15 Things You No Longer Have To Apologize For
Cataloged in Life / Growing Up

The Fall Of The Cool Kids

Shortly before I moved to France, I was in a bar in my hometown between Christmas and New Year’s, having a drink with some friends. It was that awkward, almost surreal week or so where everyone you haven’t spoken to since high-school graduation is back in one place, rubbing elbows and making forced conversation. We ask a lot of questions whose answers we couldn’t care less about, we coo and congratulate over events that do not concern us, we feel the cold shiver of time brushing past us as we acknowledge that some of us are actually getting married–it’s strange. Although it can occasionally end with warm reunions, it usually leaves one with the reassuring thought, “No wonder I stopped talking to these people.”

And sipping my drink, watching a band whose principal members also went to my high school, I felt a tap on my shoulder and turned around to see an old classmate, holding a novelty plastic cup of beer and swaying drowsily to the music.

“Chelsea?” He asked, his eyes bloodshot and unfocused.


We launched into the kind of conversation that makes you long for the dentist’s chair or lines at the DMV–anywhere less uncomfortable and unnatural than where you are. We never spoke in high school, despite having a good number of classes together, and it was no secret as to why. He, with his perpetually tan skin, propensity towards team sports, and shaggy, thick hair, was the epitome of high-school desirability. Me, with my mouth full of gleaming metal (complete with palate expander–the most medieval of modern orthodontic devices), my permanently broken-out skin, and unflattering glasses, I couldn’t have had less to do with him or the world he lived in.

I wasn’t so much ostracized as completely ignored. The parties frequented by he and his band of Livestrong-wearing bros seemed, at the time, as unattainable and mysterious as medieval-chateau meetings of the Illuminati. Hearing snippets of anecdotes about beer-bonging jungle juice or sleeping with two girls in the same night, one unbeknown to the other, confirmed to me that the American Pie-style high school experience did, in fact, exist–just not for me or anyone I knew. There was fun to be had here, I just wasn’t invited to it.

And so, like most teenagers pushed to the fringes of high-school society by the burdens of their physical appearance and awkward senses of humor, I took up hobbies. Swing dancing and theater became my personal havens, but my equally strange friends found refuge in any number of side interests that took up the time that would otherwise have been spent binge drinking on a friend’s parents’ yacht. We buried our noses in fantasy books, spent long after-school hours on pet projects, and poured our angsty little souls out on LiveJournal. They were heady times.

I thought about this and had a burst of retroactive embarrassment for the unbelievable loser he must have taken me for in high school as he drunkenly recounted his second-tier college lacrosse exploits and recent middle-management position in his father’s development firm. I nodded politely and interjected the occasional question about his interests outside of work. As best as he could recount them, they seemed to include binge drinking on weekends and watching television throughout the week. I laughed along with his jokes, despite them not being particularly funny, because I didn’t know how else to react. He put his hand on my thigh and made some vague mention about his house being just a few miles away. I said I had to go to the bathroom, and retreated to the other side of the bar.

It is always strange to see the moment people have turned the corner, to see how much things can change in such a short time. The people in his social group, the one that seemed so illustrious and privileged in high school, have seemed in every interaction I’ve had with them since to be almost uncomfortably stagnant. When partying and sleeping with each other are the only interests you develop outside of sports, and the academic organization and facilities of your sport are taken away, you are left with the kind of drinking habits that go from youthfully indulgent to vaguely alcoholic in under a year. Even online, they make no bones about their plans for the weekend: drinking, boating, drinking, drinking, “laying out” (do we really still use that term?), and hangover brunching.

I’ve always heard from the more fascinating adults in my life to be wary of people that say that any academic period was the “best time of their lives,” especially high school–and I’m just beginning to understand why. There seems to be a certain mentality permeating the American middle class that says, more or less, “Okay, school’s over, you’re an adult, time to stop having fun or doing anything interesting other than numbing your wits at every available opportunity.” Only the people who were forced at a young age to develop interests and involvements outside of inebriated socialization seem to have escaped this. Perhaps you need to be forcibly, painfully driven outside of your comfort zone in order to avoid living and dying in its core.

