Over the weekend, I got thinking about high school and promptly got on Facebook to check out what my former classmates were doing now.
This was a bad, bad idea. Facebook has a way of simultaneously presenting the best and worst of people; when you’re looking at what’s publicly displayed, it’s very much the glossy stuff without any cracks in the veneer through which sore points might show and for which you might feel compassion, and without the jackass posts or comments that remind you of what kind of people they really are. No, it’s all beautiful photos of husbands, wives, children, exotic holidays, happy friends and fancy job titles instead.
I wasn’t a raging social success at high school. Academically, I did quite well, but socially, I was a disaster. I had no confidence, I was shy, and, aware of how nerdy my grades made me and how dorky I actually was, I was scared to do anything that would brand me even more uncool than I already was.
The school itself was a public co-ed one in the suburbs of Melbourne. The families who had enough money sent their kids to private schools, but those who didn’t quite have enough for that but still had enough to own houses and live in the vicinity sent their kids to this school instead. It was considered nicer, less wild and a bit better academically (my sister would snort at that) than the other nearby options.
It was a school full of kids from families trying very hard but frantically trying to look like they weren’t. A lot of my classmates, in hindsight, were the same. As well as the usual trying to fit in teenage business, there was a strong attitude of just not ever being caught getting into anything. The only form of passion really celebrated was sporting prowess, which I didn’t have, and you could do things deemed “bad” like draw on your school organizer with permanent marker or get smashed at the weekend, but anything else required the appearance of not caring unless it was something so niche-y that it was too weird to make fun of.
In other words, it was like a lot of other schools, really. It wasn’t the worst school to have attended, but it wasn’t the best either.
So I found myself looking at the public profiles of the people with whom I graduated but who are not my Facebook friends. Quite a few of them were still friends with the exact same people they were friends with back then, living in the same area and, my God, making slightly updated versions of the same jokes. It was that last one that really awakened some contempt in me, I admit. They had had all these years to do what they wanted with their lives, experienced all manner of personal and social upheavals and yet there they were, making a slightly advanced version of “lol ur gay” jokes.
The rest of what I felt, though, was jealousy and inadequacy, a icky wave of it fresh from my seventeen year old self. It was ridiculous, I knew it even as I felt the mood coming over me, but I was acutely aware of once again being somehow on the outside, just like I always had been. I didn’t have the sense of everything fitting together, place and person and background, and, as much as I might mock them, I can’t help but long for friendships that strong and enduring. Basically, fifteen years later and 8400 kilometres away, I was still wanting to fit in with my high school peers somehow.
Failing that, because I quickly realised I was, I wanted to somehow prove I was better than them, that I was actually above all that shit and somehow having the last laugh. Again, it didn’t work. Thinking about all the things that I’m grateful for in my life didn’t ease the sense of inadequacy I felt, especially when I thought of my work and my financial situation. In fact, that just made it worse, because I’m already second-guessing myself on that front and then I could add guilt to the mix of ugly feelings, for not being appreciative enough of what I do have.
Like I said, it was ridiculous, but is it really that surprising? These were the first people against whom I ever judged myself as something like an adult. To find myself looking at them again even in the a distant, cyber way was to once again do the same measuring. I wonder if it’s so unusual at all that the inadequate feelings still so readily rise to the surface, especially when the measuring that is happening takes place somewhere like bloody Facebook.
Ultimately, the way out of that nastiness into which I had cast myself was to shut the damn browser window, get on with my day, and remind myself of why I’ve made the choices I have, the plans we’ve got, and the various ideas I have for making the things I’m not happy about better. It took, all in all, quite a bit of energy to wade through it.
I’m not going to conclude this a list of the things that are great about my life for which I’m glad, because I don’t think that’s the lesson in this. No, this is a note to myself.
Next time you feel curious about what such and such is up to, STOP. Do not start Googling anyone you once knew, especially pre-university. The answers are simplistic, you know they don’t tell the whole story, and you won’t like them anyway. You’re just going to feel bad about yourself, and then feel bad about feeling bad about yourself. Hell, you’ll end up overthinking things so much that you’ll eventually feel bad for your snap judgements of them and how unfair you’re being by not crediting them with being complex thoughtful humans just like everyone else and even typing this is exhausting.