In Praise Of Being The School Loner

The former secondary school loner is able to go it alone and has usually been made all the braver and interesting thanks to earlier rejection from their peers for various arbitrary but at the time vital teenage reasons.
Publish date:
February 27, 2013
friendship, school, popularity, squeamish bikini, Loners

I didn't have many friends in secondary school. It was kind of a shock. I went from being queen bee at my first primary school, popular at the larger one I moved to and then just fine at the next one down south. Going by that trajectory though, I suppose it was bound to happen.

If I changed this paragraph into a very simple graph the line would slide down at an increasingly alarming but uniform gradient. Like so:

When people reminisce about halcyon days sitting in the park smoking cigarettes nicked from someone's mum and drinking ill-gotten cider until they were sick and then Dave from year 10 still totally snogged them, even though they had a sicky mouth, I have nothing to come back with.

Or not until I moved to Belgium, where it's legal for 16 year olds to drink, so we had bars to go to and illicit drinking and smoking wasn't on the cards because YAWN, this is mainland Europe – no-one cares.

The only typical teen girl thing I experienced was the teen girl freeze. One day in year 7 that was it. I was out of the clique. Nobody talk to Kate and while it did get better – I always feel I kind of missed out on classic teenage years.

So this is kind of a love letter to all those who were and are unpopular. Who feel like they are constantly missing out. Who never quite fitted in at school... Because I've come to realise there is a lot to be said for the former loner.

There's a line in Sabrina the Teenage Witch (which, incidentally, you may note was only really good when she was unpopular) from her original best friend Jenny, who informs Sabrina when discussing high school cliques that “I tried to be an outsider, but I didn't fit in.” Jenny knew the value of doing your own thing.

Of course it wasn't quite the balm it could have been for the unpopular, but even Daria had one friend. I suppose there's no sitcom about a true teen outcast because 'The episode where teen protagonist manages not to speak for the entire day' doesn't make for snappy quips, much less dialogue.

But as you get older you realise people are kind of fascinated by the awkward - look at any sitcom and the main character rarely fits in. There wouldn't be much of a story if they did.

I have noticed lately (or perhaps t'was ever thus?) it seems to be fashionable to announce you had no friends in secondary school. No one understood them because they were the Jane Lane or Daria of their school.

Guys, we can't ALL have been Jane Lane or Daria at school. Else no socialising would have been done and exam grades would have rocketed in the late '90s and we'd all be more socially aware. Although for the record, I WAS Jane Lane.

I know this because I wore dark red lipstick to school every single day. Jane style. Even though it was against school regulation. But I kept acerbic comments to myself because nobody got my sense of humour.

Why this desire in some people to rewrite their own history? Where is the kudos in admitting few of your peers found you appealing as a teen? I for one, am finding it pretty embarrassing telling you I was that person who sat by themselves in most classes.

I think people exaggerate their teenage unpopularity because then they can say they kind of invented themselves.

I didn't do any of my coursework with all this extra No Friends time, so I don't even have sparkling GCSE grades to show you, but if you still have a tape deck I've got some bitchin' mix tapes I spent a lot of time making. Thanks to my musical influences being limited to Southern FM, soundtracks and CDs left around from parties my parents and lodgers had (oh yeah, I spent most of my time with a 30-something slightly bohemian adults who I lived with, having conversations way beyond my 14 year old maturity level) I didn't have any pressure to keep to one type of music in order to please a clique.

I also avoided that evil we spent talking about in all PSHE lessons at school - not sex, drugs or smoking - but peer pressure. By the time I moved schools I was reasonably aware of my boundaries (not that they had been tested in any way) and happy to say no. Or yes. In fact it was just like those crappy PSHE videos! People noticed I was not easily influenced and respected that.

I also have a high tolerance for inconsequential gossip now. My version of He Said She Said tends to go something like this: I read in an Augusten Burroughs book that he read in a magazine that gay men like to gossip about the guys they like to an extent apparently usually known only to teenage girls because they couldn't discuss boys at school. I too massively, massively enjoy gossip of the who likes who kind and will indulge people for hours because I missed out on it at school. I am convinced this makes me a better friend now.

The former secondary school loner is able to go it alone and has usually been made all the braver and interesting thanks to earlier rejection from their peers for various arbitrary but at the time vital teenage reasons (unless you expressed homophobic, racist or other intolerant viewpoints – those are rather good reasons for alienation).

So don't be ashamed to admit you were once the school loner, embrace it! It's why everybody likes you now. Probably.

Kate is on Twitter, not being a loner @squeamishbikini.