Ladies, I don’t know about you, but my junior high and high school years were fraught. I was nerdy, sharp-tongued, barely dated and was much more interested in reading and studying than in drinking, partying or boys. The Queen Bees of my high school did not have much use for me and my bookishness and unstylish clothes, and they let me know it. When I first read Margaret Atwood’s novel Cat’s Eye, a shiver of recognition ran down my spine and a few faces from junior high swam in front of me. I don’t look back on my teenage years with any pleasure; you’ll never hear me fondly reminiscing about them as “the best years of my life.” (I’ve always thought that anyone who said that must have shipped out to a war zone or a maximum security prison immediately after graduation).
But at 17 I graduated and went off to college, where I found plenty of like-minded geeks, had a couple serious boyfriends, and then moved to New York City, where the dating took off like a rocket and the bookishness provided me with steady, fulfilling employment. I created a truly happy, satisfying life for myself, but aside from a small handful of close friends, I never kept up with anyone from high school, nor did I ever look up anyone during my frequent visits home. Looking back, I suspect that my unpleasant teenage experiences were vital to my adult success—they helped me develop a thick skin, self-reliance, a good bullshit detector, and an ability to say “fuck you” and walk away where appropriate. All of this proved extremely handy when I moved to New York and entered a hyper-competitive, often bitchy, industry.
Yet, oddly enough, when I joined Facebook a year ago, the first people to send me friend requests were girls—women, now—from high school. I hadn’t talked with any of them in at least 15 years. How they found me, I’m not sure. But when they did, I was torn. On one hand, I was wildly curious to know where life had taken them, and on the other I was confused, and slightly irritated. Why did they want to be friends now, after being so unfriendly in high school? But my curiosity got the best of me, and I clicked “accept”, figuring I could always find out what they were up to and then quietly de-friend them later.
What happened next came as a total shock. It turned out that these girls had grown up into nice women. Most of them were married, with children, which I am not. The vast majority were still living in or around where we grew up, which I am not. They were as different from me as adults as they’d been when we were teens. But all of them expressed real pleasure at having reconnected, and I was suddenly swamped with compliments: “You look amazing!” and “You were always so smart!” and “I totally envied you back then because you were so confident!” O rly? That’s not quite how I remember it, girls. It’s odd how despite my success and happiness in my adult life, a mere whiff of those teenage years pulls me right back into my defensive, 15-year-old, fuck-you mindset.
But despite my initial cynicism, I came to realize that their friendliness and desire to reconnect were genuine. I took the compliments and ran with them, and discovered that whatever nasty mean-girl demons had possessed these women as teenagers, they were for the most part fully exorcised. To my surprise I discovered real, unexpected pleasure revisiting our shared experiences. Two of the women who frequently drop by my Facebook page were my best friends in 8th grade—we had a tight little clique of mall-ratting and phone-calling and sleepovers when I was 13. By high school, however, they’d dropped me, almost overnight and without any explanation. I think they found me too serious and geeky when the high school partying and boy-chasing began in earnest. The rejection stung at the time, but I found different friends, and hadn’t thought about them in years, until they both friended me on Facebook. One is now a successful lawyer in Florida, the other an active full-time mom in my hometown. They both have adorable kids and seem happy and it’s been a delight to chat with them and share our lives in this casual, on-line way. Go figure. If you had told me all this would happen back when I graduated high school and left town for good, I would have laughed in your face (or, more likely, flipped you the bird). Life is strange. But I’m thankful to Facebook for reconnecting me, and for, in many ways, redeeming my teenage years and the girls I spent them with.