Avoiding High School Reunion Head Trips
A time to relate to your own then-and-now
Posted Mar 25, 2019
“Son, can you play me a memory?/ I'm not really sure how it goes. But it's sad and it's sweet, and I knew it complete when I wore a younger man's clothes.” ~ Billy Joel, Piano Man
From a psychological perspective, is your upcoming high school reunion an approach-avoidance conflict for you? If you, like me, have lived thousands of miles away from the place that reminds you of those awkward high school years, it’s no easy decision to go that far to see a lot of people you haven’t stayed in touch with. Nevertheless, I intend to be at my 50th class reunion in just a few months and I am stoked. Why? We’ll get to that later.
I have to hand it to Facebook. Many boomers like myself use it with gusto, having stolen it from our millennial children long ago. We have discovered ways to use this social media platform that serves our sense of taste and nostalgia with a semi-openness about our lives. It helps us connect with others in ways we never thought possible. “Friend” one old high school chum on Facebook and watch the floodgates open to more people you thought never gave you a second thought way back when. The beauty of this is that, unlike previous generations, we can start dialogues with some ex-classmates well ahead of the reunion itself and then look forward to seeing them in person even if we weren’t buds with them in high school.
Do these people really remember you? Probably not, but they want you to think they do. And that's sweet. Whatever. Don’t take it personally. We have, after all, lost a lot of brain cells since those days and even defensively blocked out parts of our memories that may have caused discomfort or even pain. But that doesn’t make it any less special to take a stroll back in time to your teenage years — years often fraught with awkwardness, fear, and impatience. In my mind, high school reunions are more about comparing the self you were back then to the self you are now — not about hunting for classmates who remember you, gained weight or have gone bald. Little did we know back then the paths we would take and what adventures lie ahead. So reconnecting with those times (in my mind) is a healthy thing. Ever see the zany movie Romy and Michelle’s High School reunion? If you haven’t, it will get you in touch with the attitudes, hang-ups, and machinations people go through before they show up at the event itself. It will also reassure you that being the person you are now is the key to having a great time.
I’ve obviously done some head-tripping about this semi-rite-of-passage. So I did some research on advice others can offer us before the meet-up actually takes place. And I agree wholeheartedly.
Who were you back then? It’s great to think about all you’ve done, the children and grandkids you produced, and the degrees and accomplishments you can look back on. But try to remember who that person was who couldn’t wait for class (or high school) to be over — the one who may not have been on the honor roll but took some of his or her classes seriously nonetheless. Never lose sight of the seedling you once were, because those were the days that helped to shape you into who you are now whether you liked them or not.
Lots of people who have attended their reunions warn you of two things: eat before you go, because the food may not be the cornucopia you’d hope to experience. And wear comfortable shoes, because you will be standing most of the time. This is a conundrum for me, since I don’t feel “dressed” without pumps on. So I have already planned to take pain relievers as prophylactics before I arrive and use alcohol in moderation to fill in the pain gaps.
Speaking of alcohol, it’s easy to overindulge at a class reunion. Why? Because we know it loosens our inhibitions and we will be seeing people we may not remember, even if they remember us. It’s also easy to think we are funnier and more clever with each successive gin and tonic. But how you appear to others with a bunch of drinks on board may not be so attractive. Want proof? Go into the restroom after 3 or 4 stiff drinks and tell me what you see in the mirror. Plan ahead what and how much you will drink. It just may affect how people think of you afterward. If you care, that is.
Dress to feel good about yourself. For ladies, that may mean wearing something you have had compliments on and you know shows off your current assets without being tacky. No, we’re not talking evening gowns or even sparkles. But dressing down because you think no one really cares tells more about how you think of yourself at this stage of life. Men? If you don't intend to wear a sport coat or suit, wear that shirt on the outside instead of pretending you still have a waistline. It looks better from all angles. Take it from us gals. Confidence is the key to circulating around the reunion floor. If you are a bit of an introvert like me and not a natural networker, evidently approaching two people intensely talking is a bit of an invasion. Three or more is a crowd and you are more than welcome there. The people you once thought beautiful and had it all together back then may not match what you see in front of you, just as the person you are now may have blossomed into a new being they can’t relate to at first glance. By now we all know that it's what's on the inside that counts.
You’re a big girl/big boy now. So talk to everyone. Who cares what their social status was in high school? What are they like now? Are they smiling at you from across the room, possibly remembering something about you you may not even recall? Awesome! We’re not in high school anymore so there are NO cliques that can keep you from getting to know some truly amazing classmates. I was a de facto wallflower back then, because my overly-strict parents did not permit me much of a social life. But that won’t stop me from getting curious about everyone now that I’m a been there/done that chick. It’s about extending yourself and receiving others with grace. We’ve all changed and our journeys have been our own, replete with mistakes and disappointments, ex-spouses and some regrets. Who we are now is what is most important.
Don’t forget that it took a lot of work to put this reunion together. Someone had to contact everyone (including a slew of people whose names have changed), set up the venue, take payments, collect stories, plan photo boards and flash video projections of your high school years, and think of all the things that could make the evening special. They deserve rounds of applause, thankful glad-handing, and recognition. This was an unpaid demonstration of nostalgia, possibly reconnecting you to old friends or introducing you to new ones you never thought would become a part of your life.