Having Zero Desire To Attend Your High School Reunion Doesn’t Mean You’re Bitter
Before I deleted my Facebook account, I briefly came across my former best friend’s sister’s profile (funny where Facebook leads you) and I saw an announcement she posted regarding her ten-year class reunion. She was her senior class president, so it’s technically her job to organize the event. For clarity purposes, we’ll call my former best friend’s sister Lucy.
When I saw Lucy’s post, immediately, I thought to myself, I’d never go to my class’s ten-year reunion. What would I have to talk about with my former classmates? Moreover, whose class reunion would I even attend given the fact that I switched high schools my senior year? But wait, I thought, does it mean I’m 'bitter' if I don’t want to go?
So then, for a moment, I entertained the thought of attending. I could pop up and show everyone the eclectic, digital nomad I’ve become and tell them about all the extraordinary places I’ve been. In I Wasn’t One of the Popular Girls in High School, and I’m Still Not Over It, I resonated with Sarah Stroh, an American expat and writer living in Berlin, and her contemplation as she pondered going back to her high school reunion as well. She too, imagined showing up and proving to people now what she couldn’t before, like:
How I live in Berlin, how I have a cool hair cut, how I’m starting to make it as an artist.
I Wasn’t One of the Popular Girls in High School, and I’m Still Not Over It
15 years later, I’m still reckoning with my place in the pecking order
How interesting it would be to attend my reunion and see what everyone’s reaction to the ‘new me’ would be? I used to think. Although I’m not currently living abroad like Stroh, I travel often, I’m currently growing out my “cool haircut”, and I too, am starting to make it as an artist. It would be quite satisfying for me as well, to show people how far I’ve come.
Nevertheless, since disconnecting with social media, the desire to prove something to people in terms of how ‘happy’ I am or the ‘successes’ I’ve achieved has almost dissipated. It’s not that I’m completely above people’s approval, but dissembling my accounts has fostered an emotional space to grow and experience things privately, rather than rigorously engaging in social circles largely composed of acquaintances and people from my past. Also, as an adult, I’m more intentional about my friendships and who I choose to spend time with. With that said, the people I want to see are simply present figures in my life.
Therefore, I don’t believe choosing not to attend a high school reunion makes someone bitter; it’s just that there’s no need to contribute to the notion that high school was more than it was. For the ‘cool kids,’ high school constituted their ‘glory days’ while for me, it was an emotional, hormone-infused period of discovery, which in the long run, lead to self-acceptance. Although I’m grateful for my confidence now, those days aren’t memories I want to discuss, especially over fruit, sliced salami and cheese.
After seeing Lucy’s post encouraging people to come together to “relive the glory days,” I could understand why she would be eager to see her old friends again. She was class president, had a car, and was the daughter of a busy, single mom: a rich recipe for breeding a wild child. No one stopped her from having a good time, and a good time she had. If I had Lucy’s experience, I too, would probably be trying to congregate everyone again.
My experience was different though. My case was peculiar in high school because I was well acquainted with the “cool crowd” through classes, sports, and familial relations (as Lucy was my friend’s older sister) but I never pentreated their seemingly sacred bubble. My mom was incredibly strict, my grades were mediocre and I was dealing with self-esteem issues that I struggled working through. Resultantly, I was grounded a lot, angry, and missed out on many experiences with peers.
Since I spent more weekends at home than out with friends, vivid visions of success became my escape mechanism. If I couldn’t be important at school, I knew at least, somewhere down the line, I could climb my way to fame in the real world and experience love through the admiration of strangers; I would have a fan base; people who adored me. In a way, I did experience what it was like to be my own celebrity through social media. I got addicted to likes, comments, and follows from friends, strangers, and even former classmates.
Online, I created a new version of myself and I got noticed for it. I was a fit, dancing, globe trotter, and the more dancing videos, yoga poses, and travel pictures I posted, the more steadily my following grew. With all of the lovely attention that came with being an active user of various platforms, it was also emotionally manipulative. Social media was both the sustenance and destroyer of my ego, as engagement blew it up, and not so much engagement demolished it completely. Upon months of reflection during the pandemic, I realized my craving for online popularity resembled my desire for it in high school, and I couldn’t continue living in this incessant cycle of proving myself (for goodness sake, I’m in my twenties now!). By the end of 2020, I deleted Instagram and Facebook.
