In a long discussion with Phi about the whole Phoebe Prince mess, the subject of friendships in the lower echelons of high school popularity. He commented that when he was younger he had friendships but no group of friends. It’s a distinction that I hadn’t actually put a whole lot of thought into. Thinking about my own experience, it’s not exactly true for me, but it’s at least as true or not.

I didn’t have a dearth of friends. I was fortunate to go to a school with over 4,000 students where simply numbers suggested that you would find someone you were compatible with. I actually did better than that, having at least someone I was friendly with in each class. Sometimes a group of people. Were they friends? Not exactly. But we were at least friendly acquaintances. Don’t get me wrong, I had genuine friends, too. Not a large number, but I never really wanted a large number.

And there were sort of groups. There was a group of us that would get to school at an ungawdly hour of the morning so that we could get a good parking space. My best friend Clint also had some friends that I was very friendly with. Andrea Carmine and that gang. But these were casual and makeshift groups and while I was friendly with them, with the exception of The Early Bird Club, the connection was pretty weak and through a bilateral friendship. I was friends with one of them and so I got to know them. The only way it would go beyond that is if I had a class with them and I rarely did (it was, after all, a school of 4,000). Never a group big enough and close enough that I would have a natural destination when entering a classroom or the lunchroom or whatever.

So when it came to actual groups, I was not hugely successful. Unless I had an ambassador conduits like Clint or Andrea, I had a lot of trouble breaking in. It’s pretty frustrating to look back on. Mostly because I really had no one but myself to blame. I didn’t have the social confidence yet I would eventually acquire. I lacked drive. I was a little too comfortable by myself.

Beyond that, I also failed to realize how to lay groundwork for group activities. I never participated in any extracurricular activities. I disliked Mayne High School with a passion and didn’t want to contribute to it in the slightest. I didn’t fully realize the social implications of that. Further, I segregated myself by declining to be in honors classes. I lost touch with a whole lot of the friendships I had made before the tracking began. I retouched base with them at the High School Reunion and was reminded of what I had missed out on. Besides honors students, the most natural fit was oddly band. It was Clint’s friends from band that I got along with the most. The problem was that I wasn’t the least bit musical.

I have a lot of regrets about my socialization in high school. I see so many missed opportunities. Since making friends was difficult, since I had more robust social life apart from the school, and since I didn’t need a whole lot of friends most of the time, I just didn’t extend the effort I could have. Most of the time this didn’t matter, but I look back and shake my head at the times it did. Most particularly, I had no one to sit with at lunch. I don’t know how exactly it happened, but it seemed that every semester I would end up tossed with the 1/3 of the school that I didn’t know. That’s a mild exaggeration as I did have a couple good semesters with Clint and I made do a couple other semesters, but when there are 1,300 people in the cafeteria at any given lunch period, there’s no excuse for ever sitting alone. Or having to sit with a group of people that you really don’t like but are there.

All of this made it so strange that at my high school reunion, I ended up sitting at a random table, introducing myself to a group of people that I didn’t know, and made three friends. When we parted ways I told them that I wish I had known them back in the day. My bad.


Category: Ghostland, School

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21 Responses to Never Should Have Eaten Alone

  1. stone says:

    “He commented that when he was younger he had friendships but no group of friends.”

    Yep, the definition of friendship is varied, but it’s a higher standard to be able to assemble multiple folks who can stand each other and you, and work toward any common goal.

    And you really need a *group* to be able to date successfully in school.

    Also, Phi seems blind to how much his religiousness must have affected his social standing. He talks about girls and sex with expectations as if he were a secular person, rather than (what we used to call) a Christian Dork. (This is not meant to persecute him for his religious beliefs, merely to outline the likely social consequences.)

    If he’d at least been one of those rockin’ youth group fundies who listened to Stryper and wore HIS PAIN YOUR GAIN T-shirts, he’d probably have had a crew of similars and a girlfriend, but … how many Calvinists are around anymore? And on top of it all, he was a foreigner. The cards were stacked against him.

    As for you, Will, maybe the issue was that there just wasn’t the social persecution for guys when left out of a group. Girls *have* to have a group, even with people they can’t stand. Aloneness is not an acceptable option. I know, because I tried it a couple times. It makes one a very convenient target for harassment from males and females.

  2. trumwill says:

    And you really need a *group* to be able to date successfully in school.

