Do you have a milestone anniversary of your own high school graduation coming up next year? Have you periodically Googled “should i go to my high school reunion” several times since it occurred to you that you have, in fact, been out of high school for a curious amount of time?
If you’re approaching the 10-year mark and a reunion event is in your future, let me offer a suggestion: don’t go.
25 years? Sure. 50? Hell, yeah. 70 – do it. But don’t go to your 10-year reunion.
A lot can happen in the time span between your late teens and late 20s: higher education obtained, children born, careers launched, opinions shifted, dreams evolved. People certainly change, even if just by small increments.
But that decade-long march of time away from the emotional landmine of high school is really not far enough.
I graduated high school in 2006 and ultimately chose to skip the reunion held this past summer at a winery outside of Cleveland renowned for its party atmosphere rather than its wine. Said winery also happens to be located in a cornfield (read: inaccessible to Uber).
On the surface, convenience determined this choice. The event fell on a Saturday evening at the time when I was in the process of moving 2,200 miles, from the Washington, DC area to Boise, Idaho. Sure, Northeast Ohio is on the way between these two locales, but between packing, cleaning, and schlepping, attending this thing didn’t land high on my priority list.
But of course I debated whether or not I should go. My own Google search was “should i go to my 10 year reunion.”
I even imagined my outfit: a flattering black-and-gray lace sheath with patent leather heels, likely much more formal than what anyone else would be wearing but emblematic of my experience living in a posh place like DC (never mind that the shoes I had in mind were stuffed in the drawer at my desk at work for flip flops when it was time to take the miserable metro back to my apartment in a decidedly un-posh suburb). I planned how I would style my hair to contend with what would likely be a hot, humid night so that it would still look sleek. I picked an outfit for my significant other that would coordinate with my own – no matter that he was at that point already living in Boise and most likely not able to take time off from his new job to fly to Cleveland to stand around and sweat in a cornfield (did I say “able”? I meant “interested in”). I imagined my equally stylish friends who would augment my presence (and I to theirs, I guess), even though none of my actual friends were able to attend (oops… meant to say “interested in” there, too).
Let’s not pretend that I had a nightmare of an experience in high school that involved bullying and tumultuous family events. It didn’t. I was just a loser. Weren’t we all? I sure was. Not overweight or underdeveloped, not overly zitty and not with an abnormally painful fashion sense, but just a not-terribly memorable dork who didn’t fit in.
In line with the cultural narrative that the popular, good-looking people in high school get fat and boring by the time of the first class reunion, and the losers turn into the most interesting, best-looking people at the party, I assumed that I’d fall into the latter camp. I was a damn good adult. Back in high school, I was a loser, and those likely to attend this reunion were not. Comparing myself to them now would certainly fall in my favor.
Thank goodness moving across the country got in my way of attending this 10-year reunion so that I didn’t partake in what would have been a live-action comparison exercise that many of us go through regularly on Instagram and Facebook (because people of my advanced age still use Facebook): measuring ourselves – all of ourselves, the person only we know – against what others portray of themselves. Complicate this activity by taking it to an event where we’re not only comparing ourselves to others but demonstrating the difference between who we were then and who we are now, taking stock of material possessions and appearance.
Clearly my interest in attending my 10-year reunion had little to do with genuine curiosity about the lives of others and more about how I could alter the preconceived notions others had about me so that I could buoy my own feelings of self-worth.
I rag on the 10-year reunion and not other milestone reunion events because of the issue of time. Anyone at any age can get stuck in a cycle of contrasting the flaws of your life with the highlight reel portrayed by others, but mortality catches up with all of us eventually. The likely preoccupations that many may experience at the 10-year reunion (Who’s got the biggest engagement ring? Who’s maintained the same dress size? Who drove up in the nicest car? Who has the highest-paying job?) will matter much less as the years pass. A dear family friend of mine regularly went to his own high school reunions well into his late 80s, even as these events eventually had to be combined with those of other class years because fewer people were alive and able to attend. The conversation certainly changes by that point.
On a more lighthearted note, with the passage of time also comes the effects of aging. By the time the 25-year reunion rolls around, I’ll frankly be more congratulatory than envious of anyone I went to school with who can still fit into their prom dress at age 43 and look as good as they did at age 18.
I genuinely cannot begin to imagine what my life will be like in 15 years, when I’m in my early 40s (UGH.) when the 25-year reunion rolls around, or what it will be like in 40 years, when i’m in my late 60s (WHAT.) by the time of the 50-year reunion. I’d like to imagine what my life will be like at these points, if I’m lucky to be alive and coherent to be around to experience it. What I can hope for is that I’ll be a person who is less preoccupied with comparing herself to others, and engages with people from the past out of interest and curiosity, not for only self-serving purposes. Clearly I’m not there yet.