Since graduating high school, my life has reflected the freedom I’ve always craved. I ran away to New York City for college (I found a small school that accepted my questionable transcript) and immersed myself in its rainbow of cultures. Also, I’ve fallen in love with international travel, and now, I’m inching my way through the U.S. in a camper van with my partner, and work completely online. Am I rich and famous like I fantasized about? No. However, I’m rich in countless other ways, and never in a million years did I think my life would pan out in the eccentric way it has, and people back then probably have no idea — and that’s okay. I don’t think anyone would’ve expected the way their life panned out in general.
Shannon Bradley-Colleary discusses her hesitation of attending her 30th High School Reunion, when she finally decided to step up as class president and organize the event. After reaching out to two to three hundred people, she notes how some phone calls lasted minutes, while others lasted hours. People were curious about the hardships the other had survived, how they’ve thrived, and essentially who they’ve become. She discovered that in the end, life has treated everyone pretty much the same:
The cool kids, the jocks, the cheerleaders, the brainiacs, the stoners, the geeks and even the Homecoming Queen. Collectively, we’ve gained weight, gone bald, been divorced, married late, never had children, have children we love to the point of pain, suffered every ailment (including the dreaded “C” word), been under employed, unemployed and employed in jobs we never thought we’d be doing in a million years.
Bradley-Colleary is right about one thing: life doesn’t spare anyone. No one is living the life they’ve expected to live. Some people find beauty in that, some are frustrated, and other are resentful, but in the end, life’s uncertainty is the element that connects us, ultimately demonstrating that we’re not so different from each other after all. Perhaps, we are even more forgiving of others because of this.
Still, I don’t want to go my high school reunion.
It’s true that life’s surmises are indifferent to everyone, and hopefully they’ve fostered humility in people (they definitely have for me). I just don’t have the same motives anymore to reconnect with people or prove anything of myself in that environment.The idea I romanticized of “going back" and “revisiting" everyone in that flattering, sparkly dress I imagined, my natural hair (in which I used to religiously straighten), and crazy, travel stories now seems uncomfortable, or forced, even, like running backwards on a hamster wheel. What would be the benefit? What would be the end goal, there?
Maybe I’d get an apology from some people and a congratulations from others, and then what? Life doesn’t stop. Some people could say sorry for things they said or assumed about me, which admittedly, would feel pretty damn good (kind of like an ex who realized they messed up), but it’s not like we would even become close friends after that. A friendship is not something I’m even looking for. More importantly, I don’t want to put myself in a situation where comparison would subconsciously fester the room when really, success is subjective. Right now, having a family doesn’t equate success for me while living nomadically may not define success for someone else. My lifestyle aligns with my choices and their lifestyles will reflect theirs.
The truth is, I don’t dislike everyone that I attended high school with. I played sports, I attended sleepovers, I shared many laughs; it wasn’t the most optimal experience of my life but it also wasn’t the absolute worst. In fact, I’ve been in contact with a few people from school over the years during occasional run-ins when I’m in my hometown or when I used to have social media. However, as Emily Timbol concludes short and sweetly in Why I’m Not Attending My High School Reunion,
It’s just that I prefer my memories of high school to be just that — memories. If my former classmates want to turn the past into the present, then I wish them the best. I just won’t be joining.
I love who I am today, and I’ve fully embraced life’s inevitable, forward pull. There are so many people in the world, and I look forward to continuing to openly receive those relationships rather than attempting to reconnect with people I’m far removed from in every possible way, and moreso, that I’m unwilling to make emotional space for. High school was a phase of intense growth and realization, which ultimately, propelled me to get out of that town and discover a fresh perspective of the world and fundamentally myself. With that said, just like toxic ex-boyfriends, arguments with your mom, and college transcripts (just saying, it’s annoying when certain jobs ask for those) some things just need to stay in the past and for me, high school is one of them.