    I’m not sure even a group is enough. Maybe it’s in the necessary-but-not-sufficient category. It seems by my observation that there were male groups and female groups and only the higher-up groups had a whole lot in the way of integration (or corresponding groups with which they had regular contact).

    Also, Phi seems blind to how much his religiousness must have affected his social standing. He talks about girls and sex with expectations as if he were a secular person, rather than (what we used to call) a Christian Dork.

    This can vary from region to region. A lot of the most popular kids at my school were FCA-types. Some long-haired Pentacostals I knew were at a bit of a disadvantage. Nor sure if Calvinism came up. But generally speaking, the Christians had a pretty strong social network at Mayne High School.

    But I’m nitpicking a good point. When he (or I) make a reference to girls that are “in our league” we’re often talking about physically. Girls that, if looks and decency were the main things under consideration, should be going out with us.

    But some things you don’t notice can have a really detrimental impact. Even things like sitting alone at lunch. Who you hang out with. Having unpopular views. Being a minority (even if you’re not an unattractive one). The list goes on and on.

    Perhaps because it unduly affected me, I think the lack of friends is a real biggie. Way past high school I noticed that being someplace alone was often a warning sign.

    And on top of it all, he was a foreigner.

    Que?

    As for you, Will, maybe the issue was that there just wasn’t the social persecution for guys when left out of a group. Girls *have* to have a group, even with people they can’t stand.

    I don’t doubt that it’s more true of girls than guys, though I think it’s an area where school size matters a good deal. In a smaller, tighter environment what you says rings true. I think of Marianne Silbet, a girl I haven’t commented on, and Clancy’s horror stories and they all have small, tight environments in common. I think at huge schools like my high school it may have been less true.

    In case you haven’t noticed, I think a lot of the arguments about how we need smaller schools are bunk. I am so thankful for the large HS I went to and the anonymity that it provided me. Even if I got too comfortable there and it came with some opportunity costs, it was an unbelievable relief.

  3. stone says:

    Yes, Will, I thought Phi mentioned going to an expatriate school. I thought he was from some English-speaking foreign country.

    By college, it was often cool to be foreign. But it was usually a drawback in high school, not because of any persecution or xenophobia, but just because it was one more way to be an outsider.

  4. trumwill says:

    Had a friend in junior high that was from Germany. It did not work in his favor. He had to be friends with the likes of me. 🙂

  5. ? says:

    Since it came up . . .

    I’m an American, and spent ages 0 – 14 in secular public schools here in the U.S. Which is where my woeful tales of friendlessness originate. I wasn’t especially religious — none of the kids I knew were — but from age 9 – 13 I was known to belong to a Presbyterian family in a small, Church-of-Christ town. That probably didn’t help, but my “issues” predate it.

    I attended grades 10 – 12 at a tiny expat (N American and European) high school in Latin America where the students at the time were very religious, and thank God for it. These were some of the happiest years of my pre-married life.

    I should do a bio page . . .

  6. ? says:

    This may be a little off topic, but Trumwill’s reflections about regret got me thinking. Although I blossomed socially in high school, this blossoming didn’t involve romance. For a couple of reasons. For one thing, while I was attracted to girls, I had difficulty integrating those feelings into my self-image or life-goals.

    And second, I was blind to my real, as opposed to imagined, opportunities. Sheila will take great satisfaction in hearing me admit that my standards were indeed too high. When you have a mother like mine establishing your baseline, it tends to warp your perspective . . . .

    Which is too bad. I don’t think I could have done better than I eventually did, but I might have done it years earlier. A lot of my classmates married their high school sweethearts right out of college.

  7. trumwill says:

    Thanks for the background info, Phi. I hope it wasn’t too intrusive.

    You touch on something I’ve been mulling over for a future post. When you’re on the outside, you think that people on the inside have it made. Then your situation improves and you find out some success doesn’t translate into more (or a different kind) of success. On one hand, getting some real live female friends was a huge deal for me. On the other hand, it didn’t translate into relationships as I had long figured it would. A whole different set of skills required. A set that you can’t get without a different kind of experience. Experience you can’t get without the success you can’t get without experience.

    We’re still on pretty different wavelengths on the desirability of marrying one’s high school sweetheart right out of college.

  8. stone says:

    OK, Phi, so you didn’t start out as a foreigner. But when you came back from South America, *then* you were a foreigner. And were very religious by college, hence possibly the stigma of “Christian Dork.” This would not have been discussed to your face.

