Why Does It Even Matter


Who Would Have Thought?

Never go to your high school reunion pregnant or they will think that's all you've done since you graduated.

- Erma Bombeck

Reunions reveal that keenly felt structure of implacable discriminations is a poor predictor of adult performance.

It was the comically tongue-tied bumpkin, invisible in class, who moved to Maryland and founded an empire of plant nurseries and parked a Jaguar in the lot of the reunion restaurant.

It was the forlorn, scorned daughter of a divorced mother (a monstrous thing in those days) who had become a glamorous merchandising executive in Chicago.

The class cutups had become school teachers and policemen, heavy with civic responsibility.

The prize for newest father - his bouncy fourth wife in a low-cut satin minidress, indistinguishable from his third 5 years ago - went to a boy who had never, as far as anyone could recall, attended a dance or gone out on a date.

The class wallflowers, an almost invisible backdrop of colorless femininity against which the star females had done their cheers and sported their athletic boyfriends, had acquired graceful manners and a pert suburban poise, while the queens of the class had succumbed to a lopsided overdevelopment of the qualities - bustiness, peppiness, recklessness, a cunning chiseled hardness - that had made them spectacular.

Source: John Updike Lunch Hour

Didn't I Do Well and Aren't You Fat?

by San Leith

Friends Reunited, which now has 11 million members, has done a survey on why people want to meet former classmates - and how they feel afterwards.  For many of us, there are few prospects on God's green earth less appealing than that of a school reunion.  In the long, futile escape attempt that we refer to as "life", consenting to join the "old gang" for a few jars at some long-forgotten boozer - now inevitably a Wetherspoon's - is the automatic equivalent of landing, quite deliberately, on Go To Jail.  Why on earth would you want to spend time with people who remember you from Before: people who knew you when you were ginger-haired, or happy, or male?

Nevertheless, the idea of it - if the extraordinary success of the contacts website Friends Reunited is anything to go by - seems to hold a fierce fascination.  Since its launch in 2000, Friends Reunited has signed up a terrifying 11 million members.  Something, then, impels us to go back to that Wetherspoon's.  Curiosity?  Masochism?  Psychic stock-taking?  Or the simple hope of catching the school bully wearing a polyester shirt and a Team McDonald's baseball cap, and giving him a good look at your Rolex?

A new survey, released today by the organisers of the website, seeks to probe the psychology of the school reunion.  Through a questionnaire posted on the site, 1,600 people were canvassed about how they had felt about their reunions: why did they go, whom did they meet, what did they fear beforehand, and how did they feel afterwards?  The results bear a moment's attention.

The first caveat, of course: is this a self-selecting sample?  Would it not inevitably be drawn from the two most reunion-prone groups: the saddoes who never got over being school heroes and never achieved anything afterwards; and the nerdy kids who made good, returning to prove a point to their classmates.  It is noticeable that one man in 4, and one woman in 5, of those surveyed said they'd gone to their reunion because their school days were the happiest of their lives.  (That proportion is enough to make you burst into tears, isn't it?)  But despite my strong prejudices and the evidence of my own university reunion, the sheer volume of traffic on the site is hard to argue with: Friends Reunited claims to have just under half of the adult internet population signed up.

One question, seldom considered, is when we tend to reunite.  At what point between glad confident morning and the cold friction of expiring sense do vanity and regret so commingle as to make us want to look up old Smiffy?  The apex of the bell curve, in terms of the age distribution of the poll's respondents, came in mid-life, with 37% of the male respondents and 42% of the women falling into the menopause-in-prospect range of 36 - 45.  There was a sharp divide between the sexes, however, when it came to why they attended a reunion.  93% of the women went, they said, because they were "curious to see how everyone else turned out."  But only 46% of the men gave a monkey's about how everyone else had turned out.  They seemed to have a different agenda - with "to see an old boyfriend/girlfriend" the most popular motive for the nostalgic male Friend Reunited.  We may draw our own conclusions.  The results in that category, incidentally, seemed to confound a frequent assumption about these events.  Only 5% of either sex admitted - and we are honour-bound to believe them - that their real reason for attending the reunion was: "Didn't do very well academically but have been very successful since and want classmates to know it."

