It’s back to school season again, a time that – for me – means it’s a sales-tax holiday on clothes and another sign that it’s time to flog my leftover crap on Craigslist and unload it on to some
poor, unsuspecting worthy soul who really needs it. For a not-insignificant portion of my readers, it means it’s time to enter that legally mandated third circle of Hell that we call “High School”.
Ah, high-school. You take a bunch of children in the middle of a massive surge of hormones, developing brains and physical changes where everything is confusing and all you want to do is scream, fuck and run in circles until you fall over. Then you stick them in a building for eight to ten hours a day where they’re explicitly told that under no circumstances are they to scream, fuck or run in circles. Throw in enough Machiavellian plotting and cold-blooded politicing to put the Byzantine Empire to shame, and then set them loose in a society that resembles maximum-security wing of OZ.
And then you’re told that these are “the best years of your life.” And if you’re like me – and I know I am – then this thought made you wake up screaming in the middle of the night.
A lot of my readers have asked me about dating and getting better with girls in high-school. I’m here to tell you… that you’re asking the wrong question. High school is about getting better at life. Here’s how to survive it.
Learn The System (or: How To Make the Cliques Work For You)
One of the first things that comes to mind when you think of high school are the cliques. There’s nothing quite like compulsory education to set up a sense of tribalism that would make any anthropologist cackle with glee. You have the Jocks, the Queen Bees, The Stoners, The Metalheads, The Punks, The Academic Overachievers, The Theater Kids, various racially-based sub-groups. Then you get into all the complicated cross-group relationships; the Jocks hate the Nerds and want to fuck the Queen Bees, publicially resent the Stoners but buy off them when nobody’s looking, while the Queen Bees will flirt with the Academic Overachievers in order to pass Algebra II but will never come across. Meanwhile the Metalheads, Punks and the Stoners are nominally allied but feelings are still raw after the Cyprus Hill/Slipknot/Black Flag fiasco. It’s enough to make you want to call in Henry Kissinger to handle the negotiations.
And the craziest part? None of it matters. These weird little social constructs won’t last past graduation; as soon as you have the diploma in your hand, those social ties start dissolving. By the end of the graduation after-parties, lines will be blurred, and identities discarded and people will start feeling free to be who they really are instead of trying to maintain their constructed identity.
However, no matter what group you are part of, whether you joined it of your own will or were shuffled into it through the Sorting Hat that is social pressure, you need to learn how to cross high-school clique lines. Yeah, you may have a hate-boner for that one girl in the Queen Bees who keeps makes sure you know you’re being excluded from the cool parties, but you should learn how to talk with her anyway. These cliques may not matter past high school, but you’re going to be encountering personalities like these for all your life. And you will need to work with them. So spend time observing the other cliques. Learn how they interact, what their rules are, the relative social standings. Once you learn these, you can start to use them to your own advantage.
Networking is one of the most important skills you can learn, and you should be learning it as early as possible. Not only will you inevitably find yourself in a position when you will need something from someone you can’t stand, but you will also need to learn how the system works. Y’see, just as you’re going to be trying to get what you want from them, there will be plenty of people who will be trying to manipulate you into getting you to do what they want. They may be using their sexuality, they may be using a complex system of lies and half-truths to make you feel obligated or they may be straight up threatening you. Once you learn how the game is being played, you can make informed decisions on how you want to play… even if it’s not to play at all in the first place.
Start Your Self-Improvement Program Now
You probably don’t really like yourself right now. You’re overweight, underweight, eat too much, smoke too much, study too much, don’t study enough, don’t drink enough water, drink too much soda, slouch, stammer or otherwise hate some or many aspects of who you are. You’re trapped in your current identity by all the people who’ve known you for years and you can’t wait to get to college where nobody knows you and you can reinvent yourself.
Why the hell are you waiting? Start working on yourself now and be ready to hit the ground running.
It takes a great deal of time and effort to break long-established habits, and even more to create new ones. The rule-of-thumb that it takes 21 days to establish a habit is ultimately bullshit; it can take anywhere from 18 to 250 days, whether it’s just drinking an extra glass of water a day or maintaining an exercise program. Trying to force yourself to become a new person between graduation and Freshman orientation will only stress you out and make your already too-short summer disappear.
To help make the transition, don’t focus on the negatives; all you will do is end up with a list of things you hate about yourself and send yourself into a spiraling depression leading to a sense of “What does it matter, it’s all bullshit anyway and I’d be better off dead.” Instead, decide on who you want to be; if it helps, use a celebrity as a starting point and move on from there.
This is where being a geek can work to your advantage, by the way. Geeks tend to be organizationally minded; it’s one of the ways we keep track of our character builds in WOW, how we can keep up with the difference in specs of Colonial Vipers from 1978’s Battlestar Galactica vs. the 2004 reboot. Think of it as respeccing your character from a PVE to PVP; your goals are steps down the skill-tree and you need to know how you’re going to progress to the end goal. Start mapping out your plan and how you plan to keep track of your progress. If you are trying to lose weight or get in shape, keep diet and exercise journals and mark everything down. If you’re working on your appearance, start taking photos and track your changes that way. Establish milestones to maintain that sense of progress; you may not be able to bench 250 yet, but you hit 170 faster than you ever thought you would Being able to track your progress will go a long way to keeping you motivated and help prevent you from backsliding.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Everyone has a dream. Some people want to make comics. Some people want to be rock stars. Some want to master computer programming while others want to become famous record producers and usher in the next big hit.
