I had a great time in college, but I have feelings about my upcoming college reunion. Whenever I type the word reunion, what ends up on the page is “ruin.” Crystal clear to both Dr. Freud and myself is the fact that I don’t want to go. I just don’t know why.
I can rule out fading looks. The upside of never looking that great in your youth is that you don’t look that much worse as you age.
My college friends are all abuzz. It’s like they’re going to a sunny beach resort with cabana boys and an open bar, and I’m going to a root canal convention with “Test Patient” tattooed across my forehead. Their remonstrations are revealing: “Come on, other people aren’t that successful.”
Ha, they think I’m threatened by others’ successes. It’s not peoples’ successes I’m interested in. It’s their failures!
Kidding. But even if my psychic suitcase were bulging with schadenfreude, shouldn’t that make me more interested in reconnecting? After all, I have since college avoided bankruptcy, divorce, betting it all on something big and losing, murdering someone, being publicly humiliated, “becoming a consultant,” and getting thrown in jail. I’m a success!
Sigh. To my mind, those who see no competitive posturing at their reunions are not paying attention. The plain girl who came to my high school 10-year tossing glamour off the ends of her hair. The kid at my college five-year who made sure everyone knew he’d founded a startup and made his 10th million. It’s dispiriting to watch so many people so strenuously proving something. It’s a lot like Facebook, that most precise method for publicly quantifying popularity.
(Now that we have Facebook do we even need reunions?)
At my last college reunion I found myself unable to distinguish the people I knew from the people I knew of. My college class was small enough for everyone to know a little something about everyone else. So there I stood in the crowded hotel ballroom, the lightbulb over my head flashing on with every incoming name tag, but like someone on the autism spectrum I found I lacked all facility for discerning the appropriate social response. Do I remember all your pickup lines because you used them on every girl I knew—or did I date you myself? Were we friends or were you just famous? Is a screech and a fawning hug called for here, or a polite introduction?
I am chided in my circle for my abysmal recall—even of things that should loom kind of large, like the name of my senior prom date. I call my childhood friend Sheryl whenever I need to know something about my past. (Me: “Why didn’t we have a Senior Skip Day?” Sheryl: “We did. You skipped it because you didn’t want to get in trouble.”) I’ve often pondered why I’m so lame at remembering what’s gone before, and I’ve come to this.
Those things happened to a different person.
Honestly, the protagonist of my past makes me twitchy. She was a beta version of me, and, for all she didn’t know but thought she did, I am awash in pity for her. I don’t even much like to look at her: her naive bravado, her self-fulfilling self-doubt, her failures and her successes—many of which I now
understand, for their misguided standards, were themselves failures. My heart bleeds for that young woman. I’m not sure I really need to keep seeing those who were acquainted with her. Some of them wanted to be her friend, and those relationships have followed natural progressions as beta me morphed into current me in real time, like the frog in the heating water that boils to death gradually.
Reunited acquaintances, by contrast, are forced into an incoherent liaison with a person who doesn’t exist. They are interacting with the me of their memory; I am interacting as the me I have become. Sure, meeting new people can be great. But let’s not pretend it’s a reunion.
I used to go to every one of these things. I really tried to enjoy them. But with every passing five years reunions just got to feeling more alienating, crashing old selves into new ones with more and more emotional force.
Why so many people enjoy this, I can’t imagine. Remeeting your past self in the recollections of your old acquaintances is painful. Sad memories are hard; happy ones oddly harder. But ongoing reminders of the selves we’ve transcended and shed?
Root canal convention.