Look, I didn't love high school. Luckily, I didn't hate it, but it also wasn't, say, the most happy/comfortable/un-terrifying time of my life, either. Which, I think, is a pretty common experience, even though I graduated in a class of 68, so even outcasts were kind of on the inside. So, when I was faced with my ten-year high school reunion, my first instinct was to brush it off: I live over a thousand miles away from where I grew up — what did my graduating class have to offer?
The answer is, not much. But perhaps that was exactly why I decided that attending might be the hilariously surprising thing for me to do. I didn't have much to prove to anyone, and I had so moved on (New York, my own apartment, a career, my wonderful R29 life) from the realm of H.S. that it might be enjoyable to go back to those uncomfortable interactions as, say, a slightly less awkward adult.
And just like that, I went. But not without a little trepidation and a bit of second-guessing — after all, I was the closest thing my school had to a Winona Ryder-style misfit, so why would anyone want to see me again? Yet, this foray into my past wasn't about getting reactions or receiving approval (or acting out, like a few previous ill-advised facial piercings may have been); it was about visiting a not-too-comfortable part of my past, but from a place of relative security and confidence.
I can safely say I made the right choice. Or at least a series of them, being sure to remember, throughout the weekend, why I was tempted to go in the first place...and why I will never, ever miss being a teenager. So, here's a bit of advice, from one survivor to (hopefully) another:
DON'T overindulge: Was I nervous? Yes. Did I calm some anxiety by having a glass of wine while I got ready? In a crucial way. But I also had a solid dinner and made sure to not take advantage of the heavily flowing drinks. Alcohol is certainly a social lubricant of the finest form, but being overly drunk at your high school reunion is a pretty bad faux pas that might take you another ten years to remedy. Everyone is just as nervous as you so you'll see plenty of trips to the bar, but make sure to unwind, not mind erase.
DO wear something feisty, but not over-the-top: In high school, I was nicknamed Snarf for my bright orange hair (kids can be so cruel, can't they?). Also, I work at a fashion publication. So, showing up in a crisp two-piece suit would be unexpected — unless it was Vivienne Westwood. To show off my more evolved style (no more low-rise flares, sadly), I made sure to pick something sophisticated, but with a Leila edge. Slits, leather embellishments, a statement necklace, even one cherry-red detail will make you stand out, but not overwhelm your old pals with effort. Most of all, my night-of outfit wasn't a far cry from what I wear on a day-to-day basis, so I felt like myself...just in a more polished version.
DON'T get overly effusive or sentimental: Look. I haven't done a great job of staying friends with the people I enjoyed. And that made me sad. So before I set out to the event, I made a mental list of people I was looking forward to seeing. And when I saw them, I let them know that I wished we kept in touch. Unfortunately, a few people didn't pay attention to the first rule ended up coming off as slightly over-affectionate. And yet, it's the people who singled me out and said a simple, kind word who will be remembered for years to come.
DO kick off the day with a little indulgence: I got a blow-out. That's my favorite thing to do when I need to feel immediately glam. It was the best decision I made all day.
DON'T hook up with anyone. Just, don't. If you are in town (or live in town) and you feel the urge, get a drink the next night. But at the reunion itself? I mean, people write comedies about what a bad idea this is.
DO make one Romy and Michelle reference; it's just good form.
DON'T bring your significant other if they don't know anyone: Okay, wait. This is just my opinion, but reminiscing with your old math partner about how horrible a teacher was while simultaneously making sure your romantic partner is having a good time is a tough juggling act. There were two distinct camps when it came to married alums: those who brought their special people, and those who left them at home. You can guess who looked like they were having more fun (with a few exceptions, of course). Reunions are, by nature, exclusive events. If you weren't there to begin with, you are an outsider. Just a fact.
DON'T talk about weight. Just don't. This should go without saying.
DO leave the event with one connection you are hoping to keep: The bottom line is, we are all jerks (at least some of the time) when we are adolescents, whether or not it's intentional. But as adults, we are significantly less jerky (usually), but we still have shared experiences. The likelihood that there might be someone who you had forgotten about could be a potential friend/contact is pretty big. So, if you are going through the trouble of heading to a reunion, you might want to walk away from it with at least one renewed connection.
DON'T apologize for the past, but DO follow up if you feel like you should: Thought it didn't seem like it at the time, I emerged from high school relatively unscathed. However, when someone began to apologize for something I didn't even remember, I felt weird. That said, if you actually were a Grade A jerk, a note post-event would feel more sincere and less opportunistic.
DO remember that you didn't peak in high school: Maybe it's because my school is in the middle of a major urban center, but I really didn't believe that any of my peers hit the apex of their strides between the ages of 14 and 18. Perhaps this makes me over-optimistic, but I would venture to say the same about most R29 readers — we are all continuing to grow, right? You have every reason to be proud, and the likelihood is that you (and a couple of your pals) are way cooler now than you were then. (But that doesn't mean you weren't a Spice Girls-loving, Savage Garden-listening badass teenager, too.)
Bottom-line: I was glad I went, but I'm also glad to be back here, in the life I have created for myself. It was great to take a walk down the proverbial memory lane — though, said path isn't exactly one I find myself desperately missing. People are married (I'm not), others have moved far away (myself included) and I am comfortable enough to not care about holding myself to any weird expectations that I might perceive other people to have. Instead, I enjoyed our shared experiences without fretting over income, marital status, weight, or anything else I normally don't worry about...all that stuff is so high school, anyway.