The only thing more awkward than going to your reunion is not going.
JESSICA BADER: My five-year high school reunion is just a couple of weeks away, and I’m already a bit nervous about the whole thing. You see, I wasn’t particularly popular back in high school, and I haven’t really done the best job of keeping in touch with the people I was friends with back then (unless you count passively viewing whatever status updates are on the front page whenever I go on Facebook as “keeping in touch”). The reunion is being held in a bar, and given my college experiences with quasi-school-sponsored happy hours, I will either drink too much because I can’t find anyone to talk to and wind up barfing in my purse or wander around the room feeling self-conscious that I’m sipping on club soda and fail in my efforts to strike up or join conversations in a loud, crowded space. To top it all off, instead of merely spending an evening with people I mostly haven’t seen since graduation, I’ll be spending it with a lot of people I’ve haven’t ever seen, since it’s a combined reunion for the classes of 2004, 1999, and 1994. Yet for all of my anxiety over what seems like a rather awkward way to spend a Saturday night, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.
Yeah, it might be unpleasant to run into people I didn’t get along with as a teenager, and I’m sure I’ll give some former classmates who thought I was a loser back then ammunition to reinforce that belief. I’m not looking forward to realizing that I no longer have anything in common with someone I considered one of my best friends when I was 16. Still, I’ll be going to the reunion for the same reason that I kept attending all of those happy hours affiliated with some random student organization when I was in college: as much as I might have mixed feelings about what it will be like, I know that not being there would be a lot worse. If I didn’t go and something interesting happened, I’d really be kicking myself. Plus, it’s never too late to work towards that “new beginning” I’ve been chasing since I was in middle school, trying to break out of what other people think of me and be who I really am (whoever that is). And if I didn’t go, who knows what sort of ridiculous rumors about me might get passed around by the people who did show up? So bring on the banal “Omigod, I can’t believe it’s been five years!” exchanges with people I didn’t say that many words to the whole four years of high school, the re-hashings of old dramas that never really ended, the promises to do a better job of staying in touch that will inevitably go the way of the original promises from five years earlier, and yes, the ridiculous rumors about what the people who aren’t there are up to. Only five more years to go before it’s time to do it all over again.
Put the monocle down, sparky. Don’t bother going if you’re going to look like you’re trying.
MOLLY SCHOEMANN: My ten-year high school reunion is around the corner, and my feeling is, either I’m showing up with Hugh Jackman on one arm, pushing a stroller full of nonuplets with the other, or I’m not showing up at all.
A high school reunion is no time for subtlety. Trust me, nobody wants to hear about your new springer spaniel puppy or your job in publishing. They want to see whether you got fat or divorced or developed a nervous tic. They want to hear if you’ve saddled yourself with a whiny loser or popped out any kids. They want to casually pretend not to recognize you, to show that they’re too cool to bother remembering once knowing you. Ninth grade habits die hard. Maybe things will be different in another ten years when you all feel like failures, but right now it’s still too soon. Your only defense against this kind of behavior is a good offense, and you only get one chance to make a dynamite first impression—to achieve that sweet moment of redemption that somehow erases an entire freshman year spent pretending that you had no friends on purpose. You better make it good.
But wait, put the monocle down, sparky. Don’t bother going if you’re going to look like you’re trying. You cannot walk back into the gym reeking of desperation. If you’re busy whiting out the word ‘Assistant’ on your business cards or thinking up ways to make it sound like you moved back in with your parents because they missed you, stay the hell home, and I’ll tell you why: Above all, the name of the game is to keep those bitches guessing, and sometimes, putting in a non-appearance is the flashiest way to do that. In the back of their minds, those people I spent four years love-hating are bound to have a brief moment of wondering, “Huh, and where is Molly? I was looking forward to pretending not to recognize her.”
Is she sitting at home watching The Wedding Date and eating raw Pillsbury Crescent Rolls from the can? Or out partying topless on the French Riviera with Kate Moss? Maybe I’m home polishing my Nobel Peace Prize or at a cocktail party chatting with Tom Wolfe and wearing a 24 karat gold pantsuit. No one really knows. And nobody really wins, either, but I also don’t have to nod with a frozen smile on my face as my former classmate tells me she just got back from spending the year in Machu Picchu, “just hanging out”. I don’t have to congratulate girls who used to make fun of my thrift store clothes for passing the Bar exam, or having babies, or headlining the World Organization Committee on Agricultural Transportation Banking Summit. So actually, someone does win: Me. Take that, Class of 1999!
Reunions can make one nostalgic for some of the most awful moments in their life.
STEPHON JOHNSON: I believe it was Bridget Fonda’s Janet Livermore character in the film Singles who said “Somewhere around twenty-five, bizarre becomes immature.”
As I write this, I’m one year past that age where bizarre starts being immature. Next weekend, my alma mater holds its annual class reunion. It marks five years since I graduated from college and many old pals have requested my presence.
But I’m not going.
Part of the reason has to do with me celebrating my first anniversary with my wonderful girlfriend. So we’ll be in Washington, D.C. being in love and feeling patriotic at the same time. But another reason has to do with, well, moving as far away from my 18-to-21 year-old self as I possibly can. With that 18-to-21 year-old self comes all of the confusing, self-hating misanthropy of an otherwise wonderful time in my life and the disgust that accompanied every awesome (read: awkward) hookup I ever had.
Usually, I would jump up at this wonderful opportunity. The allure of a college campus pulls me back every time. The back and forth with professors in class, wearing a t-shirt and pajama pants outside in 19-degree weather (because a campus for some reason makes one feel like they’re immune to hypothermia) and the new crop of beautiful girls that called campus home each year.
I pretend that I miss college a lot with my friends. There were some good times. Like the one hookup where I spent about two hours in a girl’s room followed by her introducing me to her huge, rugby-playing boyfriend a few hours later. Or that time where a professor and I had to verbally fight off the rest of the class who defended the right to use Native American tribal names for sports teams. Or that one time, during that period between 9/11 and the invasion in Iraq where a Gulf War veteran came to the university to tell us we were fighting a war for Christianity. And I can’t forget the time where I overheard someone say, “Eminem is pretty cool, but it’s a shame he’s so Black.”
Oh, and I also can’t forget that one Halloween party where some guy showed up wearing a fake afro, a basketball jersey and…Blackface. The outfit made me feel right at home. I know that’s all I saw where I grew up. How did he nail it so perfectly? (Did I mention that I’m Black?)
College produced so many magnificent memories. I wished that I could share them all with you. But you know what? I’ll be there next year. I’ll walk around campus and reminisce about urinating on the walls of a class building during a drunken, Saturday-night trek to the next party to argue with my then girlfriend. I’ll think about the days of yore when someone questioned my existence on campus since I wasn’t on the basketball team.
But most of all, I’ll remember my freshman year; grocery shopping in town and running into a camouflage-hat wearing, mullet-haired fellow sporting a black t-shirt that read: Bill Clinton = Nigger’s White House.
I am nothing if not nostalgic.