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.