Life after cool
Arm candy. Table ornament. That’s what I used to be. What can I say? Puberty was kind. Guys who’d made fun of me in middle school started inviting me to parties.
They didn’t want me to talk that much. But I was a status symbol now. Wound up going to prom every year. And homecoming. Yay me.
In case you’re rolling your eyes, I get it. Going to that many dances was a mistake. A huge waste of energy. At least for me. Because I wasn’t going because I wanted to. I was going because I could.
The little nerd girl had gotten contact lenses. Grown taller. Thinned out. Her skin had cleared up. And now she could have friends. For a while, I reveled in my newfound popularity.
But not that much. I didn’t have sex on prom night. Or even enjoy a single glass of champagne.
What a shame.
Sure, it’s fun to dress up and ride around in a limo. To feel like part of an exclusive clique. But only if you lack depth or talent. Maybe I was talented, but I was skimming the surface of myself.
Cool people understood so little about the future. They had no idea that the so-called overachievers looked down on them.
It wasn’t that the smart kids couldn’t look or act in a way that attracted attention. It was a choice. You could sink your time and energy into gaining and maintaining acceptance into some tribe. Or you could learn how to play the cello and win scholarships.
By definition, pop culture makes us crave acceptance. No matter what lesson TV shows or movies or songs pretend to pitch, the real message never changes. Nerds should become popular. They might learn something important along the way, but the real goal’s amassing approval.
Just look at Big Bang Theory, the biggest disappointment in modern TV. The writers glorify shallow parts of nerdom and geekery, but they don’t truly understand what it’s like to be different. If they did, at least some of their characters would stop trying to be normal and actually achieve something other than money and kids.
Playing the cool game
The popular guys and girls assume their status will transition into college. But it’s a lot harder to stand out in a crowd of twenty thousand. Suddenly they’re not cool anymore. They’re just another person.
Some people don’t take that well. Which is why you occasionally see shows or movies about sad adults trying to relive high school.
Early on, I realized how boring the cool table was. So boring that I can’t even remember what we talked about. Bands. Hair. But not hair bands. Lame. Like what even is that?
Here’s what I remember more than anything. The rules. The cool table had so many. Most of them didn’t make sense. You could talk about bands, but if you talked about the wrong ones they judged you. Everything you said had to be profound or extremely funny.
Or sarcastic. But not too sarcastic. You’re supposed to be life-positive. God, don’t be such a downer. And you definitely can’t make jokes about dismemberment. Yeah, I found that out the hard way.
My place in the cool crowd
It didn’t take long for me to find my role. I was the token goth/punk/poet. The one who wore weird clothes, but not too weird. Didn’t talk much, but occasionally dropped truth bombs.
They asked me questions, but I was supposed to give cryptic answers that reinforced my role as weird, quiet chick.
And I was supposed to decline all requests to share my poetry or short stories. They wanted me to write, but they didn’t want to actually read anything I might publish in the school’s lit journal.
Basically, I was their pity project. The stray they’d taken in. They gave me advice on opening up and becoming myself. But they didn’t actually want that. What they really wanted was someone almost cool, to remind them how cool they already were. Once I understood that, I bailed.
Life after cool
Imagine the shock when I started sitting at the nerd table. Oh, the indignity. How could I pass up my chance to be cool?
My decision to leave the in crowd bothered their queen, Christina Aguilera Iglesias. She accosted me by the vending machines. Gave me some advice. Stop hanging out with the rejects.
I was damaging my image.
The outcast crowd became my home. They liked my dismemberment jokes. Even read my poetry.
They had no rules. You could talk about anything. Religion. Culture. Actual literature — not just the books we were assigned in class. You could express an opinion, and if someone disagreed you could have an argument.
I’ve only kept up with a couple of people from high school. Some of the cool people changed. So I heard. They experienced a rude awakening in college. Learned they had to be genuine human beings.
Some cool people never changed. They don’t describe themselves as cool anymore. But they still live by the same rules. They judge people for living or acting differently.
Cool isn’t that cool
The popular crowd never did anything that special. They formed a tribe. Set up a bunch or rules about how to look and how to act. Tried to enforce them on everyone else.
They had a special hierarchy with super cool and sorta cool people. Tried to convert potential followers. When you tried to leave, they made it difficult and did their best to meter out punishment.
You know, that sounds like the opposite of cool. No wonder so many of the cool people I know became republicans.
When I ditched the cool crowd, they started rumors about me. Their efforts backfired. Only cool people care about rumors.
In the end, cool is just a word that people can bend. You can define almost anything as cool. Mainly by calling it cool. Me? My new social group felt less restrictive and more accepting. We had fun.
Artifacts of cool
Coolness and popularity mean almost nothing when it comes to actual life goals. Maybe you can parlay your high school charm into a career on Instagram. You can go into PR and marketing. Which is all about tricking others into wanting things they don’t need.
Otherwise, it doesn’t matter. Not one bit.
When it comes to cool in the real world, I can only think of the Kardashians. Artifacts of cool. High schoolers that never grew up. Sure, they make tons of money. Only because they got lucky.
You can hone lots of traits and skills that have nothing to do with cool. Even things we associate with cool can stand by themselves. Cool people don’t have a monopoly on anything of value. Just judgment and rules. They can have all of that they want.
Maybe you already know this. Especially if you’re older. You’ve had years to figure it out. But some people still need a reminder.
And who knows? Maybe you consider yourself cool. Maybe you’re enjoying all the benefits of popularity. Don’t expect that to last forever. Think about what you might be giving up to maintain your cool. Or maybe you’re someone who just realized your coolness doesn’t matter anymore. Hey, it’s never too late to start taking cello lessons.