One of the scarier parts of being an adult is the isolating nature of having “done everything right.” I hesitate to ever bring this up with the groups of teenagers who’re my wards from August to June because saying “If you go through all the proper channels, you’ll dump yourself out into the middle of your own personal ocean without a god damn sliver of flotsam in sight,” isn’t the truest motivator to get kids sold on the idea of making something of themselves after high school.
In spite of this, throughout the formative years of a North American child’s life, friendship is foisted upon her. Before any baby human is big enough to decide who sucks and who’s worth hanging out with, her parents will have arranged play dates and birthday parties with herds of clueless, pooping toddlers. Socialization is healthy, and getting the chicken pox is a good idea before age 5, so most little ones find themselves shoved together and given a bucket of toys while their parents joke about how the kiddos will be best friends forever and probably get married because that’s a normal and healthy thing for grown-ups to project onto the futures of four-year-olds.
People covet habits, though, so we usually stick with a handful of those arranged friends (and future spouses) into elementary school, staying close for no reason other than our parents like each other and we have the same second grade teacher. Even in situations where a family moves or a child changes schools it’s impossible to not be saturated in social encounters. A child learns geography with her peers, eats soggy fishsticks in the cafeteria with them, buys every god damn one of them a Spider-Man-themed Valentine.
It gets trickier in secondary school, where the social undercurrent becomes stronger and more treacherous as young people start to figure out who they might actually be, but still a person will find herself (whether she wants it or not) (usually she doesn’t, because she’s a teenager) immersed in a world rich with diverse and easily accessible peers.
Too easily accessible, really.
Because once young people leave the fold of their high school, everything changes. Promises to keep in touch are rarely kept and pacts to meet once a whatever at wherever to do whatever are almost always forgotten. College, work, moving away or staying put, something inevitably happens around the end of our teenage years that irrevocably cleaves us from our vibrant social network.
Teenagers love to bitch about how they’re not taught “the important stuff, like filing taxes or balancing a checkbook,” (because it’s 1950 apparently) but it never crosses a child’s mind that she also has no fucking idea what to do with herself when her self is all she has. This is probably because it’s not something we even think about until we’re caught alone without any idea of what to do about it, but if I’m being honest with myself, the surprise at how ill-prepared I was to spend the majority of my time with no one but me fucked my life up a lot more than not knowing how to download tax software or navigate my bank’s mobile app.
“Doing things the right way” means leaving high school to continue becoming an individual; whether this happens through pursuing advanced education, building a business, or cultivating some special skill or talent, our divergent, post-high-school lives mean that we all end up a lot more alone as we kick and scream the way through our twenties.
Ten years ago I would have needed a school bus to transport all of my “friends,” but now I can count them on one hand – something that my grandfather and Eddie Vedder would agree is a good thing. What I can’t count on one hand are the miles away from me that those friends are, because collectively it’s about 4,000. And even those who aren’t thousands of miles away are married, or have children, or are living their own otherwise vibrant, fulfilling lives and although I know they love me, I also know that seeing them once every few months is about all I can expect.
And all I want, usually.
But what about the in-between time? What’s a girl to do when she suddenly realizes she’s a woman and that women can’t rightly send a, “You up? Let’s go get drunk!” text at 11 PM on a Wednesday?
The social mores of being a young person are cruelly fleeting, setting you up with this misguided faith in the notion that no matter what life sends your way, you’ll always have a dozen or more like-minded, similarly aged people to help you through it when the reality is that the only person whose forever on your team is yourself, and that every other player is at the risk of being traded permanently out of your life any day, for any reason.