Friday, June 25, 2010

The New Girl

As the school year ends, I've said goodbye to a couple of colleagues who are moving on--one to begin a career and another to revel in retirement. As I said goodbye to the one I never got to know this year during her brief yet seemingly eternal stint at our school, I apologized for not being more outgoing--for not taking more of an initiative to help her out. This is a common problem for me: not taking the initiative. Most of my friends will tell you that I seemed "like a bitch" when they first met me. I was aloof and sarcastic, and probably acted like I thought I was better than everybody else.

Now that we're good friends, they think I'm a bitch for other reasons--but being on this side of my fence, they know that their original estimation of me was incorrect. I wasn't a bitch when we first met--I was scared. Guarded. Not shy--nobody could ever call me shy--but not open, that's for sure. I put more out there than anybody else is willing to, but that is just for show. I won't bother getting to know someone else, or really let someone know me, until I'm sure she likes me as much as I like her. See, the problem is that I am insecure. This is an unfortunate side effect of having been "the new girl."

I have a theory: no matter how old you are when your family moves, whether it is ten miles away or a hundred, if you are a school-aged little person, you will be scarred by the experience. (If you have a different experience with starting a new school anytime from K-12, please prove my theory incorrect.) No situation seems more terrifying and awful than trying to fit in with a group of kids who have known each other since kindergarten, whose social groups have already been formed, and whose extracurricular activities have already defined them. I have known no sense of insecurity so crippling as the uncertainty of finding a group of friends who are "like you." Especially when that you is part athlete, part bookworm, part Barbie-love/hating middle-schooler. In short: I was a bit of a nerd, but was one of the leaders at my school. Maybe not a "cool kid"--but in my experience, the kids defined as the "cool kids" are not actually that cool; even though they seem to be in charge of things, they are relatively few in number.

Very few kids are able to enter a new school and set their own standard of cool. Although there seems to be this concept of the new kid to whom everyone is drawn (maybe thanks to movies like Heathers?), most of us start at the bottom of the cool chain and work our way up--sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously. I started at the bottom, with the few kids who would go out of their way to say hello to me. And why not? A new kid was a new chance for them to make a friend. However, I quickly realized that I didn't have much in common with the girl who lived with her alcoholic grandmother because her mother was a drug addict and her father was MIA. My next friend, a mousy girl with an ultra-religious right-wing family, wasn't quite the right fit either. Nor was the overweight video-gamer. Eventually, I found the soccer players and other part-time athletes, who were in my honors classes and had normal parents: fathers in business and stay-at-home moms.

The problem with this group, which was most like the group I'd grown up with, was that they had grown up faster than my old friends. I finished 7th grade still playing with Barbies and entered 8th grade with a group of kids who drank on the weekends, had already experimented with cigarettes, and had apparently started doing more with their boyfriends and girlfriends than just hide in a closet and kiss. I was flabbergasted. My mother was horrified. I was scarred, but fought to not show it.

Because I had to work so hard to make friends, I now wait too long to open up to people. I don't put myself out there because I am afraid I am too loud, too obnoxious, too bossy--but I refuse to change who I am. I don't put myself out there because I don't want to waste my time on people I don't click with--but that means waiting for people to find me. I don't seek people out because I never really liked most of the people I hung out with in high school, preferring instead the drama geeks, punk rockers, and newspaper kids--all people I had part-time friendships with in high school that grew into some of my best relationships to date. Funny, that the kids I hung out with in high school aren't even people I look up on Facebook--for the most part. I guess what I'm saying is, I don't trust myself. Whether I can chalk it all up to The New Girl Phenomenon or not, it's a psychological struggle I still grapple with. Bottom line is, if I seem like a bitch when I first meet you, it's probably because I like you.

No comments: