“Comparison is the thief of joy” ~ Theodore Roosevelt
About three years ago I tested the old adage that goes, “You can’t go home again” by moving back to my home-town of Philadelphia.
As a single woman with no dependants, I had a tendency to cut and run whenever a job became too tiresome.
This last time though, I wasn’t so thrilled to be starting over once again at the age of 43. I had left many good friends behind without considering how difficult it would be to make new ones as I got older.
Thanks to Facebook, I was able to reconnect with my friend, Ben, from high school about a year ago, and we recently made plans to meet for lunch. Neither of us remembered precisely when we became friends or why we drifted apart by graduation; all the same, he had made such an indelible imprint in my memory that I felt no hesitation in picking up where we left off.
Seeing him again made me regretful that I had not seen him since our 10-year high school reunion in 1998. (You know, the Stone Ages way before the widespread use of the internet and cell phones made it easy to keep in touch.) Our paths may have crossed again sooner if I had bothered to go to our 20th or 25th reunion. The reason I skipped both of them was obvious:
I wasn’t keeping up with the Joneses — Mrs. Jones, in particular.
In my mind, Mrs. Jones lived in a big, fancy home with her adoring husband, their two point five beautiful children who learned how to speak French and play the piano at the age of six. Her important job takes her all over the world when she’s not volunteering at the dog shelter. She runs five ks on the weekends. Her form-fitting, designer dress is the same size she wore when she graduated summa cum laude from the Ivy League University of her choice. She gets up every morning at 5.00 a.m. to conquer the world and yet somehow her hair and make-up always remains flawless.
I was certain that my reunion would be filled with Mrs. Joneses because I attended a reputable public high school in suburbs of Philadelphia. My mother was a housewife and my dad worked in a lumber yard, but she wisely convinced him to move us into a middle-class neighborhood during a time when the threat of racial discrimination discouraged black families from integrating into certain areas. I was too young then to thoroughly comprehend the socio-economic complexity of our situation. As far as I was concerned, we were the same as everyone else who lived there.
Few black students tested into the upper roster of classes where they could develop friendships with children from wealthy families. My exclusive position there bolstered my sense of parity among my white friends, at least until it came time for dating or the prom.
I knew none of the friends from my circles were going to invite me because interracial dating between black girls and white boys was unprecedented at my high school. There weren’t a whole lot of black boys interested in the cultural misfit who got good grades and played clarinet in the marching band either.
I went to the prom with a black boy one of my white girlfriends met from a nearby Catholic school. Then they started dating a few weeks later.
So while normally I would have no problem attending a social event by myself, I couldn’t face going to another reunion as a single woman.
Fresh out of a long and emotionally draining relationship, I was comfortable with my single status 10 years after graduation—but 20 years on, there was no way in hell I was going without a date and a Channing Tatum level one at that.
In hindsight, I can easily see how irrational I was in my decision-making process, particularly with my small-minded, hetero-normative view of reality.
At the time of my 20th reunion, I had just completed my Master’s Degree. I was living in Washington, DC as a freelance costume designer, and I accepted a fellowship at one of the foremost regional theaters in the nation. What I did for a living, although not very lucrative, was very cool, but I didn’t think that was good enough for Mrs. Jones.
By my 25th reunion, I was full-time teaching as an assistant professor in theater. I twice relocated myself to cities where I knew absolutely no one and managed to make a new home. I was writing articles that I published monthly on a website that drew in over 10,000 readers, but I didn’t think that was good enough for Mrs. Jones either.
I reached the current place in my life by making bold choices and finding the courage to chuck it all in and start over whenever they didn’t work out.
Nevertheless, I considered myself to be a failure because I wasn’t rich, nor had I won the Tony for costume design, nor the Nobel Peace Prize for Literature nor whatever accomplishment I imagined would make up for the fact that I was a single woman in my forties.
Being ruled out as a romantic interest during my formative years in high school caused me to place an inordinate amount of value on being married. In turn, I had also attached an unwarranted amount of shame to being single.
As women, we are often compelled to compete with one another as we jockey for positions in male-dominated workplaces. We’ll tear each other down in our efforts to gain the attention of the most desirable mates. Imagine how much better our relationships would be if we worked just as hard to cultivate the best within ourselves and then used those strengths to lift each other higher.
I believe there are many good reasons not to attend any of your high school reunions, but if you’re undecided, don’t let the Mrs. Joneses keep you at home.
Looking back, all I can think about are my missed opportunities. Had I gone to my reunions I could have:
1. Kept in touch with friends who stayed local instead of having to rebuild my social life from scratch when I returned.
2. Done some professional networking with people already familiar with my personality and level of aptitude.
3. Entertained people for hours with my internet dating stories and the adventures of working in oddball destinations.
4. Discovered that Ben, my nerdy friend with the bowl cut, grew up to be a cute lawyer before he got married five years ago.
Besides, who brings a date to a high school reunion, anyway?
What kind of person in their right mind would subject themselves to a room full of drunken strangers reminiscing about old times and flipping through family photos on their iPhones?
The Joneses of the world are merely the illusions we perceive about people who are more successful, better looking or smarter than we are with little to no insight into their lives behind closed doors. By those standards, there will always be someone more successful, better looking or smarter than we are.
We are Mr. or Mrs. Jones to someone and our Joneses have Joneses of their own. Sure, it’s frustrating when we see the Joneses get ahead through privilege or dumb luck, but more often than not, success can only be achieved through disciplined and diligent hard work. The Joneses grass only looks greener when we’re not busy tending to our own lawns.
When I’m tempted to keep up with the Mrs. Joneses, I try to envision myself as a leopard with no desire to change any of her beautiful spots. I look at life as a journey with many winding roads. I may occasionally stray from my path, but the twists and turns I encounter will always lead me back.
I’ve set some lofty goals for myself that I may never reach. Even if I could reach all of them, I’d only create new ones. Single or not, I’ll be sure to attend my 30th reunion in 2018 — unless by chance I do happen to get married around that time, and I’m on my honeymoon in Barbados.
In that case, I’ll have to send the Joneses a postcard.
Author: LeVonne Lindsay
Editor: Khara-Jade Warren