How to Survive Your High School Reunion

My ten-year high school reunion is coming up. 

Just writing those words makes me want to throw up a little bit. 

It's not that I hated high school. I wasn't popular or anything, but nobody stuffed me in a locker, either. Nobody turned my backpack inside out or stole my clothes out of my gym locker or stuck magnets to my back. Still, that didn't stop me from spending the majority of my high school years like this:


You know how sometimes you regress when you visit family or see your friends from childhood? What I regress to is a shy, anxious, uncomfortable weirdo who played slow jams way too loudly in my car and skipped class to spend foggy mornings at the beach by myself and sewed my own prom dress and cut my own hair and sometimes wrote poetry. I also used humor to avoid getting close to people, which was great for me when I was sixteen and constantly, secretly freaking out during every interaction with a human person. I mean, great in a self-destructive-defense-mechanism way. Not so much in the making-genuine-connections way. 

Honestly, though, probably everyone felt like an uncomfortable weirdo as a teenager, and now we just want to be ourselves. We're all of us older, hopefully wiser, presumably kinder. So is there really any reason to be afraid of former classmates now?

Yes. The answer is yes. Because every conversation will inevitably go the same way: "You seem familiar," I'll say, trying to play it cool, a queasy smile fastened to my face. "Did we have a class together?" And they'll be like, "Nope," even though um, yeah, bud, I sat behind you in French class for four years. You copied my homework every day. That is froid comme la glace, dude.

In any case, I'm not going to my reunion. But you might, at some point, go to yours, and I wouldn't want to leave you without a long (very long...maybe too long...) list of questionable advice for How to Survive (And Maybe Even Enjoy) Your High School Reunion:

  1. Go with a buddy. Michele walked into her reunion without Romy, and look how that went for them. It was only after they teamed up again that they were able to perform that magnificent routine to "Time After Time" and fly away in Sandy Frink's helicopter.

  2. If you're like me and not that many people knew you in high school, count all the different ways they will get around not knowing your name, e.g. How's it goin', buddy? or Hey, you! Fill out a Bingo card and see how long it takes to get five in a row.

  3. Dress the way you did in high school. For me, that means tank tops in every color of the rainbow and too-long jeans with the back hems all chewed up from walking on them, plus a bra that definitely does not fit me right. For you, it might mean head-to-toe Tillys and Avril Lavigne hair, or jean skirts and flowy maternity tops for days and days. Did you wear Uggs in 2008? DID YOU? Of course you did. Put them on at once and feel ashamed, you monster.

  4. If you really want people to recognize you, get the same haircut you had in your yearbook photo. Have braces put on temporarily, if applicable. Ditch your contacts for those old wire-frame glasses. Draw that funky S symbol on your wrist in Sharpie. Paint your nails with Wite-Out. Then fashion a white frame with a dingy blue background around yourself so that people can get the full effect and recognize you right away. "You haven't changed a bit!" they'll shriek. And you'll be like, That's the point, Deborah. "What a scream!" Deborah will say. What a scream, indeed. 

  5. Do a lap. See if there's anyone you actually want to talk to. Act like you have somewhere extremely important to be right now, but tell them to come find you later. This makes you seem mysterious. DO NOT ASK ANYONE WHAT THEY'VE BEEN UP TO SINCE YOU LAST SAW THEM. What a crappy question to answer thirty times in one night, especially if your answer is "Not much, you?"

  6. But because you will definitely be asked that question thirty times in one night, bring a stack of brochures featuring your Personal and Professional Highlights of the Past Decade. If you're anything like everyone else there, your brochure will list about three items: an international trip or two, your most interesting job so far, any advanced degrees you're still working on, and maybe a cool celebrity sighting. Plus maybe you got married. But only mention your spouse if they have an interesting job or also count as your celebrity sighting. Do not mention your kids. Seriously, we're all on Facebook. We know all we need to about your kids, Trevor.

  7. Or just make stuff up. That's always fun. And then you'll be that mysterious person everyone gossips about afterward, like, I heard she was legally dead for fourteen minutes and then found out that the doctor who revived her was her long-lost sister. Or, Well, she told me she's taken vows of poverty, chastity, AND silence. Had to write it all down on a cocktail napkin. Or, WELL I HEARD SHE HAS THREE THUMBS BUT THE THIRD ONE'S NOT WHERE YOU'D EXPECT. 

  8. Alternatively, just tell them the truth about your life. "I sometimes stay in my pajamas for weeks at a time," you'll say. "Last week," they'll reply, "my boss asked me to go to her house and pick up her dog's poop because she had guests coming. And I did it." High five over your mutual misery. Then move on to making fun of your former chem teacher, just like the old days.

