending to be my friends.
With a certain amount of naiveté I began High School. In some respects I think I started a little ahead of the game. After putting up with crap from my 'best friends' for years I'd pretty much come to conclusion that if someone didn’t like me it was their own problem and I didn't need to knock myself out trying to please them.
On the other hand, I went in with the expectation that everyone should have grown out of it by now. Fair to say: silly error of judgement.
Don't get me wrong: I still have some female friends whom I met in High School and they are gorgeous people I wouldn't trade for anything. But there was a hell of a lot of crap that went on. Mostly to do with the notion of popularity and the desire to get it.
One event really stands out for me. A girl moved to our school from NZ at some point and was sort of quiet and dorky and desperately awkward. She was fairly universally shunned but my little group of friends and I adopted her. This was partly because we were the 'geeks' and basically the bottom of the food chain and also because I think we all felt genuinely bad for her. I'll call her M.
M took a little while to come out of her shell, but after a month or so she really blossomed. As a fairly confident person (and someone who moved around the different cliques a fair bit) it often came down to me to organise 'us' and M suddenly became very friendly. Everything I did was 'so clever', I was 'so pretty', an 'artistic genius'. If I was planning to do something, M was planning to do it to. To be honest I found this weird and kind of creepy, but figured it was just her way and she was obviously trying to be nice.
One afternoon when I was doing my rounds of the other groups of friends and acquaintances, M attached herself to me. And suddenly I realised what she was doing.
Thinking back, I still find it hard to believe some of the things she said and did, the lies she told, the... ham-iness of the whole thing. This girl was the biggest social climber I have ever met. She clung to me until she had established herself as at least as cool as I was and then moved on to the next cool-er person.
The thing that really drove me crazy was that no-one else could see it. Not until they'd been left behind, anyway. Because as long as you had something she wanted, namely: the phone number of Cooly McTrendsetter or an invitation to The Party or intimate knowledge of Hot Russel's taste in music she was ridiculously and convincingly nice to you.
I got pretty bored with M and while she still swung in and out of our group, I paid very little attention to her. I am a confronter at the heart of me, and it took me a good deal of deep breathing to get to a place where I could just let her be.
The final straw was the last year of High School. My birthday and M's are a week apart and I (as usual) left my planning til the last minute. I was in the process of working out a weekend when it suddenly occurred to me that I ought to check with M so that we didn't book up the same day (we were still friends, I just refused to be engaged in so much of her... look-at-me anymore). I called her and her mother answered the phone. It was quite noisy.
M was having her birthday party. I was maybe a little offended but thought little of it until Monday - after all, she had a fairly extensive social group now and I had no idea who was there. For all I knew it was a family thing, because she had a lot of cousins.
On Monday at school, however, it became apparent that M had invited everyone in our group except for me and another girl (who had disagreed with M's politics the week before). The group was irrevocably divided by this: some of the invitees asked us where we had been, some clearly knew we hadn't been invited and couldn't decide who was at fault (had we picked a fight or was this M being a bitch?) and the other girl and I were livid.
The party wasn't the issue. It was the blatant disregard for the wellbeing of the group. Many excuses were thrown around; "assumed you would be too busy", "never occurred that you'd be interested", "didn't realise you were friends with X,Y, and Z too" but neither of us ever bought it. And the group was never quite the same. Those girls who had gone without knowing about the whole exclusivity were put into impossible situations, particularly as M couldn't let an opportunity to brag about the awesome-ness of the party go. EVER.
I still wonder what her object was: it had to be obvious that this would cause people to be hurt, offended, embarrassed and angry.
This two-faced-ness is one of the things I have always found difficult with other girls. By and large, men don't say they like you if they don't. Unless they are trying to sell you something, they aren't overly nice to you if they don’t like you. Men don't tell you your haircut looks great and then say you're out of your mind as soon as you've left. And they don't have boys night's out and leave behind a couple of blokes for no apparent reason.
The reason I mention this all is that I have yet again been reminded of my own naiveté. I've left High School, College, and Uni and out in the Real World, in the Work Force, I guess I didn't expect there to be any M s left. Over the last couple of months there have been people in my life who have done things that are increasingly insensitive, all the way to down-right bitchy. Now, I know that there are bastards everywhere, in every profession, Hell, some days it's all you can do not to trip over them. But I thought I was past having to watch out for my mates.
