We all remember the popular crowd in high school. They were the fortunate ones with just the right amount of athleticism, good looks, fashion sense or coolness to gain them a coveted spot in an elite group of teenagers to whom life seemed to come easily. The rest of us could only look on helplessly, and pretend that we didn’t care. But secretly, we did. A lot.
Throughout high school and college, I attempted to gain entrance into the popular crowd, but always failed. The harder I tried, the more pathetic I became. Not possessing the requisite “popular” qualities, I resorted to humor, and although I was voted Class Clown of my 1984 graduating class, it didn’t get me a good date to the prom.
Despite these hardships, I thought an end to the social competition would be in sight if I could just snag a mate. Little did I realize that years after finding someone with standards flexible enough to accommodate my eccentricities, I would continue to face the same peer pressure and popularity issues that plagued me in my youth.
About 10 years ago, my husband and I bought a house and settled in with our three children to a nice suburban life. While I was quite content putting my career aside to raise our children, I soon realized that Mr. Rodgers and the mailman were my only regular companions. In a somewhat pathetic effort to find friends, I lingered a bit in the school parking lot, hung out at the neighborhood playground, and started taking classes at the gym. With perseverance, I acquired a small group of married acquaintances to see on weekends or to chitchat with in the driveway.
My solitary schedule perked up with the addition of these friends, but as the years passed, things got complicated. Somewhere between chitchatting at PTA functions and backyard barbeques, social competition reared its ugly head again.
It all started innocently enough: I was at Bunco and saw a friend wearing a fantastic pair of new boots. Next thing you know, I was hell bent on getting rid of my old clunkers so I would look so good. I brought my famous taco dip to book club and heard others raving over another friend’s fabulous dish containing a trendy combination of pine nuts, fresh herbs, and some kind of cheese I’d never heard of. While picking up the kids in my practical, well-worn minivan, filled with Happy Meal toys and old French fries, a self-conscious feeling came over me when I saw another cool friend, trendy coffee in hand, pulling up in a shining SUV, flashing a confident grin.
Suddenly, my previous state of ignorant self-contentment was shattered and I began to question my lifestyle. I listened more intently to the chatter, and discovered that it wasn’t cool to admit that “Wife Swap” was one of my favorite shows. I wondered if I should forgo my annual full-page Christmas letter, detailing the activities of our kids as well as the family dog, and go with a simple black and white photo of my kids on the beach in winter wearing Gap sweaters. I felt the pressure to give up the comfort of my cotton Jockey’s For Her in favor of the annoying thong so that everyone would think I’ve “still got it.”
I also discovered the cardinal rule: you simply must whiten your teeth in order to be a full-fledged member of the mid-life popular crowd. The old standards have changed; when our parents were raising us, it was more important to have a nice cigarette lighter and trousers with a good poly blend than to have white teeth. Black coffee and tobacco-stained teeth crammed with silver fillings were the norm back then. Today, you must have sparkling white teeth at all times; only the occasional pino noir stain is acceptable.
At my age, it should be easy to avoid falling prey to such shallow meaningless pressures, but like most victims of the mid-life social scene, I was not aware that I had been sucked into the maelstrom until it was too late. I had already purchased the Gap sweaters, filled my pantry with miso sauce and olive tapenade, and painted my walls with Sherwin Williams’ Cappucino No.7.
So what am I saying? Should I resign myself to a life of mom jeans, spray cheese and economical boxed wine just so I won’t fall victim to the social pressures of middle-age? Probably not a good idea. A little updating can be fun, and let’s face it, trendy boots are fabulous.
Nevertheless, those of us who never had it in us to be “popular” must discover who we are and just be real. This may sound too “Dr. Phil,” but it’s true nonetheless. At the end of the day, the only people we should try to impress are those that reside within the four walls of our own homes.
As for me, I drive a mini van, a doughnut franchise makes my favorite coffee, I wear comfortable undies, and I’m still not quite sure how my cell phone works. I’m the real article. No apologies. Take it or leave it.