Over at Bobvis there was a discussion about how much choice the unpopular had in their predicament. Spungen took issue with a recent poll that suggested that teenage girls with a stronger social situation are less likely to take abuse from a boyfriend:

As if it’s a ****ing choice. “Gee, should I stick close with my circle of friends? Nah, I’d rather wander around alone and hang out one-on-one with weirdos.”

By and large I agree with this assessment. Almost nobody chooses to have no friends. I do believe, however, that there is some choice involved. Some people are a little too happy off on their own that they don’t bother to cultivate the friendships they will later need. The conversation later turned to whether or not people are willing to cop to their unpopularity. Spungen believes that this is mostly not the case; I believe that people are fine doing so provided that they can blame it on a broken society rather than on themselves. I also made the comment that I knew more people that believed that they were helpless when there was something they could do about it than people that believed that their unpopularity was a choice when in fact it really wasn’t.

To which Spungen replied:

So Will, do you think popularity is available to everyone as long as they meet a certain set of criteria? If so, that would explain our conflict. I believe all (or most) systems have to have rankings, outcasts, and scapegoats. There will never room for everyone in the fold.

I agree that in most social circumstances there is never room enough for everyone in the fold. I’d also say that it requires more luck than anything to actually reverse your social situation for the better. I believe, however, that there are things a person can do that can help get them out of the social gutter (even if it lands you only a notch or two out of it). My experience (both first and second-hand) of unpopularity mostly pertains to guys rather than girls, so keep that in mind. In any event, here are the ways that one can improve their social standing:

  1. You don’t have to outrun the gator, you just have to outrun the other guy. In this case, you make yourself a less obvious target than those around you. You make yourself look good by comparison. The cheap way to do this is to make other people look worse, but simply making yourself look better can help. This is really hard to do if you are unwilling to disassociate yourself with those that don’t change with you (which will be most of them). Nonetheless, in a larger social setting where you are not constantly with whoever it is that is hurting you socially, you can make some friends before they find out who your other friends are. That doesn’t work at all in social settings, though, and they will likely keep you running in place.
  2. You can make a really bad situation not quite as bad by winning over the non-scared and non-malicious. There are people that will find some way to go after you. That’s a given. However, the better ammunition they have the fewer potential sympathizers you might get. The classic example here for me is my smell. I was not good about showering daily or wearing deodorant, which in the south that’s something you really need to be meticulous about. Not unexpectedly a lot of people ragged on me about it. I blew it off by saying to myself “Even if I didn’t have the smell they would just be making fun of me for something else. They’re just looking for reasons.” This belief was not at all incorrect. What I was doing, though, was warding off potential sympathizers by making myself more socially toxic than I needed to be.
  3. The number of popular-to-unpopular people is not constant. If you behave like the unpopular guys, you’re all but guaranteed to be counted among them. Stopping doing so is not sufficient, but it is necessary to get out of that rut. If luck is opportunity meeting preparation, be prepared.
  4. With some luck you can get a rabbi. In the 8th grade I had the good fortune (sorta) of being in the same class as a couple of the more pragmatic bullies. I helped them out with their schoolwork (ie gave them the answers) and they became what I call my rabbis. Their casual association with me warded off many would-be bullies, making my situation more tenable. They never would have gone to fight on my behalf or come to my defense, but they made it less likely that I’d need them to.

At least some of these would be unhelpful to young women since everything is so terribly different with them. Girls are more socially adept anyway and are much less likely to be lazy about hygiene and grooming. I suspect that only raises the expected standard to the point where money becomes more important to buy the right kinds of clothes and have the right kind of make-up, which is unfortunate. There are fewer ways on the whole a young lady can overcome not having money than a young man can. I’m so glad to be a boy.

None of these are going to take an unpopular person and just make them popular

Category: Coffeehouse, School

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10 Responses to To Mitigate Unpopularity

  1. Bob V says:

    “Even if I didn’t have the smell they would just be making fun of me for something else. They’re just looking for reasons.”

    My attitude was worse than that. I’d purposefully act *more* weird because I didn’t want to feel like I was trying to fit in and failing. As you may have picked up on by now, I’m a bit of a fighter. I’d relish things that made me an outcast.

  2. logtar says:

    During my like I had a period where I was VERY unpopular and there was nothing I could do about it. I was stuck in class with kids at least two years my senior and it was not a good experience. I was constantly ridiculed because I was intelligent and weaker than most, it was had to be athletic when you were so far behind. That said, later on in life I learned how to fit in with a group but never how to be “popular.”

    I think you are right, there are situations where there was no way to not be the outcast, however I think that goes away with age and with the ability to choose your friends. Even thought you can still be the outcast in a group, you now have the ability to join other groups.

  3. trumwill says:

    I shot myself in the foot on a similar basis, though not quite as confrontationally. There were some pretty minor things I could have done to make friends, but I refused to do so out of some weird sense of pride. I did try to curtail activity that actively repelled people, though.

  4. Peter says:

    I’m glad you brought up this thread, because it’s an interesting one and I’ve been banned from commenting at Bobvis.

    Anyway, it’s hard to avoid the impression that high school society has become much more rigid over the years. Back oh so long ago when I was in high school, the social landscape was not so much an array of exclusive categories as a set of intersecting circles. Boundaries of these groups were fluid and one could move from group to group with relative ease. The concept of a semi-exclusive clique barely existed. What has caused things to become so much more rigid, I haven’t a clue.

  5. trumwill says:


    How big was your high school? A key difference* in the experiences of Spungen and myself is that she went into a school where there was no traction because everyone knew everyone and you couldn’t make a good first impression. If you were in a smaller school I could see how you would have the same problem.

    And to reiterate, no matter what the environment there are a lot of factors of popularity that one has absolutely no control over. Even if a large social setting I doubt there was anything I could do to actually become popular. The ability to become less unpopular or at most midling in popularity was possible for most kids by changing their behavior. I only knew one kid that went from being a nobody to being very popular, but there were special circumstances involved.

    * – One of numerous differences to be sure. I’m a guy, I am white and went to a mostly white school, I am middle class** and I went to an upper middle class school.

    ** – Well, in retrospect I was upper middle class, but by all outward appearances (which is what mattered when it came to the social scene) we lived a middle class lifestyle. My parents saved and invested a whole lot of money.

  6. trumwill says:


    I’m not sure why it’s become more rigid. You would think that with schools getting bigger there would be more social opportunities than before, but it looks like that may not be the case.

  7. Peter says:

    I get the impression that people today simply aren’t as social as in the past. The average person born in, say, 1980 has fewer friends than people born in 1950 or 1920 had when they were the same age. Our society just doesn’t value friendship and sociability the way it used to.

  8. trumwill says:

    Perhaps. Perhaps it depends on how you define friend. This was less a case when I was growing up but may be more a case with the current crop wherein you have more friends online so you don’t quite have the impetus to make friends at your school. It’s easier to fail because the landing is softer because of your friends elsewhere. I know that was an issue with me in later high school with BBSes.

  9. logtar says:

    This was back in Colombia, before I became “Latino” I considered myself white. I went to an upper class all male school and I was middle class. My graduating class was around 100 people… but we started with a lot more.

    Popularity never changed during my whole time there… people were popular and stayed that way pretty much the whole time. I had no chance being younger and not having the same amount of money some of the other kids had.

  10. - Logtar’s Blog - » Blog Archive » I’m Popular! says:

    […] olombia), people still take his hyperbole seriously. Recently HitCoffee wrote a post about popularity. It had been sparked by an earlier post by someone else where it was a little upset at an art […]

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