1981 was not a great year.
For starters, I’ve always enjoyed school and learning, but that September, there would be no school, because the teachers in the Philadelphia school district went on strike and remained on strike for the next 50 days.
Also, we moved that year, and our new home, an extreme fixer-upper, was a big, unwelcome change from our previous home, and I didn’t like the neighborhood or the neighbors.
And finally, I was fifteen for crying out loud. Nuff said.
And then when the school doors finally opened, I found myself smack dab in the most awkward period of my life. Nothing I touched was any good. I tried out for choir and was rejected. My grades were terrible, and always shy and with an offbeat sense of humor, I couldn’t find a friend to save my life. (Did I mention that I went to an all-girls high school? What’s one definition of hell on earth? Two thousand teenage girls under one roof, that’s what.)
Well, eventually I did find one friend. And what do you know? She thought I was dumb.
Remember those bad grades I mentioned? Yeah, they were bad, and my friend knew all about them. So much so that, years later, when I told her I’d been accepted into Penn she frowned at me quizzically and said “You?”
Yes, me. And that’s when I realized—she really did think I was a bad student. But I wasn’t. I’d always been a great student. Except I’d been in the midst of that one lousy year when she and I met and so to her, I was an okay student, certainly not Penn material. End of story.
And now, I think about this time in my life and this friend of mine, and it occurs to me that sometimes, for whatever reason, people get an idea of who we are based on a particular moment in time that really doesn’t characterize who we are, and eventually we realize that the relationship needs a reframing, or a do over, if it’s to thrive.
Of course, this can go the other way as well. Sometimes we get it into our heads that someone is a certain way, and we’re just wrong. Sometimes we believe that others are needy because we meet them at a point of need, but actually they’re quite strong. Other times we believe they’re strong, when actually they’re fragile.
And I’m not talking here about someone pretending to be a different person than who she is. I’m talking strictly about our perceptions of people based on our own biases, experiences, and sometimes, need. When that happens, and when we begin to realize that our expectations of people are based on our flawed realities of who we think they are or that their expectations of us are based on their flawed reality, an uncomfortable dynamic can result that must be addressed or the friendship may wither.
Some do overs are easy, but others can be quite difficult, even those that require a change in us, which is within our control after all.
But when it’s all said and done, a relationship that’s not grounded in reality is bound to be a disappointment, so it’s important to get our heads on straight or have that uncomfortable conversation:
“Hey, you seemed really surprised when I said I’d been accepted into Penn. Why’s that?”
“Oh, it’s just that you never seemed that interested in school.”
“Really? I love school... well, it’s true that when we met I wasn’t liking it that much. Boy that was a lousy year! It almost messed up my entire GPA.”
And so on, and so forth.
It’s how we get to know who people truly are, not merely who we think they are.
And it's worth it.