I did things kind of backwards. Junior high was a breeze for me. I had a strong circle of friends, got good grades and did well in band. Other than the occasional girl drama, life at Coakley Jr. High School rocked. My first year of high school was in the same town. I didn’t continue in band so I wasn’t as connected but I still belonged.
Then we moved. We actually moved back to the exact neighborhood where had lived five years earlier. I had stayed in touch with at least one friend so I wasn’t terribly worried about fitting in. How precious and naive of me.
It didn’t take long to realize that in those formative years I was no longer like the rest of them. I dressed and spoke differently. Apparently I had a Texas accent. Who knew?
Introverted by nature, I became quite insecure around all these super cool California kids. The group from fifth grade had now splintered into several cliques all dominated by one of the original quintet. They were the usual high school stereotypes: the cheerleader, most likely to succeed, band nerd, and the brainy one. And then there was me. I didn’t fit in anywhere. As a result nearly every lunch was spent alone. I tried to be as inconspicuous as possible. I think I was quite successful as even by graduation, very few people really knew I existed.
For years I viewed eating alone in public as a sign that I am a social outcast; a person to be mocked or pitied. I always reverted back to that high school girl who just wanted to fade into the background.
I broke this curse by forcing myself to go out to lunch by myself. This was in the days before cell phones and at first it didn’t dawn on me to take a book. I was exposed for the world to see. I hadn’t let myself be that vulnerable in years. I couldn’t eat fast enough. I just wanted to get out of there and into the safe anonymity of my car.
Through the years I forced myself outside my comfortable cocoon and subjected myself to a type of aversion therapy.
I went out to eat by myself.
This didn’t happen until I was divorced and having to learn so much about my grown up self. At first I asked for an out of the way table, so I could be pitiful in private.
Soon I got to the point of looking up from my food to notice the people around me. They were busily eating and chatting. No one really seemed to notice me. It was then that I discovered a wonderful sense of freedom and some important life lessons:
- Most people are busy with their own lives and don’t notice that I am dining alone.
- Being alone and being lonely are two very different things.
- I am really quite good company.
- Never leave home without a book.
- Sheryl, you aren’t in high school anymore.
And life moves on.