With the ten-year high-school reunion right around the corner, I find myself reminiscing about the past. I think about the memories made and the ones that never happened. I see people I went to school with still hanging out with their friends, like nothing ever changed—and then I realize something: I never had a group; I never fit into any group of people at my high school.
I had muddled through junior high with one best friend. She was my person, and I told her everything. Together, we gracefully pushed through junior high, and we prepared for high school with no fights, no failures, and nothing but the summer-time fun.
But in high school we ran into boy drama. I didn’t date any guys I went to school with and managed to escape the drama myself, but my friend didn’t fare so well. Her relationship with her boyfriend got her into trouble.
So I spent my sophomore year alone and depressed. The kids I hung out with before junior high left me in the dust, and the new kids didn’t like me because of where I was from. I struggled to find a new friend that understood me. I cut my hair off and instantly I was called a “dike,” and other names. I didn’t fit into cliques, so I sat lonely and depressed at a table of “losers” (as the other kids called them). I felt like an outcast, the black sheep who just wanted to fit in, to be liked and to have friends.
The summer before my junior year I met a cute, dreamy, broad-shouldered boy who walked like he just didn’t care. And as I struggled with self-acceptance, I felt drawn to him. He didn’t care if I sat with the so-called losers, or that I cut my hair off. He accepted me for me—and that opened the door to my heart. He eventually became my husband.
That summer I learned that friends come in all shapes, sizes, and forms. He may not have been the first person I would have chosen to share my secrets with, but he balanced me out. He made me feel wanted and needed and valued. I no longer felt like I had to be a black sheep hoping to be accepted. I no longer felt the need to fit in with the kids at school. I no longer cared what people at school thought they knew about me or what they said about me. Instead, I made my own group. After he accepted and loved me for me, I found that I could better accept myself—and accept and love others, too. I was just true to myself.
As an adult, I know there will always be groups or cliques that I’ll never fit into. I know my daughter will someday, sooner rather than later, experience these situations as well. But I hope I can pass on to her the freedom that comes from accepting yourself first, and staying true to yourself, even if others treat you badly. And I want her to know that with that freedom, she can love and accept others just as they are.
I’ve found that even when friends come and go, if you stay true to yourself, you have the power to change what might be a crappy situation and face tomorrow full of confidence. Because once you accept who you are, it’s that much easier to build friendships with people who like the real you.
Photo credit: Flickr/Ben Seidelman