Since I am increasingly reminded that some of us never left High School, I thought it was time someone offered a survival guide for this old-new world. Just in case you feel yourself being sucked in.
- Sitting with the 'cool kids' is not something you can put on your resume. Do you remember what happened to the popular, well-dressed and achingly beautiful people after High School? They dropped out, had eating disorders, died in car accidents, OD-ed, had four babies before they were 20, got herpes, got depressed and committed suicide. A few got out too. I ran into a girl I went to High School with a couple of months ago and we ended up having coffee. "Oh my God" she said when school came up "I was such a dick-head!". Quite.
- You are never going to be the most beautiful/best dressed/best dancer/best knitter/most popular/coolest etc etc etc ad infinitum. People were better than you for years before you were born and will be better than you for years after you're dead. If you really want to be remembered for something worthwhile (and apologies if I sound like Dr Phil) then try being the best you. The time Cooly McTrendsetter (name changed to protect the guilty) deigned to speak to me in food tech will be forever overshadowed by the note someone slipped into my locker "It's all going to be ok", though the former was the talk in the girls change-room for weeks. (Here's a tip: truly generous, caring people don't feel the need to tell everyone how generous and caring they have been. And sending a gift to Nicole Kidman in the hope that she mentions you in a press release is hardly altruism).
- Don't hang your sense of self-worth on being the most beautiful/best dressed/best dancer/best knitter/most popular/coolest etc etc etc ad infinitum. Beauty fades, fashions change, ankles snap, yarns won't frog, people get bored etc. However, if you want to aim for a sure-fire way of spending the next thirty years in a perpetual state of misery, desperation and self-loathing then go right ahead. But there are much nicer ways to go through life.
- You can't be popular and well-liked. The concept of popularity and celebrity basically requires a small group of people to be held above everyone else. If you are not a film star or a Nobel Prize winning geneticist, then creating your very own small group above everyone else is a pretty quick way to piss off everyone you do not choose to include in your celebrity group. Think
Hilton: talent-less, boring, irritating, tasteless biddy who only makes the news because she damn well makes sure she does. If we place next to her someone who has actually earned her celebrity (you know, by doing something well and being generally gracious and human) like Kate Winslet, Paris looks so cheap and nasty and desperately look-at-me that it's a wonder anyone likes her. Why would anyone aim for this sort of celebrity? Paris
- You can't please everyone. That said, when it comes down to choices, you're better of trying to please the people who rally around when it all goes to crap. When it comes right down to it, it won't be Mischa Barton showing up at your doorstep with a casserole dish because she thought this week had been a bit much for you.
- Groups of women are delicate things. It is unreasonable to move into an office, befriend everyone and then start excluding people left, right and centre. You don't have to like everyone, but if you are all in the same group (and within earshot) then not including Josie from the desk in the corner in morning tea is guaranteeing yourself a tense and unhappy work environment. Having a group of women who work well together and enjoy each other's company is a precious thing and needs to be nurtured. If you don't like someone, just lump it for the good of the group. I'm sure someone lumps you (see point 5).
- If you are going to be exclusive and have your own little Special Parties, keep it to yourself. It's fairly rude to tell everyone about how great the thing they weren't invited to was. Particularly if they are your friends/colleagues/cubical buddies. If it was great, then great. Does it only feel great if you get to broadcast it?
- If you are not a celebrity now then you probably won't ever be one. Don't knock yourself out about it. Do you really want to go down in history as that chick who pashed her brother? Honestly. Think about the poor hapless creatures who emerge from the Big Brother house, desperately trying to cling to fame, open a supermarket, "look, I left my knickers at home LOVE ME!!!!” This is not something to aspire to.
- Do what you need to do to keep yourself sane (see entire post). Stewing over things does not help. Get it out of your system, say what you need to say and move on.
- When all else fails, there's always yarn.
Some of you might know what I'm getting at here. I realise these things are often split-second decisions and it's not til afterwards you realise you built your house in a swamp. But having the grace to admit that you made a mistake is just as good as having the foresight to not make a mistake in the first place. And despite all the pitfalls of women, chances are these people are your friends.
We're in this together, and in order to successfully graduate from High School dramas we all need to listen, think and apologise when we have to.
It's the grown up thing to do.