    If you were in fact around very religious people in high school and college … then it’s religious women who gave you so much trouble. Perhaps you shouldn’t blame secular society for their shallow traits.

    “When you have a mother like mine establishing your baseline, it tends to warp your perspective . . . . ”

    Because she was so great herself, or so critical of other women?

    I’ll admit I want my sons to have a dating pool at least a couple rungs above me. On the “inside,” at least.

  9. stone says:

    “We’re still on pretty different wavelengths on the desirability of marrying one’s high school sweetheart right out of college.”

    Yeah. If you’d been successful with (say) the overbite chick, you’d have either 1) had to marry her (bet you’re not mourning that loss) or 2) suffered an eternal weenie roast.

  10. trumwill says:

    I’ll admit I want my sons to have a dating pool at least a couple rungs above me. On the “inside,” at least.

    Reminds me a bit of an episode of L&O where this father (Matt Malloy, the guy from The Company of Men) was obessively trying to make his daughter “proper” lest she have to go on and order somebody as pathetically ordinary as her parents.

    Yeah. If you’d been successful with (say) the overbite chick, you’d have either 1) had to marry her (bet you’re not mourning that loss) or 2) suffered an eternal weenie roast.

    Even if it’s not the overbite chick, the problem is that we really have no idea at 18 what we will want at 28. We may not really want what we think we want and not just in the “bad boy” or “hot chick” immaturity, but it’s a lot more complicated than a checklist of minimum requirements.

  11. ? says:

    If you were in fact around very religious people in high school and college … then it’s religious women who gave you so much trouble. Perhaps you shouldn’t blame secular society for their shallow traits.

    Yes, yes . . . and maybe. That the kind of churches I attended in my twenties — urban, white, college-educated — were so deeply affected by the larger culture is the reason I relate to the themes of this blog more than you seem to realize. I recognize so much of it from my own experience.

    What’s a “weenie roast”?

    Because she was so great herself, or so critical of other women?

    Probably both, but in my youth it was mainly the former.

  12. Peter says:

    After all these years I can get a chuckle out of my most notorious high school “dating” story. “Dating” is in quotes for a reason, and I’ll also add that the story did not seem quite so amusing at the time.

    When I was a junior in high school, these two kids I didn’t like very much came up to me in the hallway and said that there was this girl who would be willing to go out with me. All I had to do was to wait at a local shopping plaza at an appointed time that evening and she would come by. Now, had I been able to think logically I would have wondered why they weren’t giving me the girl’s name, and further why a couple of kids I didn’t like were doing this sort of thing for me. I was, however, so excited by the whole idea – “Oh my God, a girl is going to date me, I’m so excited!!” – that I was utterly incapable of logical thought.

    I trekked down to the shopping center that evening, checking my watch every 30 seconds or so. When the appointed time came, the girl wasn’t there, however I noticed a car cruising by, and in it were the two kids who’d set up the whole thing. It immediately made sense. There was no girl, it was all a plot by these two kids to humiliate me. They’d be sure to tell the whole school of the ridiculous thing I’d fallen for. Thankfully, I was able to hide behind something, and they didn’t see me. They must’ve figured that I had caught onto the scheme, and nothing more ever was said.

  13. stone says:

    “What’s a “weenie roast”?”

    That was a cutesy way of saying you’d go to Hell. You know, for having sex with someone you didn’t marry.

    I was assuming she was a secular person who’d have expected that out of you.

  14. ? says:

    That was a cutesy way of saying you’d go to Hell.

    Got it. And I was afraid you were relating overbite to felatio or something . . .

  15. stone says:

    Peter, that’s a really sad story. Were they boys or girls?

    I never had anything that bad happen. I fell more than once for a similar gimmick though. The way it worked was, an unattractive guy I didn’t like (that way) would claim he had some inside knowledge about, or connection with, a guy I liked. Maybe the guy had dumped me, or maybe we’d never gotten together. But by using the attractive guy as bait, the unattractive guy could lure me into his orbit and gain my confidence.

    It never resulted in any physical contact for the unattractive guy, however. So it was a loser’s game. But it did give him bullying power.

  16. ? says:

    Peter: your story reminds me of the same gag attempted on me, except to more humorous effect.

    One morning in high school I looked in my desk to find a note “from” an attractive, brainy, but slightly odd girl two years my senior. The note said that she liked me and invited me to meet her by the elementary school swingset after evening devotions.

    The note was typed and contained multiple spelling errors. It was a small Christian school and the standards for these kinds of gags were pretty low.

