Since I fall into the millennial generation, I use the verb “adulting” with a sly smile of irony whenever I do something like make a car payment or buy groceries. There was something else that made me feel like an adult this past weekend: I went to a housewarming party for a couple with whom I have been friends since high school. I am very good friends with the husband, and his wife and I get along well, but we have a bit of a past. Don’t worry, it wasn’t anything shady; I was just a jerk in high school.
When I moved to Minnesota for the second time, I was entering my sophomore year of high school. I tried to be funny to open up to people and sometimes that came out as making fun of other kids. I used to pick on the aforementioned girl in our social studies class, which is also where she met her future husband. She sometimes brings up the fact that I was so mean to her, and I always own up to it, so it has become more of an inside joke between us than any lasting antagonism. It usually doesn’t bother me, but when I was at the housewarming party, I looked around and saw all of the people who came to support and congratulate them in their achievement, and her comment dug a little deeper under my skin.
I couldn’t help but think, “What if I hadn’t been such a jerk in high school?” Would I have possibly found a relationship, settled down, or had a larger group of close friends instead of the few I have now? How much of a difference would that have made and what sort of trajectory would my life have taken if that had been the case? I don’t care to dwell on the past, but I do think looking back and admitting my many mistakes with the intent to learn from them is healthy. However, to obsess or wonder at what could have been only drags me down into a dark pit that blocks out all of the light in my life. I could be jealous of my friends, I could wallow and wish things had been different, but there is no point. I choose to be happy for them, to support them, and to continue to walk my path in life as I have. I know who I am, I know how I have acted toward other people and myself in the past, and I have no misconception of how I should be treated by them.
I have always existed on the fringe of my friend groups, as I have written about on here before, so it is something I have come to acknowledge and accept. Coincidentally enough, I was speaking with another friend from high school the day before the housewarming. She had asked if I knew who won Homecoming king and queen our senior year; she took PSEO classes full-time for her last two years and due to this wasn’t physically present at our high school. She posted the question publicly and there was a groundswell of people I knew from high school who commented. She eventually got the answer she was looking for, but in trying to find out and help her, I started to have some flashbacks to that time. There is a lot about me now that is totally different than the person I was, most of it for the better, but high school wasn’t a great time for me. There are a lot of bad memories, many of which involve my interaction with friends or girls, and I don’t particularly enjoy returning to them. However, the couple whose housewarming I attended are firmly rooted in that chapter of my life, so I was willing to bite the bullet and risk running into people who may not have the best memories or opinion of me in order to support my friends.
Part of me wonders if I really came off as badly in high school as I think I did; I know I can be hard on myself, especially with regard to how I interact with others or with my appearance. Part of me that assumes it was so much worse than I can even imagine, though the reality is most likely that people never gave me as much thought as I think they did (if that makes sense). I had some emotional issues and mental health problems that most certainly contributed to the way I interacted with others. I know enough to realize that it isn’t healthy to worry too much about what other people think just as it isn’t healthy to compare your idea of success to another person’s. We all have different paths to walk and destinations that we walk toward; to try and qualify ourselves based on where someone else is in their life is ridiculous and unnecessary. I won’t say it is easy to keep this perspective, but all I can hope is that I learn from the person I was and become a man I would want to meet.
In the end, I feel a twinge of guilt at how kind my friend and his wife are to me; they have a close group of friends that I am familiar with, but in which I wouldn’t include myself. Part of my issue with social media is seeing the people who were friends in high school still making time to be together all these years later; I know that I consciously walked away from that and can pinpoint the times when my path forked off. The girls I had crushes on move between relationships and despite the fact that many years have gone by, I am hesitant to reach out to connect when they are single; I still hold on to the image of myself as that weird teenager. My self-esteem withdraws and all I can think of is that they hold that same mental image of me as a teen; someone with mental health issues who doesn’t know how to deal with them and does strange things for attention. I am caught between leaving that world behind and making an attempt to show I am different now.
Regardless, the couple are both genuinely excited when we get together and they are a light in my life that gives me an example of what can go right in a relationship. I truly wish them all the success in the world because they are good people, and those seem to be few and far between these days. I will continue to support them and make my appreciation of their friendship known, and I will reject the impulse to be jealous; I was who I was in high school and have hopefully learned to be better. I don’t need to dig up and destroy my roots; I just need to make sure I don’t trip over them.