Hey, can I come and play with you? Can I be part of your gang? hey, why don’t I get invited to those parties? why…
I’m a child at school and I’m in the non-popular majority in my class. We all know that there is a small group of cool people who regard themselves as superior to us, they exclude us and we don’t really know their criteria, but it’s obvious that people with dandruff and/or glasses are never going to be part of the cool gang. The girl who is leader of that pack is beautiful, she has long straight hair that looks silky smooth and she has blue eyes and she is just clearly pretty, which, by these rules we’re beginning to absorb, entitles her to look down on the rest of us.
I so so so wanted to be part of the cool gang.
Around age 14 I decided to stop doing my homework, because being the one who always did her homework and got good grades was obviously making me unpopular. (No, I wasn’t a swot, I was just born with a high IQ and didn’t need to make an effort to get good grades.) (Funny, isn’t it, that at that stage of life, being born with a high IQ wasn’t something to brag about, but being born with blue eyes and pretty hair got you lots of extra points.)
The plan worked. I went to high school and didn’t make an effort, let my grades plummet, and yes, suddenly I had friends.
Then there were the grown-ups who decided to adopt me into their group. The membership criteria were different here – you were expected to be intelligent and geekily sophisticated, and also to treat sex as a fun thing that you do with people you like, because we sophisticated and intelligent people are obviously above all those old-fashioned notions of being faithful to someone and all that. They were all really clever people, it seemed reasonable to assume that they know what they’re talking about. And feeling like I’m part of some smarter-than-average group of people who know better than my parents – yeah, I was a teenager, it appealed.
Another stage when I felt I was part of a gang was a lot later, in my 30s, when I went to university. I was on a philosophy course, and being intelligent was acceptable. There were two groups that socialised after lectures – one was the goodies group, who didn’t like being in a smoky environment so they went to Cafe Uno; and ours was the group that sat in the students bar and discussed philosophy over beer and cheap gin, which of course was a lot more cool.
Funny how things change. I’d be in the Cafe Uno brigade now. It was at the end of my time at college that I finally managed to quit smoking. And my heavy drinking days stopped not long after that. I have become one of those boring people that I despised as severely uncool. I even wear socks under my sandals now! Yes, there was a stage, in my late 30s, when gradually I was beginning to let go of the need to keep up my street cred, my clothes started to shift from trendy to comfortable… but still, every now and again I catch that stupid voice in my head, whispering about the need to talk like the cool people, to sound like them, to be acceptable… that shy young girl is still in there, expecting to be rejected by the trendy set, expecting them to ignore her because – well, ok, it’s not dandruff and glasses now (glasses are no longer uncool, apparently, and I do have access to good shampoo) but it could be stuff like expressing a view that isn’t popular, mentioning my faith (being a born-again fundy isn’t cool, right?), admitting that I didn’t get that geek joke everyone was laughing about and that I had to quietly Google that phrase…
But I’m encouraged by something I’ve been discovering over time – every now and again I’ve taken the risk and tried actually communicating with someone who seemed like one of the cool gang, and found, to my amazement, that they’re actually human, just like me! Every now and again I have reached out to one of them and found my gesture of friendship accepted with real gratitude – they’re human too, and in need of friendship just like everybody else! They may seem to me to be super confident, got it all together, but hey, maybe I seem like that to other people too? Maybe we’re all putting on a show, not wanting to look too vulnerable, too needy – because we all know how off-putting neediness can be, right? Weakness isn’t cool, is it?
But weakness is something we all have in common.