On teenagerdom, friendship & why loneliness is okay

Monday, December 12, 2011

You can file "Your teenage years are the best of your life!" under Things I Never Want To Hear Anyone Say Ever Again. Let's pretend for a moment that your teenage years really were the best of your life and you're not just being nostalgic. You should still stop saying it. This is because everyone's life experiences are very, very different. You can say "My teenage years were the best of my life". That's okay. Don't make grandiose statements that imply that adulthood is a living hell because it tends to make young people not want to go there.

And also, what the heck, do you actually remember being a teenager or what? Did they not have this thing called 'social awkwardness' in your youth? Do you not remember having no freaking idea of who you were or what you wanted in life? Do you not remember feeling like a freak or being a treated like a freak or everyone around you seeming like freaks? Do you not remember your weird formative friendships? Maybe as time has passed you've read YA novels and watched John Hughes movies and looked at photos of your smiling younger self and created a version of your youth where life is like a music video.

I think it's wonderful that you had fun as a teenager. But you should probably be enjoying the rest of your life - and the one you're living currently - as well. Because the things that happen when you are fifteen and sixteen and seventeen are generally not the be-all and end-all of your existence. The people you're close with as child and teenager have a lot of impact on you as an adult, but not having a super-tight group of friends with whom to make your carefree youthful memories does not mean you're doing the whole 'bein' a yoof' thing wrong.

I'm never going to be a person who goes out for cocktails with The Girls. I wouldn't be any of the characters from Sex in the City. The fictional character I most relate to is Chuckie from Rugrats. I don't have a particular group of friends, but I'm friends with lots of individuals - and I think that contributes to me as a person more than being friends with one group of homogenous people (and let's be honest: people in small friendship groups, especially as teenagers, tend to dress and behave ridiculously alike, and it's sometimes a bit weird). You don't need to retain the same group of friends from high school into adulthood. People change. The idea of a 'bestie' (what is this? Do people seriously isolate one of their friends as 'the best'? Humans are strange.) is socially constructed. It's okay to be closer to your family than to your friends.

There's this whole idea of what it is to be a teenager - that you have to go out every Friday and Saturday evening or you are a failure, that you must have a tight-knit group of friends with whom you will keep contact forever and ever, that you must rebel and hate your parents and that there's something wrong with you if you don't do the things other people do (Oh! The number of times I have been told how much of a freak I am for not drinking! I care about my internal organs, folks). Everyone has their own version of this, and it's stupid and you should forget about it.

And this makes it harder for people to figure out who they are and what they want. Because the media and advertising and older people and the cumulative force of their friends' opinions are saying: 'This is what you should be. This is what you have to buy. This is what you have to do.' (A lot of people seem to be under the impression that buying things will transform you into a perfect human being. Which is what the companies selling stuff want you to think.)

And you say, but Steph! The characters in your book have tight-knit groups of friends! They are rebellious teenagers! And I say, it's a book, guys. Books about one kid being awesome on her lonesome are kind of difficult to sustain for 300 pages (look out for my next book Stephanie Bowe: Legend* next summer**).*** And YA books and movies for teenagers exaggerate and simplify (generally speaking, there are exceptions) all the good and bad aspects of being young ridiculously, and that's what makes them entertaining.

Being on your own helps you figure out who you are. Loneliness helps you along your path to being a tortured artist. It's okay not to find a group of people, or individuals, who you really connect with - they probably just don't go to your high school or live in your suburb. The world's a big place. It's not worth compromising yourself to fit in or have a traditional teenage experience. This is your life, and you get one go at it, and I don't know about you, but I don't think it's really worth doing things just because everyone else does. (And you will find that 'everyone else' is never everyone. It's usually just some people.)

If dressing like a Kardashian and being a foolish youngster is what you truly want to do, go right ahead! Just don't judge other people for living differently to you.

Let's dance and be friends and never become people who say "My teenage years were the best of my life!" because our entire lives will be awesome.

I'm going to write actual posts about reading and writing, soon! Get excited. (Moving house and rewriting a book is distracting and time-consuming, obviously.)

*Actual title of a speech I made for Toastmasters in Grade Six. I kid you not.
**Kidding. I'm working on another book, though, that will be a whole lot better.****
***I really love asterisks if you can't tell.
****Stephanie Bowe: Legend would just be: Steph paces the room. Steph thinks about some stuff. Steph eats a lamington. (It's a psychological thriller.)

I want to know:

  • Are you still friends with or do you plan to stay friends with the people you knew in school?
  • Were/are your teenage years the greatest? Of all time?
  • Which Rugrats character are you? (This is the most serious question.)

I have too many questions, I know.
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