  9. Should you find yourself with a lull in the conversation, try some of these interesting ice breaker questions:

    1. So which teacher did you have a crush on in high school?

    2. Do you feel like you missed out on any opportunities while you were here that would have changed the course of your entire life? Please be specific.

    3. What do you regret most about the way your life is right now?

    4. How do you suspect you will die?

    5. I am bored with you now. (Not actually a question, but useful if someone tricks you and starts talking about how CrossFit has changed their life.)

  10. Alternatively, spend some time with all the lonely, left-out plus-ones and make up outlandish stories about what their dates were like in high school.

  11. Find the person who came with a PURPOSE. There's always at least one, someone who's hoping for a second chance with their long-time crush, or someone who was wronged and is looking for vengeance. You'll recognize this person by the hyper-alert scan they make of the room every twenty seconds, waiting for their target to arrive. This is where the drama's at. That is the person to watch.

  12. I should have mentioned this earlier, but make sure you develop a Reunion Voice in advance. Something that conveys confidence and success, but is still blandly approachable. Mine falls somewhere between Suburban Mom at Book Club and Kristen Wiig as The Target Lady. Keep your eyes open wide and never blink. Blinking's for nerds, which you are not. Not anymore, Kyle. Not...any...more.  

  13. Take up smoking. Or, if you already smoke, keep smoking. It is impossible to have anything resembling a real conversation in the midst of an event like this, so if you actually want to talk to people, just tell them you need a smoke and ask if they want to come with. (This is a useful excuse for any situation you might wish to escape. Sometimes if I'm feeling anxious, I'll say I'm going outside to smoke and then just stand there doing nothing. It's weirdly comforting.) But be forewarned -- you are obligated to say things like, "God, I hated this place," and "Why did I come back here?" and stare off into the distance for a while. But then after that you can have like a normal conversation or whatever. 

  14. Okay, enough with the coping mechanisms. Time to TAKE CHARGE (the way you never did in high school, so that Becky R. was always the one in charge of your group projects in history and she made everyone else do all the work while putting herself in charge of the frickin' bibliography. ARE YOU KIDDING ME, BECKY? THE BIBLIOGRAPHY?!! YOU DIDN'T EVEN CITE YOUR SOURCES IN MLA FORMAT AND WE ALL GOT A B- BECAUSE OF IT! GET THE HELL OUTTA HERE). It all starts with a game. Just three or four people sitting around a table playing a game: Never Have I Ever, Truth or Dare, Would You Rather, Two Truths and a Lie (which I think is especially appropriate for a reunion), etc. Do not bring an actual game. That means no Risk, no Settlers of Catan -- not even Cards Against Humanity. Those games have their place, and that place is Not at a High School Reunion. (Seriously, I'd rather listen to What's-Her-Name's husband Chad try to sell me life insurance for an hour and a half. Harsh, maybe, but if you walk out of your reunion thinking, "You know, that was fun, but it would've been more fun if we had played a strategy-based board game," then this post is probably useless to you, anyway. But good on you for being who you are.)

  15. As things get rowdier, more people will leave their boring conversations and join you at The Fun Table. In fact, it might get so crowded that you have to expand to sitting on the floor, and what naturally happens whenever a bunch of people sit on the floor in a circle? 

  16. That's right. Duck, Duck, Goose. The flirtiest rainy-day classroom game. Aside from Heads Up, Seven Up. Obviously. 

  17. Down By the Banks can also be fun for circle time. Or Spin the Bottle, I guess (but if anyone shouts, "What happens at the reunion stays at the reunion!" the game is over).

  18. By this point, people should be loose enough to dance, and this is where it really starts to feel like high school again. You'll have couples making out in bathroom stalls, four different people crying for no reason, and you will discover who has learned to breakdance over the past decade, and who thinks they can still breakdance even though they haven't tried since they were eighteen. It will all seem strangely exciting, yet you will feel oddly detached. Maybe you're just growing up. Try not to think about it too much. This is no time to be introspective. You should have gotten that out of the way on your smoke break.

  19. If things get a little too crazy for you, go up on the roof with your closest high school friends (I'm assuming, of course, that you are somewhere with a roof and that you can access it [and also that you had friends]). Reminisce about the old days. Resolve to see each other more often. Maybe send handwritten letters. You might follow through; you might not. But it's nice to talk about, either way.

  20. Know when to leave. You don't want to be standing there all alone after everyone else has left. Not like prom night. Not again. Depending on your personality and how the night has gone, this may involve pulling an Irish Goodbye with a couple friends, or crowd-surfing to the exit and leading a parade of nostalgic twenty-somethings out of the venue and over to a karaoke bar where the night will continue. Whatever you decide, get out of there early. "Later, jabronis!" you will shout, as you squeal out of the parking lot. "See you in another ten years!"