I recently got an e-mail from a very lovely reader asking for a little bit of advice:
Hello, I was wondering if maybe you could help me out bit. I'm a freshman at my high school in a town populated by about 4000 people, tops. And well, I'm a bit lonely. No, I'm not depressed or anything just a bit worried.
I'm sorta' an introvert and don't really hang with anyone outside of school. This doesn't worry me but, yeah, this town's kinda small. Never had a boyfriend either, and I'm starting think I'll never shake what people in this town see me as. I'm afraid I'll grow up to be a lonely girl who'll never get a date, or find someone special. Or have someone find me beautiful. I know this is probably my angst talking, but I feel like the only one who feels like this. Think you can help a girl out?
Oh, boy. For one, let me just say that I know exactly what you're talking about. In fact, I think a lot of people who read this blog (and probably a lot of people you know) feel or have felt the way you do right now.
I was never very outgoing in high school. I had about 3 or 4 good friends, and that was it. I was a teacher's pet and a nerd. I started high school overweight, and even when I lost it, the boys still didn't ask me out like I expected they would. I just wasn't in the "in" crowd and it felt lonely and awkward and awful.
For a long time I was plagued by destructive thoughts about being the kind of person that no one would ever really love. Thoughts like that led to a couple bad boyfriends, most significantly one who "wasn't my type" (high school drop-out, into drugs, an alcoholic), but said he loved me, and that was enough. I was involved with him for about two years, most of that time without a real commitment, because I thought he was as good as I would get. I didn't have enough confidence in myself to say "no" to the emotional abuse he put me through, and I put up with a friends-with-benefits relationship in hopes someday, if I gave him everything he wanted, he would love me back. If I could go back in time, I don't know if I'd be more inclined to slap the heck out of myself for being so dumb, or hug myself because I now understand the emotional place I was in.
That's just a little bit of my story, because your e-mail really brought me back to how I felt in high school. I'm not saying you're doomed. Oh my goodness you're not!
For me, it wasn't really until I got into college that I felt I came into myself. I'm sure you've heard this before, but college really is an opportunity for a new beginning. If you don't want to be the person you feel your small town sees you as, you don't have to be. To tie up the story I was telling about my high school days, I met a hugely awesome guy in my Freshman year through my roommate, who I've been dating for almost two years now. And you know what's great about him? He's really "my type." He's cute and nerdy and thoughtful and he doesn't drink. He worships my body in a way I never thought a man ever would-- I never thought I'd be able to say that someone "worships" me in any way! I'm so happy, and I never imagined I could feel like this when I was back in high school.
High school can be such a bleak place, and I know a ton of people who absolutely don't count it among the best years of their lives. Many people love their hometowns and never want to leave, but being from somewhere so small can really put you in a position where you feel trapped by how people perceive you. I'm not going to ask you to love high school or whatever town your from. Both of those things will end-- high school for sure, and someday you can move away from your small town life if it really troubles you. What I will do, though, is give you a few tidbits of advice that will maybe help you start to break out of your shell (because college and/or moving away-- if that's where you're headed-- is a long ways away) and make some more connections. Also, more of my shpiel on boys. Oh, boys.
Join a Club or Team
I know you're shy, but clubs are a great place to meet people like you in high school. Join a group related to something you love or something you're interested in finding out more about. The good thing about a lot of clubs is that you can ease into interacting with other students. If you're more of an observer-- which it sounds like you are-- spend the first few meetings feeling people out. Who seems friendly? Who would you like to get to know better? Slowly begin to make more small talk and participate more in club activities. I'm very shy, so I know how hard this can be. Also, sports teams are a great place to meet friends as well. It really depends on your interests, so see what your school has to offer.
Make Something More of Acquaintances
You said you don't have people you hang out with outside of school, but perhaps there are people in school that you could get to know better. It may be a little less intimidating to talk make friends with someone you already know a bit about than to create a friendship out of nowhere-- plus, it sounds like your town is so small that you probably have a lot of acquaintances. Just be friendly and remember that people are often more open to being interacted with than you expect them to be. Deep breaths, too.
Dive into the Things You Love
If there's something wonderful in your life you can't live without-- art, writing, a sport, etc.-- make it your life. If you preoccupy yourself with something you're truly passionate about, time is going to go by so much faster and so much more productively. Put together scrapbooks. Take photographs of curious objects and learn how to edit them with Photoshop or Gimp. Write sonnets. Paint. Take tennis lessons. Whatever it is you love, strive to be amazing at it. I think you'll find yourself feeling happier, more fulfilled, and more prepared to take on the world (especially if your passion is part of your life plan). There's a whole big world out there that doesn't have any preconceived notions about you-- take it by storm with all your wonderful talents!
Now I know I'm no expert in relationships because, as I said, I've fallen into the traps before. I know there's probably little I can say that will make you feel like a boyfriend isn't the most important thing to have in high school but... it's not. You might not feel cool, and you might feel like you're unloved, but you know what? You're so young. I'm only 20, and I never thought I'd say that to someone, but you have so much time to find someone to love you. There are plenty of people who love you, I'm sure. So what if they aren't boys? I don't have to see you to know that you are a beautiful girl with plenty to offer, and maybe it's just not your time to find a boyfriend yet. Whatever you do, don't settle. If you love yourself, someone good will come to you, and if someone bad shows up instead, you'll have the strength to walk away. See, it's hard to give advice about guys, because a lot of it seems to be just waiting until you're at the right place at the right time. You can't rush it. I know exactly how you feel now, because I've been there. I used to tell myself somewhere in my very angsty Middle School days that "some people aren't meant to be loved, and I'm one of them." I believed it with every fiber of my being, too. But it wasn't true. Everyone deserves love, and there is someone out there for everyone.
The first thing I want you to do, Rachel? Remember that you're capable of being your own support system, your own best friend. Believe you're beautiful. Tell yourself every day. Believe you are worth being loved, and tell yourself that, too. I don't really know what to tell you about how to find a good boyfriend or how to get guys to like you 'cause, hell, I have no clue. It basically just feels like a mix of magic and fate to me. Wait, and it will come. In the mean time, keep in mind that you are one of a zillionty billion girls out there who feel like they're not pretty and that they won't find the right guy-- even the ones you might think are gorgeous and perfect and could never have those issues.
You're not alone. And you're perfect. And it's going to be okay.
So dear readers, do you have any advice for Rachel? Did you go through the same feelings in high school? If you did, how and when did you get over them? If you didn't, goodness I'm jealous! How'd you do it?