November 30, 2009

Sentimental reasons NOT to attend your high school reunions

The idea that you would voluntarily run into a bunch of people you went to high school with and yak about the old times strikes many as too sappy to even consider. Is your life so pathetic now that your plan for fun is to re-live the glory days of high school? As a late-bloomer who's still enjoying his prime -- not that I've deluded myself into thinking it'll last forever -- I sympathize with this reason to stay away. Still, everyone has at least a streak of sentimentality, but I won't go to any reunions even if I felt like indulging that part of me.

My guy friends from adolescence are like war buddies. You banded together and made it through the jungle alive. If you don't form a group of your own, you'll be run over by some other mob patrolling the hallways and the cafeteria. They saw you at what will likely prove to be the most desperate and vulnerable points of your life, and you them as well. And when the social battle momentarily let up, they were the ones who you had reckless fun with, sometimes breaking the law along the way.

Ten years after graduating high school, you can't hope to re-establish that camaraderie by the tiniest bit. We forget to take account of how much our behavior is affected by our circumstances, notwithstanding our enduring personalities, and so we expect that hanging out with our high school friends will be just like old times. But because we've inhabited a profoundly different social environment for so long -- one that is less barbaric and where you can thrive pretty well on your own -- we're no longer who we were back then. It sounds too simple to bother emphasizing, but the typical reunion attendee more than half-expects it to be like the summer after their freshman year of college when they saw each other again and not too much had changed.

Having survived the hell of war together, it would feel deeply profane to meet up 10 years later during peacetime and start yakking about the weather and the economy. Sure, we have plenty of everyday recollections of those friends -- meandering toward the bowling alley to play video games, keeping your friend from growing bored during his paper route, etc. But overall my memories involving them are much more intense, and I don't want to dilute them with images of chatting about sports and the rat race in some bar. Sequels almost invariably suck in comparison -- especially ones thrown together 10 years or more after the original.

And then there are the girls. Or, I guess they're women by now. For those who don't get my preference for teenagers, just go to your 10 year high school reunion and tell me what percent of the women there still give you a boner just looking at them. True, you're not as horny as you were at 15, but unless you have no libido left, they should be doing something for you. The reason they aren't is because they're long past their prime. For some it might have been 17, while others may have lucked out and lasted into 24 or 25. But by their late 20s, you will be disillusioned to see them again.

We all know that at some point a woman's looks begin to fade, and we even have firsthand knowledge of this as long as we're paying attention to our age-mates as we grow up. However, we tend to change social circles so much during our 20s that we can only compare aggregates -- what the girls in your senior English class looked like compared to your co-workers in their late 20s and beyond. But when we see the exact same person for the first time in 10 years, the fuzzy intuition we have from comparing averages suddenly crystallizes into a sharp awareness. Their deterioration is no longer hypothetical or even probable -- you're dead certain, and this adulteration of your mental pictures of them is unbearable. Let alone when it happens with one woman after another, all within half an hour!

Perhaps more important than their looks is their demeanor. They're less obnoxious than they used to be, but the other side of that temper was a hotheaded cockiness that is intoxicating. They can never get this back; after their early or mid 20s, it just comes off as bitchy and annoying, even nagging. And because all teenage girls are effectively bipolar, their intense lows were matched by intense highs. Even the fortunate ones who grow up to be demure and pleasant cannot match the more ebullient sweetness of young girls -- the sparkle in their eye when they're running down the hall toward you, the spring in their step as they leap into you, and the grip of their muscles as you spin them around.

And unlike guys, girls completely lose their sense of humor and ability to have fun once they hit 25 or so. It's understandable given that that's when nature expects them to become mothers and settle down to raise a family -- fun time is over. For her. Unlike late 20-something women trying to show they've still got it by dancing on the bar, young girls go with what's true to their feminine nature -- being silly and cute.

