These days, I’ve been hanging out with some seriously cool girls. Girls who have clearly always been really pretty. Girls who have probably always had a lot of friends. Girls who may or may not have been mean. OK, a few of them have admitted it: they were mean girls. And then a few of them have that classic dork —> cool girl story, and they’re sticking to it.
I did not grow up around a lot of girls my own age. I grew up around plenty of people. I feel like I always need a disclaimer. Like, “I WAS SOCIAL, DON’T WORRY.” I was social, don’t worry. I mean, I liked people, I was fine around them. Sometimes I liked them less or wanted to be by myself more and so I did that, but in general, being around people was fine. It was fun. They were not all same-aged girls. None of them were particularly mean. It wasn’t at all clear who was the prettiest, or who was trend-setting. We all looked different in some ways and similar in others. We all liked different kinds of clothes, but sometimes we wore similar ones.
I don’t have a conveniently simple narrative about my social past. Sometimes I can’t remember who I was. And then it makes me a little uncertain about who I’m supposed to be now.
My history doesn’t have a template. It’s all over the place. Is “crazy weird homeschooler” a template yet? Yeah, maybe.
I had friends my own age, and I felt pretty popular, but there wasn’t a real context for popularity. I felt pretty and potent and funny and outgoing.
And then later I went to college, and I was pretty sure I was nerdy, since I studied a lot and wanted to do well and liked talking with professors.
At that point, it became apparent that nerdiness was still, tragically, somewhat separate from pretty-popular-girlness. I mean, really. Just like a movie. Just like a stereotype.
And then I went to grad school in Manhattan, and I started to think that I wasn’t nerdy enough, because I couldn’t keep up with the genius boys in their sweatpants who had long ago mastered formal logic and memorized Descartes. But I also wasn’t girly enough, because I suddenly had no fashionable clothes at all and I was wandering the streets, looking for just one pair of cute affordable boots. Just one, please. They started at $200. (I didn’t know the city very well back then. There’s a DSW in Union Square).
And now here I am— a writer. I have a few cute outfits. I have a new group of friends. And my friends have many more than a few cute outfits.
Sometimes I am abruptly awkward around them. I stumble over my words. I realize that I have not spent very much time in a group of girls my age. I realize that this might be the in-crowd. I feel a little like an imposter. Sometimes I am funny. I put on heels. I am outgoing. I feel a little like I belong.
“God,” says someone, “Remember middle school? So stupid. I was part of this group of girls…”
I don’t remember. There was no group of girls. I didn’t learn what being a girl was about from a group of other girls. Which might be why I’m still not sure.
Yesterday, one of my new friends said, “You seem sort of feral sometimes— like you’re fine doing things differently.” She added, “That’s a compliment. Are you taking that as a compliment?”
I was. But I was surprised. Am I doing things differently? Sometimes I don’t notice. I’m just doing things. I don’t think I ever learned very well what things I was supposed to be doing instead.
(I thought this was an incredibly cool look, at 17. Not sure my peers would’ve agreed. Or, um, anyone.)