I often wonder if I will go to my high school reunion. Part of me wants to see where the people I would have liked to stay in touch with have gone with their lives, but part of me feels that the experience would do more harm than good. The knowledge that, for many people, getting together with high school buddies will be a reliving of their best moments and a chance to escape to a time when they were socially important by default is a sad one. The idea of “weren’t those the days, man?” conversations being the theme of the evening makes the whole prospect seem torturous. Just seeing the guys at the bar with their backwards baseball caps and their near-robotic consumption of alcohol made me uncomfortable, and though I did not take any pleasure in rejecting the advances of someone who once made me feel insignificant by simply existing, I know the 16-year-old me that squirreled her hours away into passions and hobbies I carry on to this day did the right thing. TC mark

Chelsea Fagan

Chelsea Fagan founded the blog The Financial Diet. She is on Twitter.

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The Fall Of The Cool Kids is cataloged in , , , , , ,
  • ______

    Having just graduated high school two weeks ago I can already see how true this is. Nice.

    • yeahno.

      …..no you don’t.

  • Wooyay

    This is a fantastic article, made me think about growing up in a completely different way. Thanks.

  • Badi Morris

    Thank you Chelsea.  You make up for Jennifer O’Brien.

  • someone who liked high school

    As this may be true for some, especially in the small towns of america, this is not true for all. It is possible to be an athlete in high school, be part of the popular crowd, and still have interests outside of drinking and hooking up. Just saying.

  • someone who liked high school

    As this may be true for some, especially in the small towns of america, this is not true for all. It is possible to be an athlete in high school, be part of the popular crowd, and still have interests outside of drinking and hooking up. Just saying.

  • Jordan

    “‘Remember when’ is the lowest form of conversation.”  I liked this piece, but this thought and quote stuck out to me.

    One continuity question though (and this is coming from a fan), how old were you when this happened?  I thought you were in your early to mid 20s, so this obviously wouldn’t be one of those “Jack is a fat car salesman now with three kids and a fat wife” reunion experiences.  It couldn’t be that far removed from being IN high school, could it?

  • Catt

    My mum always said, “if high school is the prime of your life, you’re fucking pathetic.”

    Well, maybe not exactly like that. But that was the idea.

  • Greg

    I’ve just graduated college and returned home. Even forced get-togethers with many of my old high school friends who never picked up any substantial interests can occasionally be excruciatingly awkward, uninteresting, or redundant. Really appreciated this, great work

  • http://twitter.com/ingenuegle Egle Makaraite

    I love this article. Well done.
    “Perhaps you need to be forcibly, painfully driven outside of your comfort zone in order to avoid living and dying in its core.” <Awesome.

  • Anonymous

    Please, I just went to a bar in my hometown last night and it was practically a four year high school reunion. Not only did I go to school with almost everyone who came in, but also the bartender and four out of five of the waitresses. Unbearable.

  • Anonymous

    My parents moved away from the town where I spent my high school years, so I’ve never had the pleasure of the interaction you described.  However, I can only imagine that mine would go exactly as you said yours did.  Thanks for experiencing it and writing about it so I don’t have to – this was really, really wonderful.

  • Cjreed3

    No need to be so negative- there are people who can still have nostalgia for those weird, high school years without it being pathetic. It’s not like everyone who enjoyed high school turns out to be a boring loser. 

  • Guest

    When I go home for the holidays (seven years out of high school), I’m always surprised by how cool and mellow everyone has become.  I can share drinks and laughs with people I fucking hated in high school and it’s, you know, totally fine and great and fun if you let it be.  People don’t have to have made the same choices I did – to GTFO of that town, to go abroad, to do… whatever bullshit I have been doing – to be worthwhile, interesting people.  

    • Guest

      And plenty of people I thought of as douchey jock/ette automatons in high school went on to do crazy awesome shit with their lives.

  • xra

    “[…] be wary of people that say that any academic period was the “best time of their lives,” especially high school.” this and the paragraph attatched to it hits at something so fucking deep about our culture right now. we’ve mostly all passed through the k-12 grinder, forced as developing humans to maneuver this social obstacle course, moved from room to room in herds and then sent out to lunch or whatever to “figure it out.” of course kids are gonna sift themselves into a hierarchy, but the incentives for determining the “top dogs” consistently turn out to be widely divergent from any reasonable civic goal standardized education could (should) have.

    rather than recognize this and contextualize it, our society buys into the game full-bore, continuing on to college, which at this point is a version of the same thing on steroids (+ now the people who couldn’t play in hs get a chance!). so by the time we graduate, the drink drink chill fuck drink tv work paradigm is set in steel.

