All The Cool Kids Are Doing It

When it comes to kids, the primary concern regarding social relationships isn’t just having friends but being popular. It’s about having the most friends. The coolest friends. And making everyone else want to be friends with you.

Last night I listened to an episode of This American Life in which reporter Susan Burton tells the story of moving across country and transforming from friendless nerd to popular girl. In her first hometown, she was the self-proclaimed geek who knew way too much about killer bees. Then her parents got divorced, she moved to Colorado and everything changed. Burton studied the scientific method of popularity and created a schedule of rotating cool outfits she picked up from Seventeen magazine. “The rules of being popular seemed easy to me…Smile a lot, wear good clothes, giggle, be a little ditzy.”

The Popularity Papers, an awesome-sounding children’s book with a similar theme, was reviewed in the New York Times recently. Two best friends pass notes back and forth in which they study the popular kids’ every move in anticipation of heading to Junior High next year. “When we have enough information about the popular girls, we’ll know what it is that they do to be popular and we’ll try to do the same things to see if we become popular as well.”

Once we’re all adulty, there’s no such thing as being popular. No high school yearbook to anoint Most Likely To Succeed or homecoming dance to crown Prom Queen. But I wonder if there’s something to the need to be liked and admired that’s more ageless then we like to admit. Adults don’t necessarily outgrow the desire to fit in. I think—I know—there are people out there pretending to be something they’re not in order to hit it off with others. Remember the Friends episode where Rachel pretends to smoke so she can fit in with her coworkers? She can’t be alone.

While I don’t think I could suddenly play ditzy—the excitement about my planned trip to Hogwarts (that’s right) would probably betray me—or change my entire wardrobe, I wonder if I’d ever alter myself in order to hit it off with a potential BFF. Just last week I ran into a guy from work at the gym and we got to talking about the LeBron circus. I knew just enough to appear knowledgeable, but I’m not. I totally faked it. But this colleague seemed so happy to chat about basketball, it just seemed easier.

When I meet a potential BFF who’s really psyched about something I’m semi-interested in—something like sports—I tend to exaggerate my enthusiasm. But I wouldn’t say I change who I am. It’s more like accentuating certain parts of my very multi-faceted and complex self. Right?

Ever witnessed an adult alter who she is to fit in with new friends? Have you ever changed—ahem, accentuated—parts of yourself for a potential BFF? Don’t be shy… This here’s a safe space.


Filed under The Search

14 responses to “All The Cool Kids Are Doing It

  1. oh my god, are you planning to go to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter?!?! So jealous if you are.

  2. Callie

    I think that I do that all the time (accentuating, not changing) for the people that I am around. I don’t think its a bad thing depending on what you are going for…I tend to get along with people very easily and I think its because I am able to bring out the parts of my personality that fit with the person I am with. When I think of my friends who have a harder time getting along with lots of people I think its because they have strong opinions and strong personality traits that they dont budge on…and i don’t think that’s a bad thing either? But I guessing in a BFF search, those different qualities would make a difference. If you change slightly for who you are with people, you are likely to meet more people but not have as strong of a connection…if you stick to your guns on everything you will get along with fewer people but probably have a better chance of hitting the BFF jackpot when you do find someone you truly click with.

  3. katieleigh

    I do try to talk to people about what they’re interested in, i.e. talking about sports with my guy friends, or discussing theology or literature with my grad-student friends. (Yes, I have lots of nerdy friends.) But I don’t think that always equates to changing who you are.

    And you’re going to Hogwarts?! Oh my. You MUST report back here on the blog. Please??

  4. I think I disagree with you. The popularity thing is alive and well in adulthood. It is easy to feel left out or inadvertently shunned from a social outing. Ever called that new friend a couple of times in a row never to hear back? Or try to make plans with someone and they have 18 million social engagements coming up that you are not a part of? And what about blogland? There are definitely cliques floating around cyber world. Maybe I am just too sensitive but I definitely believe the cool kids thing is still a part of our lives.

