My fifth-grade brother had to take senior prom pictures with me in high school because I wasn’t very popular and had no friends. Sure, I didn’t drink and I didn’t party. I was a nerd and a teacher’s pet. But I also wasn’t very nice. I rejected my peers because I thought I was smarter than they were. I never spent time with classmates outside of school. I corrected people’s grammar in public. I was the lowest rung on the food chain, and I knew it.
Now, as a junior in college, times have changed. I go out occasionally, have friends, and have experienced massive psychological growth: I now no longer reject people outright and have stopped correcting people’s grammar. I have a healthy social life and meaningful relationships with peers across campus.
But I’m still not cool.
I am not a stylish politics major in Tower Club and I am not a model-esque athlete in Cannon Dial Elm Club. I’m not an artsy Bridge Year kid and I’m not in a sorority. I’m a history nerd whose goal is to visit every country in Central Asia by 2025. I bought my glasses on sale at Walmart, and I can’t play sports to save my life. Again, I’m not cool.
The miserable high schooler in me wants to change these superficial things — join a sorority, become athletic, go out more — so those around me would consider me “cool.” But the burgeoning adult in me realizes that no one really cares.
Over the past years, I’ve come to realize that no one pays attention to you and your habits nearly as much as you think they do. They’re far more interested in their own lives. Notwithstanding arbitrary categorizations of coolness, whether sister or teammate, there are plenty of people who will be friends with me. My status as a sister doesn’t affect them; what affects them, however, is my treatment of them as an individual.
Take eating clubs: I was extremely conflicted about joining a sign-in club, in large part because I thought it made me lame. But now, as a proud member of Quadrangle Club, I’m very happy, have made excellent new friends, and lost no old ones. No one seems to care that I am “less cool” for joining. They notice that I’m happy. They stick around because I’m kind, caring, and patient.
Does it sometimes bother me that I’m not “cool”? Of course it does. There are days when I would give anything to be the type of person who fits in at Ivy Club or would rush Kappa Alpha Theta. But thinking with my grown-up brain, I’m pretty happy with myself. I have great friends, I enjoy my classes, and I’m learning and growing every day — with or without these superficial markers of popularity.
Other people don’t care either. My friends in other eating clubs seem to like me regardless of which one I’m in or what sorority I didn’t join. They’re not paying attention to these things, because they’re paying attention to how I listen to them, spend time with them, and make them feel valued. People don’t notice the things about you — they notice the things about them.
We’re young —and it’s normal to be preoccupied with our image. But other people aren’t. The “cool kids” in your head aren’t necessarily good friends or good listeners; they’re just the ones who do certain things that we’ve prescribed as “cool.” But the real cool kids are the ones who treat you well.
You won’t remember the stain on someone’s pants, and you won’t remember what eating club someone’s in. You’ll remember how someone gave you a hug on your bad day, and you’ll remember how someone listened to you during a conversation. Coolness might seem like it’s a measure of how much you drink or party or what eating club/frat/sorority you’re in, but, in reality, it’s a measure of how you make people feel.
I often think back to my senior prom and how truly unpopular I was. Some of it is attributable to my not playing sports or partying, but mostly, it was because I wasn’t very nice. I didn’t value the people around me, but I’m happy to say that times have changed, at least in some ways. I guess I’m still not cool for my externalities — but I like to think that my friends think I am for how I make them feel. And I’m glad for that: Now I won’t have to ask my brother to be my date.