I was one of those high school students who was insecure in my friendships, clearly not one of the popular kids, disliked because I was sort of brainy and weird. Obviously high school was a heck of a long time ago, but every once in awhile that same social dynamic rears its ugly head again.
Saturday morning I woke up thinking about what being department head has meant for my interpersonal relationships at school, something I'd been talking about the afternoon before with a friend in a different department. In most ways, of course, it's made no difference at all, but it's made some difference with folks in my own department and with other department heads; for the former, I'm no longer one of the guys but am now someone who makes decisions that affect other people (not that many decisions, but still ...), and for the latter, I'm now someone who has a say (a very slight say) on what happens in the school as a whole and thus in other departments.
Or maybe it's not that other people act differently toward me, but that I act differently toward them. I can't tell. And this is all very minor, just something I was thinking about because this friend I was talking with Saturday morning wanted to know how it was all going and whether I'd be happy or not to continue in the role next year if that became a possibility.
So anyway, I had all of this on my mind when I opened Facebook and started skimming through posts ... and then ran into a whole set of photos from Friday afternoon of my friends and colleagues having a happy hour at a local restaurant in celebration of the engagement of one of the English teachers. It looked like a really fun time.
A fun time that I hadn't been invited to.
The first I'd heard of the whole thing was those FB pictures, despite the fact that I'm very friendly with the teacher in question, indeed have been something of a mentor to her at times. And there were other English teachers at the party. Just not me. (Well, not other folks as well, but those other folks aren't part of this teacher's friendship circle, whereas I would have thought I was.) And it wasn't just the 30s-aged folks there, because there were three folks there who are older than I am.
It was all such a shock that I actually was gasping for breath for a couple minutes afterward. And then I cried. And I continued to cry at moments for the rest of the day.
I don't think I'm overreacting, really, because I'm not assuming from this that people don't like me or anything like that. But I do think that, increasingly, people just don't think of me when it comes to social outings. I've become more of an introvert as I've gotten older, and a full day at school pretty much wipes me out in terms of social interactions, so that afterward I just want to be quiet. (In fact, one of the things that I love about my new gym is that it's small and people don't talk to each other other than to say "Hello." No social interaction at all!)
And here's the other thing: This happy hour that I wasn't invited to was about the alpha group among the faculty. I mean, it really was only about 13 or so folks at that happy hour, just under a fifth of the faculty. So it's not like the whole faculty but me was invited. But this particular group is run by an alpha, the head of the math department who is the Queen Bee who pretty much runs a large segment of the faculty's social gatherings. And if you're in her crowd, you do a lot of things -- group runs after school, margarita nights, exclusive after-parties after evening school events, etc. And all of these events get photographed and splashed all over FB so that we can all see them.
In my second year at FGS, I got an audition to be in the Queen Bee's group, and I failed spectacularly -- I don't like running, and I'm too serious and not "fun" enough. But I was still in the outer circle simply by virtue of being friendly with lots of folks the Queen Bee also likes, and so I'd go to parties, which I enjoyed because I genuinely like so many FGS faculty. And, although the Queen Bee and I don't really hit it off, she's hardly a "mean girl," and I respect her very much as a teacher and a department head; indeed, she's been one of my models of effective department management this year. So it was all good. But then this year the invitations have been drying up. There was an after-party that I didn't get invited to, but I didn't even care because I was sick that day and already planning on sneaking out of the required school event as soon as I possibly could. So the non-invitation to Friday's event is really just more of the same, except that I would have liked to be part of that event.
And it all felt like a return to the unhappy social dynamics of high school, and I cried off and on for much of the day.
But the difference between now and high school is that I have a much stronger sense of self now, and this morning I have a better attitude about the whole thing, even though I'm still hurt.
I'm remembering that I do actually friends on the faculty but that we just don't take selfies and post them on FB whenever we get together. I'm also thinking that I need to be more deliberate to reach out to those friends, to make plans with them for quality time together instead of just hanging out at the lunch table at school. I'm also reminding myself that I always prefer getting together one on one with a friend for a walk or a meal instead of being in a big crowd where no one really gets to talk with another person for any length of time. And all of those things are undoubtedly part of my not being part of this popular crowd, but I'm just fine with these parts of my personality.
And finally, here's what I was doing on Friday night while the party I didn't know about was going on: A friend and colleague (who also wasn't invited to the party) stopped by my classroom to say "hi," and we wound up just hanging out and really talking for well over an hour. She's got some stuff going on in her life right now that we talked about, and we also talked pretty frankly about some things at school, and all in all it was such a good conversation that when we hugged goodbye, I told her that it had been the perfect way to end the school week. And it had been! And then I went home, and D and I had our first official Shabbat dinner, and it was lovely. And I wouldn't have wanted to trade either of those things for a chance to be with the popular kids. So it's all good.
But I do wish that I could just be completely beyond these high school social dynamics instead of having to marshall my inner resources to talk myself out of them.