It may or may not come as a surprise to hear that ever since I was a kid, I have never really been popular among my peers. My mother used to tell me that the boys and girls in my class were “intimidated by” or “jealous of” me. Of course at the time I thought that was pretty much a crock of crap. I knew I was smaller, flatter, and probably uglier than most of them. And while I understand now why she never sat me down to say, “Listen Claire, you are and always will be slightly more intelligent and certainly a little weirder than the rest of the world. You can fight it or you can get over it, but brace yourself, it will be a problem for the rest of your life,” I wonder what might have happened had she or my dad simply said, “Well, you are a little bit annoying.”
Ironic though it may now seem, growing up, I never thought of myself as above average in anything, least of all beauty and brains. I wasn’t a straight A student (though I probably could have been) and my parents, always proud of our effort in school, never emphasized that grades equal success (though in reality they eventually do). And, as the very last woman born in 1981 to get my period, I’m pretty sure I need not explain why the “beauty” department eluded me.
I was not particularly athletic in my northwest high school where basketball was everything, and in fact, as a varsity cheerleader in 9th grade, I understood rather quickly that I had pretty much signed my popularity death ticket as early as was possible. So I gave up on the fight and embraced the only thing that was comfortable to me: baggy clothes and being funny. Understandably, my humor was most appreciated by a select handful of nerds, but I quickly learned how to adapt to almost any environment by being as awkward as possible. I figured every human is born with a natural sense of insecurity, and if I could suck up all the insecurity in a room and put it on myself, it would not only put others at ease, but would make people like me. I’m not sure that the second part was entirely true, but it was almost like I had figured out what Family Guy and Tina Fey would one day be making millions of dollars for: one, repetitive humor is still humor. That is, something just a little bit funny, if repeated with consistency and a lack of attention to just how annoying it may be, will eventually come full circle and remain funny in the end. And two, self-deprecating humor might be the only chance of success for a female who is funny. There’s just no such thing as funny, smart, and beautiful. Not because it doesn’t exist, but because everyone hates that girl.
Whether because of all this or in spite of it, most of my friends in high school and college were boys. Nerdy boys. And I liked it. (My parents couldn’t figure out why I was “hanging out with” only boys but not in fact dating anyone.) For a long time I maintained that “girls just don’t like me.” I realize now that, though I still say it, and sometimes still believe it, the opposite is actually true. I really don’t like most girls.
This is a shame for a number of reasons. First, it isn’t really appropriate for me to have a ton of man friends now that I’m married. Forget appropriate, it also just isn’t possible. Had someone told me 15 years ago that most male-female friendships are held together (or at the very least begun) because of the possibility of sex, however remote, I would have been a little more prepared for the end of all such friendships the minute I (or one of them) said the big “I do.” As it is, there is very little room, if any, for meaningful connections with other men who are not also joined in holy matrimony to a woman. It simply isn’t that season of my life, and never will be again. And then there’s that ever present realization that once I found John, who is so clearly my best friend, there aren’t many men or women who measure up to the standard he both achieved and continues to set. (Please ignore the romance of this statement and take it at face value.)
It turns out I am above average in far more categories than I ever gave myself credit for. My realization of this before the age of 30, and willingness to admit it without fear of more people hating me is a testament to its truth. And so my search for friends, especially some that are geographically at my disposal on a semi-regular basis, continues…