The summer after my sophomore year in high school, I finished all seven seasons of Gilmore Girls in two weeks.
I’d just come home from camp and was exhausted from several weeks of heavy, ‘round the clock social interaction. I love being around people, don’t get me wrong. I’m no misanthrope. But spending so much of my time constantly “on” drained me. For the last few weeks before school started again, I alternated riding my bike on the levee near my house with cuddling my laptop and watching Rory Gilmore live the life I’d glamorized and wanted to lead.
She was intellectual, and she wore her brilliance like a badge of honor, atop her cable-knit sweaters and crisp, unassuming jeans. Her ability to be wholly herself, even during moments when it was less-than-flattering, was a quality I was jealous of and that I was too much of a baby to emulate.
On the other hand, I intentionally made myself appear more vapid than I was. I was 15, and I wanted to fit in like everyone else. I joined the cheerleading team. I acted and talked like a ditz. I swapped intellectual stimulation for social capital. I can’t count how many conversations I had that revolved around Cosmo articles, episodes of Gossip Girl (“Nate is suuuuuch a hottie, but Dan’s, like, a total loser!”), and the weird kids who wore Hollister (#ugh) to school.
It seemed necessary at the time. In high school, no one likes the know-it-all. There’s a stigma around people who are “nerds” (that’s why The Breakfast Club is so popular — we realized that nerds, as well as people who belonged to other contrived social groups, have souls too). Like, who actually enjoys school? No one wants to be friends with the smart girl. Boys don’t like the smart girl. At least, this is what I thought.
When we are young and superficiality matters more than substance, we measure our social worth in terms of how many parties we attend during any given weekend or how desirable we are to other people — not how many times we reread Dead Souls.
One of the best parts of getting older is realizing that there is no unfortunate dichotomy between intelligence and social acumen, as I’d thought. And I realize that “old” is relative here. I’m still in college. The most severe problems I face, on a daily basis, are figuring out when to finish my French homework or how to respond to a cryptic text message. You send “I’m fine” when I ask you what’s wrong? Is that passive-aggressiveness I sense? Because you seemed as though you had half a mind to strangle me when we talked earlier in the day. Whatever.
The problem is more than just making ourselves appear less intelligent than we are for social acceptance — something I hope no one does past the terrors of high school. It is dampening any part of our personality, putting out the fire on any of our passions, or altering any aspect of our being because we are afraid that people will otherwise judge us. It is succumbing to peer pressure. It is cloaking our emotions because we fear that someone will disparage us for feeling — as if we don’t have the right to feel at all. It is smiling when we want to cry because that is what people expect of us. It is constructing relationships from artifice because that is better than floundering on our own. It is basing who we are on what other people want us to be.
It is a trap into which we all fall.
We all want to feel wanted, and there is always someone cooler than us that we need to impress. Unless you’re, like, Beyoncé — Beyoncé doesn’t need to impress anyone.
In a perfect world, we would be able to stroll through life with Rory Gilmore’s same rose-tinted, doe-eyed naiveté. We could be our complete selves, and no one would think any less of us for it. The world doesn’t work that way. People can be particularly cruel (God, don’t we know), and we will feel pressure to mold ourselves to and for their judgment. We hold ourselves to other people’s standards — as warped as they are, as divergent as they from our true selves — so that we can feel cool. No one is immune from wanting to feel cool.
We’re better than that, though.
Instead of surrounding ourselves with people who police the way we think or act, we should seek out those who embrace all of the subtle, weird, sometimes frustrating, sometimes unexpected quirks that make us unique. That seems like a trite recommendation: find the people who like us for who we are. But the suggestion holds merit. We’ll be much happier when we don’t have to fake it. We’ll be much happier when, like Rory Gilmore, we get to revel in all our special snowflake glory.