    At lunch I showed the note to the boy who lived across the hall in the dorm. He smiled and assured me that he’d work on it.

    Tragically, I was injured playing football in that afternoon’s PE class, so the following was related by the participants that evening after the fact.

    My dorm mate recruited another boy and they staked out the swingset that evening to see who showed up. What they didn’t know was that another boy had received an identical note. This other boy was also not stupid and also recruited a team to stake out the swingset.

    My stakeout spotted his stakeout hiding in the school snack bar, and broke down the door ready to pummel whoever thought they could embarass me this way. It took a while to get each other’s stories, but eventually a good laugh was had by all.

    We eventually decided it was a couple of female upper-classmen that were responsible for the gag, but darned if we could get them to admit it.

    Like I said, happiest years of my life.

  17. trumwill says:

    Kind of funny, but I had an anti-friend that was telling that there was a girl that had a crush on me. I figured he was full of it and trying to pick on me. I got reason to believe, much later on, that he was actually being honest and I got an idea of who it was. Kind of weird to look back on it. I sometimes wonder if some of the people I ascribed cruel motivations to were actually being friendly.

    Then I hear a story like Peter’s and remember, “You know what, better not to risk it…” In my case, knowing wouldn’t have mattered much either way because I had already asked her out and she had already politely declined.

  18. Peter says:

    Peter, that’s a really sad story. Were they boys or girls?

    At least I can laugh about it now. When it happened I wasn’t so much angry as relieved, having been able to hide and avoid public humiliation.

    The two kids who pulled the stunt were boys. Looking back, I can’t quite figure out whether they targeted me because they disliked me so much, or just because they enjoyed pulling cruel pranks. More likely the latter, as while I didn’t like them too much (or them me) we weren’t actual enemies. Chances are they figured I’d be a likely sucker for their prank. One thing that really bothered me was that I couldn’t confront them about it, as in doing so I would have had to admit that I’d actually gone to meet the (nonexistent) girl.

    On a completely different note, I just got back from spending six hours at a kiosk in the central court of the local mall. It might seem like a weird way of soliciting for life insurance and other financial products, but it can work well. In any event, I had the opportunity to see large numbers of young people walking by. Mindful of this discussion, I took special notice of the young couples, of which there were many. My very tentative conclusion is that if you’re an ordinary, 50th percentile young man in his teens or early 20’s, you’ve got a decent enough chance of snagging a girlfriend. You do not have to be the star quarterback of the football team. Now, this isn’t to say that you’ll get a girlfriend if you’re grossly fat or pathologically introverted, but at least you don’t have to be a superstar.

  19. Maria says:

    15.Peter, that’s a really sad story. Were they boys or girls?

    That is indeed a very sad story. The only thing I can relate that seems similar was the habit of some boys to pretend they thought me attractive, by using fake wolf whistles or catcalls or exaggerated smooching noises. or yelling that they wanted to take me out.

    I wasn’t popular in high school so I figured they were fake, anyways, and took them as insults. It gave me a real complex about my looks that I’ve never gotten over. I had to walk many blocks home from school and they would do it from their cars, and I used to cry whenever it happened. Which was like, almost every day.

  20. DaveinHackensack says:

    Peter,

    Your junior high recollection made me think of your recent post about getting “porched”. BTW, that verb was new to me, but not the experience it colorfully describes. An old friend of mine sold insurance for while, before he and I worked together somewhere else. He told me stories about getting porched. Life insurance sales didn’t work out for him (though he was probably a little too young — early 20s — when he took a stab at it), but he went on to a lucrative career as a mutual fund wholesaler (having a series 7 helped him get his foot in the door there).

  21. Peter says:

    Your junior high recollection made me think of your recent post about getting “porched”. BTW, that verb was new to me, but not the experience it colorfully describes. An old friend of mine sold insurance for while, before he and I worked together somewhere else. He told me stories about getting porched.

    I was at the mall kiosk this evening with another agent, who’s been in the business for several years, and during some slow times he told me a few tricks of the trade. One of these related to my recent porching, which I had described to him. He said that when there’s a referral card from an address in the ghetto, and the person indicates an interest in college funding and nothing else, it’s very seldom worthwhile setting an appointment. Chances are very good that the prospect is interested solely in seeing if the insurance company will pay for the kid’s education. It doesn’t work that way. In other words, even if I hadn’t been porched the chances are slim that I could have sold anything.

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