Fitting In

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Have you ever bought an item because someone you know did? Did you go to see a movie just because everyone else did? Do you find yourself easily swayed by popular opinion? The fact of the matter is, peer pressure is there, whether we yield to it or not. Everyone wants to feel accepted and a part of a group, but sometimes situations and people arise that are just not right for you. What then? Should you be cool and just not say anything to avoid the risk of seeming snobbish or, even worse, being left alone? It’s a tough dilemma, but there is an answer.Teenagers should not feel pressured to spend time with a group that they are uncomfortable with, as is seen by what happened when I found myself in such a situation.

The start of high-school was a strange and almost foreign adventure for me. I have been home-schooled all my life, but only began taking classes in 7th grade. My freshman year was my first experience attending school full time. As a result, I was (and still am) socially awkward and uncertain and only knew a handful of fellow students. I was excited about high-school and even looking forward to the homework, but dealing with people had never been my strong point. The previous year I had made several friends, but I was still nervous. Despite my assertion that I didn’t care what people thought of me, I was really worried about fitting in.

Freshman year began and all seemed well. I liked my teachers, classes went smoothly, grades were good, and I was pleasantly surprised when a girl from one of my classes invited me to have lunch with her the second day of class. I had been expecting to spend the year eating alone. This girl, who I’ll call Mary, seemed like someone who could be a great friend. She was bright, funny, cheerful and seemed sweet and to genuinely like me. I was happily oblivious of any upcoming issues and felt sure that I had found someone to sit with and talk to for the rest of the year. It seemed that my luck with friendship was going up.

I can’t say exactly when it happened, or how or why, but somewhere along the line, something changed. Mary was popular and had collected a large group to spend lunchtime with. I wasn’t jealous; in fact I was glad that it wasn't just her and me having lunch together, but I did notice something. She wasn’t really talking to me anymore. It was as if she had suddenly lost interest in me. She would laugh and talk as freely as ever with all her other pals, but not a word was exchanged with me.

What with my lack of skill regarding social relations, I was determined not to bring up a conflict unless absolutely necessary, so I kept my mouth shut. This seemed to suit Mary just fine, who never listened to anything I said anyway. The thing that confused me the most though, was that she was still adamant about me sitting next to her. She would drag me down into the chair next to me, then not even look at me all through lunch. I had, it appeared, become invisible. A mutual friend of ours hit it on the nose when he looked over at me and said, “You’re all alone over there, aren’t you?”

Yes, I was alone, even when surrounded by people. Mary was not what she had at first appeared. Now that I spent more time with her, I could tell she was opinionated, hypocritical, biased and had used me to get answers on homework or tried to cheat off my paper. I no longer felt like I wanted to be her friend, yet I was afraid to not be. She had invited me to have lunch with her. That was more than I had expected from anyone. If I walked away, would I find anyone else who would want to be with me instead?

It was not easy. I was insecure, and wanted to know I had someone there who would be there with me, if not for me. All the same, I eventually came to realize that it was better to be actually alone than alone in a crowd. I stopped going to lunch with her. I found someplace else to sit in class. I didn’t try to talk to her anymore. And Mary didn’t even seem to notice.

But reality wasn’t so cruel as I had expected. Within a few weeks after making the choice to leave the friend who made me feel like a living ghost, another girl asked me to eat lunch with her. I joined their group and found myself among people who actually cared. I found new table mates in my classes, people who I could laugh with and talk to with ease and enjoyment. All in all, it turned out for the best and I came to realize that the only thing that was binding me to Mary before was the fear of rejection.

Anyone who has felt the pressures and insecurities of high-school should not feel like they have to hang out with or be a certain person if they feel it’s the wrong choice. Peer pressure and the need to fit in are strong forces and it can be hard to walk away from something you might not get again, but no one is obligated to please someone just because they call themselves their friend. As happened with Mary and me, I discovered she was not actually someone who I wanted to associate with. I wanted to get out of spending time with her, but I felt bound to her because I didn’t know where else to go. Yet when I took a stand and did what I knew was for the best, I found far better friends. So next time you find yourself doing something just because, or sitting with someone who wears a fake smile, reconsider if that’s what you really want to be doing. Because sometimes you have to take chances, but if you follow your instinct, odds are these chances will be worth it.





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