    joie de vivre steadily disintegrates as we are less and less the idealized vibrant youth “getting away with it” by boozing and partying and scoring, and our identities begin to calcify. for those who’ve developed as moths around the flame of “inebriated socialization” that leaves a hell of a hole. these are the people who can’t enjoy things by themselves, need a partner for a sunset to have meaning

    between this and the (so stupidly maligned) slutwalk piece, when yr not
    busy bragging you can be one of the most startlingly insightful writers
    on here

    • Guest

      “between this and the (so stupidly maligned) slutwalk piece, when yr not 
      busy bragging you can be one of the most startlingly insightful writers 
      on here”

      False!  CF is a pompous bag of douche.

      • xra

        yea she’s a windbaggy she-douche that’s my point

        if yr claim is particularly re: the slutwak, she’s just treating girls like rational agents, which ought to be the deepest goal of any sincere feminism, far from this “try to score as many points for the girls’ team” shenaniganry

      • Guest

        It’s not, it’s re: everything she’s written on here

  • Anonymous


  • Croy1317

    This is litered with fantastic phrasing, but when it comes down to it i think there are just too many words. I feel as though if this were rewritten in a more focused manner this would be fantastic. This seems like full on debasing of whom ever was in that bar, but in my opinion it may have worked out better as being a scalpel dissecting and exposing the dead end life the bar mongering dbag has found.

  • Noneya


    like you, the most stuck-up people are also the biggest haters. i feel so sorry you have this problem. 

  • Lillian

    i liked this a lot. i feel very similarly most of the time when i come back to my hometown. it usually makes me bummed out, to be honest. i don’t really feel happy to see former classmates who have now become totally lame losers.

  • Layla

    I’d like to make peace with the fact that I will never know everything there is to know, and that any phase in life, be it hs or college or post college, could go terrible or great depending on the circumstance and the effort that I put in…but, I can never seem to make peace with it.  I end up fidgeting around and never feeling satisfied with any phase in my life.  I fear I will suffer this throughout my life…wondering, thirsting, never simply settling and saying “things are okay at this point in my life right now”.

  • thank you

    I have about four months left of high school and I cannot tell you how happy this article makes me.

  • http://maxwellchance.wordpress.com Duke Holland of Gishmale

    Very interesting. I really liked this. Made me think with me brain. 

    You should go to your high school reunion; don’t be so antisocial. Could be fun and interesting. 

  • Anonymous


  • Balto

    different strokes for different folks.  some people love comfort, routine, and stagnation.  you may pity him, but he may be happier than you.

  • http://maaaaaan.tumblr.com/ wackomet

    cool kids never die

  • Yay

    People who think like this make me sad. Yes, you were suuuch a loser in high school and now you’re more interesting and sophisticated than those popular dumbasses. So what? If you think about it, most of us all end up kinda the same.

    • Anonymous

      I don’t think that I am more interesting or sophisticated than anyone, but I do think that I like to go new places, try new things, pursue hobbies, and meet new people. i like to do things that remind me how small I am and how little I know. I am saddened that so many people live out their lives without setting a toe outside their comfort zone–the more you see and do, the better understanding you’ll have of what truly makes you happy.

      And sure, we all end up the same way in that depressing, “We’re all gonna die so what does it matter?” kind of way, that’s true. But I know older people who are rescuing and restoring old sailboats, traveling the world, who are madly in love with their spouses, who are social and fun to be around and fascinating and open minded–and I know older people who are resigned, bitter, bored, and in loveless, sexless marriages. Thatis not “ending up the same way,” it’s just not.

      Some of my better friends are nearly twice my age, and my parents are two of my favorite people to go out with. Growing up doesn’t mean settling, and too few people realize that’s even an option.

      • Guest

        “I don’t think that I am more interesting or sophisticated than anyone”

        Really, though?  

      • GUEST

        really, though indeed. this article is one sided, presumptuous and condescending on the “cool kids”, or your home town heroes. who are you to judge?

      • Gary

        Response from an erstwhile cool kid?

      • Gary

        Response from an erstwhile cool kid?

      • Guest

        Because you became posh doesn’t imply you became interesting. Those kids ended up finding you attractive just because you stopped worrying about them and could find more interesting people.

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