You walk into a crowded room. It’s filled with people—people you know and feel comfortable with, yet you don’t really know the majority of them well at all. Yet you do. But you really don’t. It’s bizarre. Everyone’s excited to see you, so there are hugs and kisses all around. And while there’s a vibe of familiarity swirling around, you really don’t know most of them. But you do. But you don’t. Most of them are more or less strangers at this point. To be honest, you’re a little uncertain about why you’re even there at all. But you are.
And that, my friend, is the best way I can describe my 30th high school reunion.
No offense to anyone from the Class of ‘86, because they’re all lovely people—the ones I really know anyway. Can’t speak to everyone, of course, because there are some I never really knew to begin with. But the simple fact is that reunions are awkward. They just are. They can feel stiff and judgy and uncomfortable, regardless of who you were back then.
Think about it, you’re only there for a max of maybe two or three hours, with the goal of circulating around and connecting with like a hundred different people. Pipe dream. Can’t be done. Because once you get cozy with a couple of people, you tend to stay there. Plus, all the old cliques splinter off just like they did when we were seventeen, and totally separate from everyone else. That’s just how it works.
Now of course it’s fun to catch up with the old crew and reminisce and replay all the stupid, funny, maybe slightly inappropriate things we did together. Those moments are priceless. But the reality is that most of us are in very different places now, as adults, than we were in high school. Or at least we should be.
So why go? Well, I asked myself that exact question right up until the time Dave and I walked in the door. Because, honestly, the people I care the most about are the people I still see or talk to on a regular basis. Ok, sure, there are the handful of friends I still keep in touch with because we live in the same town or the out-of-staters who I’m still close to; otherwise everyone else has moved on to new lives and new relationships. Which is what’s supposed to happen.
A big part of my motivation to go was curiosity-based. Obviously. I mean, who wouldn’t want to see if the geek got the girl? Or what thirty years looks like on your high school crush? It’s definitely a where-are-they-now mentality, for sure—a night of rubbernecking in the past.
And of course, on the surface, everyone seems like they’ve turned into decent, more or less respectable grownups. But that’s on the surface. Cause the reality is, we don’t really know each other on an intimate level anymore so it’s easy to fake it for a night and make people believe what you want them to believe. Rental car and a new outfit and BAM, new life. So even though people seem normal on the outside, there’s no good way of telling if they really are.
Which leaves a bunch of regular conversation with all the people you’re still close to and a ton of small talk with everyone else. Conversations that more or less involve superficial talk about kids and wives and husbands and jobs and houses. Because those really are the big-ticket highlights, right? No time to dig deeper.
But that’s the true essence of a reunion, I guess. Most people go to check everyone out. We go see who got fat or bald or married or divorced. Because we’re all curious, especially about people we grew up with.
See, friends from our youth are a funny thing. They’re people who, for all intents and purposes, got thrown together with us when we were little—in places like kindergarten or Little League or Girl Scouts—and then were attached to us for the next twelve years. Whether we were compatible or not.
These were the people we sat next to in homeroom for twelve years or had gym class with or whose locker was directly above ours. Some of them became legitimate friends because we made real connections with each other. Others we had ties with because we played soccer together or cheered with or did drama club together. Either way we had a bond.
Look, thirty years apart definitely didn’t bring me any closer to the people I wasn’t close to in high school. But it did give me a good dose of perspective. It was confirmation to me that I had finally settled into the best version of myself so far, and that I really didn’t care whether I fit in or not, whether I was popular or not, or whether I was successful or not in the eyes of everyone else. It was a refreshing moment, actually. Definitely worth the price of admission.
So the upshot is this… Ultimately, they say we can never go back. And they’re right. Because we can’t. But it was fun to take a quick peek back to remember where and how we all started out. Plus, it’s entertaining to see if where we started out matches up at all to where we ended up. Cause that one can be a crapshoot.
Lisa Sugarman lives just north of Boston, Massachusetts. Read and discuss all her columns at www.lisasugarman.com. She is also the author of LIFE: It Is What It Is available on Amazon.com and at select Whole Foods Market stores.