Friday, October 2, 2015

        How the High School Shadow Self Lurks Forever

     My daughter posted an article today about how we all carry a “high school shadow self” with us into adulthood. Hmm. That gave me pause for reflection. Asking ourselves how we were seen in high school is a loaded question. Were we one of the “cool kids?” Were we on the fringe? nerds? “preppies” or whatever the current terms might be? If, in fact, we could label ourselves, would that label still apply in our adult lives? Oh, my. 

     Some people I know hated high school. They cringe when they talk about it. Others loved it, and their faces light up when they reminisce. A great deal of research has been done about how the adolescent brain functions during these years, and one researcher suggests that high school is the grounds for shame. Kids feel shame if they don’t fit in or if they are rejected. Bullies feel shame later in life, and some who were bullied still have the emotional scars years later.

        As the years have passed, there seems to be more and more emphasis on testing and rating as students compete to get into the “best” universities. The pressure on kids seems to be growing to the point where some young people actually take their own lives not being able to cope with the pressures. All of this set me to pondering about adolescent behavior among adults. (I have chosen to keep my adolescent behavior hidden in my scrapbook next to my squished brown corsage).

     When my father was in his mid-80s, I recall him complaining about taking a cruise with a group of his friends. He was very upset because one man always arrived at the dinner table
early and reserved the “best seats.” My father wanted to sit next to the “most popular couple,” but, apparently, so did everyone else. So there was tension on the high seas that had nothing to do with the waves. It was all about the “nots,” not the “knots.”

     I would like to tell you that times have changed, and people no longer engage in such adolescent behavior, but I’d be lying. Maybe what you all learned in kindergarten set the stage for your lives, but I would suggest that from ages 12 through 17, we learn a great deal about human nature and how to posture or fade depending on our individual experiences. Ask anyone who has been to a class reunion beyond the 25 year mark, and they will tell you how things have changed and not.

     When we go out with a group of people, I am the first to admit that I prefer sitting next to someone who is a good conversationalist and who does not see dinner out as an opportunity to brag about grandchildren or whine about their aches and pains. It makes me think about what subjects I address in social situations. How many “I” stories do I tell? Are they of interest to whomever is listening, or am I just rambling about me me me? I certainly hope that I don’t do that, but after a second or third glass of wine, we are much more likely to say whatever we want without thinking of the consequences. From the country club party to the gourmet dinner table at the local “upscale bistro,” the high school shadow eventually rears its ugly head somehow. 

     I love to hear about peoples’ travels, especially to places I have never been but want to go. I really enjoy sharing stories about human behavior—the crazy lady at the shoe store or the kid who threw a tantrum at her baby sister’s baptism. I love to hear about someone’s new adventures, whether it’s writing a book, trying an extreme sport, starting a new business or performing in a local theatre production. 

     Women have scrutinized each others’ looks for centuries, and that never changes. In middle and high school, it’s all about looks and who’s dating the coolest guy. My daughter who has three sons told me the other day that had she known what 8th grade boys were obsessing about, she would not have wasted all her tears. They don’t think about girls. Hello.

     I have friends who look each other up and down as soon as we walk in the door. I guess I do it myself, but what matters is the reason. Are we comparing? Are we celebrating how nice our friend looks, or are we saying to ourselves, “She doesn’t look that great. I look thinner, prettier, younger?” It’s human nature, but the mirror we got with our first Barbie follows us wherever we go and blurts out silent messages that we internalize from an early age. 

     Today, the news reported some high school in Utah replaced all the girls’ bathroom mirrors with positive message posters. Well, I thought to myself, “That’s refreshing, but I’d have to pull out my compact to put on my lipstick or see if my zits were hidden or if my Coke bloat had disappeared.”

    Last night, we attended a function at our country club. I sat next to the husband of one of our close couple friends. I told him that I was delighted to sit next to him, as I never get a chance to talk to him when we are all in a big group. The women tend to sit together, and the men are on the other side of the room. He said, “Well, guys don’t like to talk about women things.” I said, “I know, but sometimes, neither do I.” We had a great conversation about all kinds of topics—none of which had to do with fashion, grandchildren, health or status. This is not to say that I don’t enjoy my female friends. I certainly do. It’s just that I miss the male point of view, and I’m fascinated by how men see the world so differently than us. A former student wrote me a private  face book message this morning telling me that he liked reading my blog as I spoke to and through the eyes of both sexes. That compliment made my day.

     The Society Pages in the newspaper still carry the high school shadow. Who’s got their photo in there from the latest $500/plate dinner? How did they look? Do we say, “Must be nice to have that kind of money or boy, she looks great?” Who was just elected to the Chairman of the Board of our volunteer organization? Are there leaders and followers? Are they the same ones we envied or were in high school?