One of my fondest memories is of a day in late spring in 8th grade when our Gen X English teacher let us go outside for class and do whatever we wanted, as long as we didn't run off. My closest chick friend at the time paired up with me and we found a quiet spot on the slope of a small hill. We passed the time joking about I can't even remember what, while she drew stars and hearts on my Chuck Taylors, then tracing out her nickname for me in her girly writing style. It's not quite as severe as cutting your thumbs open and pressing them together to become blood brothers, but it was still a physical way of leaving an impression on me so that I wouldn't forget her. She was one of the most pretty and popular girls in school, and I was one of the rebel kids -- what passed for one in 8th grade anyway -- so it felt even more surreal. As lovely as I'm sure she turned out, giving in to the temptation to see her again would only threaten the virgin image I have of her. *

Aside from silliness, there's coyness, and this produces its strongest effect when she's young and her blood is flooded with testosterone. Only when her sexual desire and frustration are palpable do we marvel at the resolve of a coy tease. Seeing her at 29 taking a stab at playing hard-to-get will only uproot your perfect picture of her and spread weeds throughout your mind. It's no different from looking up an adolescent crush on Wikipedia and having to look at some ridiculous photo like this.

Whether they're charging along in their career or staying stuck in their rut in their home town, the forced levity and the inane details of what they're up to would freeze my memories of them and crack them apart with a hammer. They were at their most moving while racing to class late in a fit of giggles, bending clear over in front of you in math class, or writing notes on the back of your neck when the teacher showed a boring movie.

College is somewhat different since you were at least through puberty and not so far away from adulthood. So it wouldn't feel too bizarre to see them again, but I'm skeptical even of that. I actually wouldn't mind hanging out with some of my guy friends, since it wasn't such a battle zone, and hence no conflict between a wartime and civilian frame of mind. I still don't know if I could handle seeing how the cuties I went to college with have aged. At least 10 years after high school is 28 or 29 -- for college, they'd be in their early 30s. I just don't get why people are willing to risk spoiling the purity of their memories just for an hour or so of tedious conversation.

* Not only would that kind of cute silliness be wholly lacking at a high school reunion, but the very idea that two people from different cliques would become close would be out of the question. Unlike secondary school, when your social circle is pretty heterogeneous, after you settle into adulthood it's much easier to sort yourself into a group of people who are almost exactly like you. I'm not talking about some lame one-off encounter between members of different tribes a la The Breakfast Club (so lame), but a few steady friendships between the preppy girls and the punk boys, or the stoners and the nerds, or the blacks and the whites.


  1. I think you're being a bit pessimistic. Most of the cute girls in my hS stayed cute until well into their late 30s.

    It hasn't been my experience that women lose their sense of humour after 25.

    But it's true I'm not much interested in re-unions.


  2. I did attend my 10-year, and experienced what you describe. It felt forced and somewhat uncomfortable. And, yes, the ladies had lost the magic (not to mention most all the stunners didn't attend).

    One twist at my reunion was that blacks and whites (this was a "rust belt" HS) segregated themselves utterly. You could have cut the discomfort with a knife. I walked over to "them" and shook some hands and said some warm hellos, but it was very uncomfortable and I realized it would have been better had I refrained, like everyone else. We had been quite friendly with each other in HS (though no socializing after school except sporting events), but the reunion was all-caps awkward.

  3. I would probably find some schadenfreude in seeing how the cute girls from my high school had aged since they uniformly ignored me back when it mattered. Seeing as I had no close friends of either sex at that age, there is no "purity" of the memories to spoil, as such. I'm indifferent enough at this point, though, that it wouldn't really be worth it.

    That is too bad about Alicia Silverstone. Could the vegetarian diet have made things worse?

  4. Well we may not have banged the entire pom squad, but that doesn't mean our memories of them are sour or neutral. Sure, they ignored most guys, but that doesn't sting anymore.

    Think of all the free pleasure they gave you by bouncing around in their little pom skirts, leaning over their desks, and tossing their tresses over their shoulder. Those are some pretty sweet memories.

    I don't know, maybe you'd get some benefit from the schadenfreude, but I still don't think you'd want to pay the cost of ruining your image of them.

    "That is too bad about Alicia Silverstone. Could the vegetarian diet have made things worse?"

    I'm sure it did, although since she started out really nice, it didn't fuck her up too much.

  5. I graduated in '85 and my husband graduated in '76.
    We went to my 10th reunion in '95 and his 20th in '96. Looking at what others had done with themselves cured us of ever wanting to do it again.

  6. "I graduated in '85 and my husband graduated in '76."

    Go husband!


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