    • I love this comment and wholeheartedly agree. The popularity thing and the cliques are here to stay. With that being said, I try to include all people as much as I can, but this is not always the case for some. I’ve been left out, but I have made a commitment to myself to not do that to others.

    • AmyK

      I work at a posh retirement community, and I have definitely observed some of the female residents looking down their noses at others. I have some co-workers who also give off that who-invited-you-to-sit-at-my-table vibe. I’m glad I finally reached a point where I don’t care if I’m not “cool.” I have a group of co-workers who I love, and it’s always open to new members!

  5. pamela

    I think it’s ok to act excited about something that you may not be totally interested in. For the sake of conversation, total disclosure isn’t necessary. 🙂

  6. Sure. I’ve done that. It’s similar to marriage – a give and take. I muster up enthusiasm for something my friend likes (say, very loud band playing a very small, hot, crowded venue) and I hope that she’ll come with me to see a play, or just sit and drink coffee. I really like to sit and drink coffee.

    Under the best circumstances, it’s beneficial. I learn something new, expand my horizons. As long as neither party actually changes who they are and what they care about, I think it’s okay to feign a little enthusiasm here.

  7. Julia

    You know, you bring up an interesting point about popularity. Growing up my family was military, so we moved about every 3 years. If there was something that people teased me about in one place, I knew I was moving to somewhere that no one who lived there would know anything about. I could drop that unwanted aspect of myself and avoid being teased. Easy. And yes, I did study popular people from a distance in some sort of scientific way but I decided I didn’t like the popular people, they were way too mean to be my friends.

    But I have to disagree with you. There are popular adults, and they’re not celebrities. Popular adults are people who network, and I mean network a lot. People who network very well, almost effortlessly. We want to hate them, but they are so easy to chat with you can’t help yourself. They can talk about skiing, surfing, and reading books. They talk politics without saying anything offensive. They work in offices where they know almost everyone in every department’s names, and even sometimes give “finger guns” to people when they walk past. When you meet them at a party, you think, “Yeah, if I ever do have that problem when I need someone trained in architecture and plumbing, I just might give you a call.” I know I sound like I’m describing “The Old Spice Guy” but seriously. Besides, didn’t you hear The Old Spice Guy is popular? 😉

    (As an aside, sometimes popularity is fleeting. Cue Heidi Klum to say in her trademark German accent, “As you know in popularity, one day you are in, the next day you are out.”)

    • Man, that Old Spice guy is SO popular! You bring up such interesting points about networkers. I think of those types of people as likable rather than popular, but I guess that ends up being the same thing when suddenly everyone likes them and wants to be their friend….

  8. The way that I see it is that it’s a little give and take. I my girlfriend takes an active interest in what I do in terms of teaching people conversation. She offers input though I know she doesn’t always feel the same passion I do.

    And in return I try to do the same for her. I noticed that it makes her happy, and at times I think that making other people happier is important. As long as it has sold out on my core values.

    I would imagine that Nelson Mandela would take an active interest in what I would have to say, and I would take the time too as well.

    I think a little give and take is important. After all we can’t have everything in common with our BFF.

  9. gowithpeggy

    I think when talking to people you may not know well, it’s really important to be able to shift gears to enable a pleasant conversation. One certainly doesn’t have to be a sports enthusiast to know about the LeBron issue. That’s why it’s so important to remember to LISTEN when people talk. When someone is comfortable with you, they looove to talk. That’s how you get to know someone. It’s not a competition of knowledge, it’s a search for common ground. Conversing about LeBron for a few minutes wasn’t faking it, it was being curtious and friendly. Saying ‘I only saw a headline and have no idea what you’re talking about.’ would have been rude, curt, and unfriendly.

  10. I agree with gowithpeggy – if someone brings something up that you don’t know much about but assumes you are into it too, do a lot of smiling and nodding and listening.

    But you have to be careful with potential BFF’s if it is truly something you don’t care about and you seem enthusiastic… pretending like you’re interested in knitting could have your friend show up next time with yarn and needles and ask you to show her a new stitch!

    Another course of action could be to say, “I know it might sound like I live under a rock, but I don’t really know the details – can you tell me what all the brou-haha is about???”

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