Thing is, whether or not we admit it overtly, going to a reunion is the occasion for a sort of personal stock-taking: the chance to ask where you are in life, and to do so by weighing yourself up against your classmates.  So it will come as little surprise to discover that many of us try to put a thumb on the scales.  Reader, we lie.  And the biggest lie - as if we could fool ourselves - is the all-encompassing one: 9 people out of every 10 pretend to be happier than they actually are.  Jesus doesn't want any of us for a sunbeam, but you wouldn't know it from a class reunion.  In closer detail - surprise, surprise - we lie about sex and money.  Here, the methodology of the survey is downright weird.  The categories in which people were asked whether they exaggerate were "Happiness", "The number of partners you've had", "Job description", "Salary", "Holidays", "The type of car you drive."  Now, it's perfectly plausible that, asked what you do for a living, you might promote yourself to "Team Leader" (around one person in 10 peps up the old job description).  It seems a stretch, though, to imagine that one person in 10 would tell a schoolfriend on reacquaintance how many thousand pounds a year they earned, whether exaggerated or not.

What sort of weirdo steers the conversation around to the car park so he can claim to drive an Astra when he knows he arrived on the bus?  And, really, what sort of conversations were taking place between the 10% of men and 6% of women who said they'd exaggerated their number of sexual partners?

"Smiffy - whoaaah!  It's me, Noggin!  Whazzzuup!  Who'd have thought it!  How are you, mate?  Got a bit porky, I see.  Only joking.  Hahahah.  How's life treating you?"

"Not bad, thanks.  I've had full sex with 12 women in my life, a bit of a fossick with a further 8, I earn £48,000, and my car is a GTi."

"Good on you, mate.  Excuse me just a mo - I think I left something on the bar..."

These peculiar conversations are presumably attributable, in part, to nerves.  Only 1/3 of people claimed to feel either confident or relaxed before re-encountering their old classmates.  Most said they felt either "slightly apprehensive" or - 2% of men and 6% of women - "terrified".  BBC producer Susie Donaldson, 33, was "pretty petrified" before attending the reunion for her class at Wakefield Girls Grammar School.  "There is something competitive about it," she said.  "You find yourself running through the checklist of successes you should have had.  I was up on my career and down on my personal life.  I thought: damn, I should be married...  But you play to your strengths.  I donned my best London-chick outfit, and that was my way of dealing with it.  The people who had children did the same thing: they all turned up with armfuls of baby photographs.  But after the first 5 minutes, those security blankets you needed to get in through the door didn't matter any more."

She says she resisted the temptation to indulge in a little creative exaggeration - but not before considering the possibility.  "I wondered whether I should hire a young whippersnapper sex-god for the evening to take in on my arm...  I decided to be honest.  I think most people were.  If we'd all met when we were 25, I think maybe people would have felt the need to prove more - but by 32 or 33, you have the confidence not to pretend."

Fiona Noble, 36, said she "really had mixed feelings" before attending her primary school reunion in Barry, South Wales.  She had been "quite miserable" at school, and was teased for having been cleverer than her classmates.  "I was kind of worried that would happen again.  And the first comment, can you believe, from one of these absolute troglodytes that were in my class when I went to the reunion was: 'Oh, it's the teacher's pet!'  I just thought: 'w---er.'"  Yet, that initial hiccough aside, she enjoyed the over-all experience: "As I walked in, there was a group of girls at the bar and one shouted, 'Oy, Fiona, over here!'  I wasn't alone for a moment all evening."

What are most of us worried about before meeting our old schoolmates?  The one thing we aren't able to lie about: our looks.  Nearly ½ of the women polled rated that as their primary concern, and one man in 5.  Having put on weight was by a good way the leading anxiety.  Andrea Lindsay, 28 - who organised the reunion for her school in Macclesfield - was taken aback by how petrified some of her friends seemed to be at the prospect; at not recognising others, at not being recognised, or having become, as she put it, "wider".

