Does our High School social status determine our social lives and friends for the rest of our lives? Tom Wolfe discovered a pattern of what he calls, “High School Opposites”. He says that in High School we fall into certain social circles because of hobbies, neighbors or strong subjects in school. For example, neighbors who ride the bus together tend to hang out together, students in honors math end up becoming friends or members of sports teams sit together at lunch.
Where we fall on the social ladder in High School actually begins to define two lifelong patterns:
1) Our Personality Types (Jock, Drama Geek, Nerd, Goth, Druggie, Rebel, It Girl, Perfectionist…)
2) Our Social Allies and Enemies (Jock versus Geek, Druggie versus Student Body President, etc)
Wolfe argues that our adult personality and choice of friends is forever defined by our social alignment in High School. We actually end up keeping our same High School allies (and enemies) as adults. Here are two examples of how we see this commonly play out:
-In High School, Guy was a nerd. He developed slowly, was short and, because he was talented at Math he joined the math team. He was picked on and developed a social personality—math geek. His enemies were the jocks that picked on him and forced him to do their homework to escape punches in the mouth. Guy goes to a small liberal arts college where he hits his much awaited growth spurt. He is liked, he is popular, and because at his school it is cool to be smart, his ‘nerdiness’ becomes a good thing. He becomes a Math teacher at a local school when he graduates. Despite his acceptance as an adult, he consistently has problems with the jocks in his class. They give him a hard time and he gives them lower grades because “he just doesn’t like those kids.” His favorite students are like his old social allies—the math ‘geeks.’
Guy slipped right back into his High School role and began to battle again with his old High School social enemies the Jocks.
-Gal was always popular. She was pretty and fun. She was invited to all the parties. She was not super smart, and sometimes had to cheat on tests to make it in school. This didn’t bother her, she preferred parties to book anyways. What did bother her was the snobby, know-it-all girls in her classes. They weren’t as pretty as her, but they still made her feel stupid when she didn’t know the answer in class. Gal went to college, stayed hot and barely slipped by with her grades. When she joins a marketing firm in the HR department she is in charge of new hires. When female applicants come in with loaded resumes and that know-it-all attitude she happily puts them to the bottom of the pile even though they are qualified (if not overqualified) and hires the attractive fun-loving girls who come in for interviews.
Gal always resented the smart girls, and punishes them by not hiring them in her current job—even though they are qualified and might be potentially great friends to her.
If the adult personality is forever defined by our high school social relationships and we keep our social enemies from high school and allies as adults—can we ever break free?
I say yes—and awareness is the key! Once I read this study I began to examine some of my current social relationships. I also began to take into account my attitude and instant biases against certain people I would meet at parties or networking events. Amazingly, I noticed that I did form harsh opinions almost instantly to people who would fit into my high school ‘social enemy.’ I had also been much more forgiving and open to people whom I perceived as my social allies—even though they had not been good friends.
I highly recommend you to look at the people in your life and how you develop social biases when you meet new people. Then challenge those prejudices and see if they are based in fact or old high school social lessons. You might be surprised at what you find out!