I (Reluctantly) Went To My 20th High School Reunion, And So Should You

by Colleen Dilthey Thomas
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Twenty years ago my life was much different. Instead of crying my eyes out watching This is Us, I dreamed I was living in New York with Rachel and Monica. Friday nights, I was the one making $5 an hour watching kids so that parents could escape the reality of stepping on Legos and too much homework and diaper blow outs. I wore a fanny pack where I hid my contraband Marlboro Lights from my parents. The soundtrack to my life was Jagged Little Pill and I could feel all of Alanis’ pain and angst. I was a senior in high school, blissfully clueless as to what was in store.

Fast forward two decades and here I am, a mother of four, who has no idea what the hell she is doing. Last weekend I woke up and realized that my 20-year high school reunion was mere hours away, and the panic began to set in. I attended an all-girls Catholic high school in the 1990s and was about to face a room filled with successful and beautiful women and I envied their status. I wasn’t feeling particularly accomplished, or attractive, or prepared to engage in bullshit small talk to make other people believe that I’ve got it all together. But, I had already sent in my $60 bucks, so I wasn’t going to waste it.

As I approached the door, I could feel a pit in my stomach. It was similar to the ache I felt the first day of school walking into a room of hundreds of girls that I didn’t know. But this time, I knew these women and not just from high school. I knew them on an extremely personal level. I know their kids and their husbands and their dogs. I know what they had for lunch and that they got a new job and that they totally can’t stand their next door neighbor.

By simply accepting a friend request on Facebook, or following feeds on Twitter and Instagram, we have been able to stay connected in such a profound way. Both joyous days and sorrowful situations have been met with congratulations and condolences. We have laughed at silly kid videos and read heart-wrenching stories about the loss of a loved one. We’ve even stolen memes, recipes and inspirational quotes from one another.

But, it has all been from afar. This reunion served as a chance to finally give a hug and share a laugh or tears with the women whose lives we have lived vicariously through for so many years. What was once an evening filled with awkward exchanges, reunions have gotten easier. I’m so glad that I didn’t let my social anxieties keep me at home.

I learned that night that as a bunch of women pushing 40, we’ve done a lot of incredible things. We are doctors and lawyers and CEOs and mothers and daughters and friends and anything else that we ever wanted to be. We all started together at 14 and share many of the same memories. Everyone had that same anxious feeling walking into the cafeteria and hoping to see a familiar face. We had our beloved teachers and classes that we’d love to take again as an adult. But mostly, we realized that no one will ever forget that one party senior year where the stripper showed up. Back then, we had pimples, shag haircuts and flannel shirts; today, it’s stretch marks, printed leggings and bangs. We are all just trying to gracefully navigate this new stage of our lives.

I am grateful that I was able to share memories and stories with women I hadn’t seen in years. I loved the excitement of a friend walking in the door and being able to grab and hug her. There were no surprises about who got fat or thin, who aged well or who had a little work done, no shocks about careers or successes. We already knew everything about each other and it was overwhelmingly comforting not to have to ask so many questions. Imagine talking to someone about their leaking bladder and even though you haven’t seen her in 20 years, and never met her children, you know exactly what that bladder-breaking boy looks like. Its freaking amazing!

My life is richer because of the relationships that I have maintained and built via social media. I am certain that if it weren’t for these platforms, I never would have seen many of these women again after graduation. Social media cannot replace the daily calls and texts from friends. It will never be better than a hug or a shoulder to cry on. But if it allows you the chance to be a part of someone’s life that you would otherwise miss out on, it’s a really great thing. It’s not as great as sitting with your best friend in the Target parking after the reunion eating frozen custard and rehashing all of the night’s craziest moments, but it’s close.

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