"A couple of girls dropped out, and one of the main reasons - although they wouldn't admit it - was that they were worried about what people would think about their looks."  Few other worries in the survey - except the poignant 9% cent of women frightened to admit to "not having done anything interesting with my life" - came close.

Katie Latham, a childhood friend of Ms Lindsay who attended the same reunion, said it was only the length of time that she hadn't seen her schoolmates that made her apprehensive, but that the reunion itself "went absolutely brilliantly".  Looks were, again, a concern - but in this case on the positive side.  "I've lost a lot of weight since I was at school," she said.  "I got a lot of compliments on that, so that was really nice; a big boost to the ego."  With a hint of the schadenfreude that spices every school reunion, she added that a couple of the most popular and fanciable of the school gods had "really gone the other way".

As far as pre-meeting anxiety went, money didn't seem to register as an issue on the poll - which is odd.  Just one person in 50 was worried about the amount of money he or she made; whereas one in 10, as mentioned above, claims to have exaggerated it anyway.  Just for fun?

The reunion was, almost without exception, much less scary than expected.  Most of us needn't have worried about our looks.  60% reported finding their old schoolmates "as expected" and only about a quarter thought their friends looked older than they'd imagined - probably to be expected, if you arrive to meet a 43-year-old woman of whom your mental image is still 17 years old.  Richard Holder, 55, said: "The biggest surprise was, in my memory at least, these people are all 18 years old.  They're fairly trim, lots of dark curly hair, none of the ravages of time... and you meet these people and think: 'Who the hell is that?'  They look like your dad."  Dr Holder knows whereof he speaks, having been through both extremes of the reunion experience.  In 2003, the married father-of-4 was contacted by an old girlfriend through the site, and experienced "a very traumatic reunion.  We had split amicably, but the years had not been kind to her... it ended up with her ringing me at 4am and us having to change our telephone number."  Undeterred, he met up with a group of male schoolfriends the following year, and had the opposite experience.  "One of these chaps in particular has been a real find.  We e-mail each other 5 times a day, and see each other about half a dozen times a year.  I would very much miss not being in contact with him.  After 35 years of not knowing him, our friendship hasn't so much blossomed as exploded."

Dr Holder's latter experience appears to be typical.  And this, really, is the most interesting finding of all.  9 in 10 of the people surveyed rekindled an old friendship.  A negligible 2% came away from school reunions feeling worse about life.  Getting on for half - men, especially - actually felt better.  Let's put the statistics together.  We are fat, bald, sexually thwarted, professionally dissatisfied and we drive crap cars.  We are, in a word, disgruntled.  So we travel to meet each other, and gather in a Wetherspoon's to tell each other lies about our wonderful cars and our stunning jobs and our happy families and our many fulfilled ambitions.  And, rather than allowing ourselves to become depressed by this roomful of godlike achievers, we leave cheered up.  The conclusion is obvious: nobody's fooling anybody.  Except themselves.

Or, perhaps, we could put it in more Panglossian terms.  We simply discover that there's no friend like an old friend.

Source: The Daily Telegraph (London) Features page 17 news review 22 January 2005 © Telegraph Group Limited

See also:

bulletReunions Set Off Sex Urges - When meeting their lost relative for the first time the respondents all experienced "an overwhelming and complicated rush of emotions" and an "almost irresistible sense of falling in love."

Ageing Classmates

While waiting for my first appointment in the reception room of a new dentist, I noticed his certificate, which bore his full name.  Suddenly, I remembered that a tall, handsome boy with the same name had been in my high school class some 40 years ago.  Upon seeing him, however, I quickly discarded any such thought.  This balding, gray-haired man with the deeply lined face was too old to have been my classmate.  After he had examined my teeth, I asked him if he had attended the local high school.

"Yes," he replied.  "When did you graduate?" I asked.

He answered, "In 1964."

"Why, you were in my class!" I exclaimed.

He looked at me closely and then asked, "What did you teach?"

Modern Medicine

Source: Nick D Kim

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