High School Revisited: I'm Never Last Picked, I'm Popular

In high school, popularity is often defined by where you sit during lunch.

I sat at what was perhaps the third tier table in our cafeteria, but I wasn't anything remarkable in terms of notoriety. No one really spread rumors about me. Boys didn't really have crushes on me. I wasn't part of the Friday-night elite. I never worked at Sonic (which was cool again, why?). I followed rules and went to church and stayed away from the cheap beer the cool girls guzzled by the gallon.

However, in the microcosm of lunch-table land, sure, I was in the right zip code.

As social currency is concerned, I was fairly upper-middle class: 4-years of varsity soccer. Prom Court. A few boyfriends (more on this later). Bleach-blond lifeguard in the summer and in the fall a pretty mediocre cross-country runner. My oldest friend in the world was the Homecoming Queen. My other friends dated older guys and enjoyed adventurous escapades in Cancun and in (wow!) Westport. I suppose I was popular as much by association as by merit. An insider who felt like an outsider.

It would be fair to sum up my social experience in high school this way: I often felt like an ethnographer. I was the wallflower who wasn't exactly leaning against the wall, you could say.

And every day in the lunchroom I ate my brown-bag cheese sandwiches next to their pizza and Mr. Pibb and nearly every weekend I hung out alongside them at some anonymous upperclassman's party where I barely spoke to anyone besides my 4 best friends. These parties were disappointingly similar to ones in teen comedies, complete with keg stands and letterman's jackets and hot tubs and parents collecting car keys at the door and all the other Midwestern American tropes. How's that for depressing.

And I just - listened.

Observed. Silently psychoanalyzed.

According to those same teenage tropes found in every teen comedy, you always need a villain.
The problem is, I can't do skewer the popular kids for being exclusive or rude or holier-than-thou. They were always kind to me, the rare times I chose to engage with them. They weren't the smug, vapid, backstabbing type. It was far from Mean Girls.  They weren't A students, but they weren't D students either. They were cute and nice (if a little bit bland) and thin and well-manicured. They didn't ever exclude me, though I often excluded myself. (Why am I here? What am I doing at this party?)

So yes, I suppose I was popular in some people's minds. But what did it really get me? Really, where has high school popularity really gotten anyone? It's such a weird concept anyway if you really think about it. Especially now that popularity has taken on a slightly new meaning now that it's actually become quantifiable. (You have how many facebook friends? How many page views?)

I don't think popularity is anything to strive for. And honestly, it was a waste of time then, too.
No matter how cool you are or are not, you still eat your lunch at a folding vinyl-top table with macaroni noodles strewn across the floor and your Eastpack backpack at your side.

Everyone is kind of a dork. Or at least they see themselves that way. (Prompting them to write really bad "I wear a mask. . . " type poetry. More on this later, too. Lucky you.)

Yes, I had friends who were the all-eyes-on-me types of the lunchroom. But more importantly, I had  friends who got up on the cafeteria table and sang Hava Nagila at the top of their lungs. I'll take that weirdness and authenticity over popularity anyway.

In that sense, a high school reunion is tempting to me. Are the cool kids doing anything cooler than the non-cool kids? Likely not. Have they also come to the conclusion that their high school popularity really didn't matter in the end? Likely so.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a lot of terrible formal dance pictures to comb through with my super-popular husband.


Sherry said...

I'm loving your high school posts. Obviously they give me some reflection on my own teen days. I can say, the kids in my school who considered themselves to be popular (the ones who profess that high school was the best time of their life), still all happen to live around the school. And still do a lot of the same "exclusive" things. I always wonder if they notice that the rest of people moved on and aren't waiting for the invite.

EKD said...

Totally weird seeing that picture with all you girls...I always thought you were way cool and still use you as a great example of a "popular" person who still held their moral ground.

The Mursets said...

I love the high school posts! Ahhh the memories... It took me a sec to spot you in that picture ;) Hope we get to see you 3 in a few weeks!