If you have a dream, high-school is the time to start working towards it. Like, right the hell now.
In his book, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell posits that it takes approximately 10,000 hours to master a skill. This applies to everything whether it’s oil painting, engineering or getting better with women. Wrap your brain around that for a second. If you harbor a secret desire to be the greatest dancer that ever got en pointe, it will take you 416 straight days of doing nothing but grinding that skill, 24 hours a day. Take out time to sleep (8 hours), school (another 8), after-school activities (2 hours) eating and bathroom breaks (2 1/2 hours total) and you’re down to 3.5 hours per day. If you want a social life, you’ll be taking even more time out of the mix. The sooner you start, the quicker you achieve that goal.
Don’t oever-complicate things by thinking you need to hit some sort of pre-requisite before you can start chasing your dreams. If you want to write novels, then you need to start actually writing novels, not spending your time on literary theory or building your fantasy world in your head. If you want to make comics, you need to spend your time actually making comics, not obsessing over whether you can draw this hand juuuuust right or drawing the same pose over and over again. If you want to get better with women, you need to go out and actually be interacting with women.
High school is one of the best places to start; you’ll have access to resources and – critically – the time with which to do it. You will never have this opportunity again and getting started now will give you a leg up on everyone else who didn’t take advantage of it.
Illegitimi non carborundum
Bullying and high school go together like peanut butter and strawberry jelly.
(What? I can’t stand strawberry jelly. All the seeds. Bleh. Where was I? Oh, right.)
It’s an almost inevitable part of the high school experience, especially if you’re nerdy or even just vaguely off the established bell curve. There’s nothing like the daily shower of insults, taunts and occasional threat of a physical confrontation to make you spend most of your day praying for it all to end… one way or another. And to add insult to injury, most of the time the advice you’re given is useless. “Sticks and stones” is a great little aphorism, but it doesn’t mean shit to someone who spends every day being told that he’s useless, a faggot, a loser and that the world would be better off without him. Standing up to bullies because they’re really cowards at heart? Yeah, that’s all well and good… assuming they don’t outweigh you by 20 lbs. And that they don’t run in packs.
And none of that helps when they’re harassing you on Facebook, spamming your YouTube channel, flooding your phone with texts, posing as you on Twitter and otherwise making your life miserable.
The thing to keep in mind: if there is no physical threat, the only power any of this harassment has is the power that you give it.
Yes. I’m telling you that you are, in some ways, complicit in your own bullying. Y’see, it’s the reaction that acts like blood in the water; the more you react, the more that it will encourage others to join in. So what can you do about this?
Personally, I recommend martial arts.
One of the biggest components of any proper martial arts training is focus and balance. Whether you’re performing katas, sparring or fighting for your life, martial arts teaches you how to focus all your attention on what you need and to disregard the rest. You can’t move with the requisite grace from one block to another in your kata if you’re too busy thinking of that chem exam on Friday… unless you focus. And it’s hard to think straight when your adrenaline is up and your heart is pounding in your chest… unless you can focus. Just as it is when you’re being harassed at school; being able to focus and find that necessary balance will help you keep the perspective that yes, it does suck and you’re surrounded by assholes. But it does end, it does get better… and the odds are that the fools who’re bullying you now will be the people desparately begging for your attention and approval when you’re successful and happy and they realized that they peaked early and it’s all downhill for them.
And if there is a physical threat? Well… martial arts can be pretty good for that too.
Don’t Sweat The Dating Thing
My advice on dating in high school: don’t worry about it.
Y’see, high school is possibly one of the worst times to try to pursue a relationship. That constant flux of hormones I mentioned earlier means that you’re going to want to fuck damn near anything with a vagina, and if there’s anything that breeds bad decisions, it’s sex. You will inevitably end up doing incredibly stupid things on the vague hope of getting laid. There are entire genres of films dedicated to this. When you add this to the fact that most people in high school just aren’t mature enough to be honest about what they really want, the social pressure on guys and girls for sex and the absurd network of social rules… it’s a bad scene all around.
Even if you do manage to find yourself a girlfriend… well, I hate to say this amigo, but it’s not going to last. The odds are against you, and you’re going to end up sobbing into your math text, writing bad poetry and putting your favorite emo band on repeat until your brains have melted out of your ears. The number of people who went on to marry their high school sweethearts is very, very low. The ones out of them who were happily married… well, you can probably count them on the fingers of one hand.
People underestimate the pressure on guys to get laid, no matter what the cost. We are told over and over again that a real man is not a virgin. A real man has lots of sex. We are taught that being a virgin is somehow shameful, that not having had sex implies something inherently wrong with you. Then, just to really fuck you over, women are taught that sex is a gift and a prize and that they should hold on to it at all costs. Women aren’t supposed to want sex… except when they do and then it’s nothing but a long string of mixed messages that leave high schoolers confused as hell and wishing it all made sense.
So being a virgin can make a guy feel as though he’s the only one left; everyone else has been invited to the big party and he’s the guy who got left off the invite list. And that can make a guy feel desperate. And that makes a guy stupid.
Despite everything that you probably believe, losing one’s virginity isn’t the end-all, be-all of life. In practical terms, it’s going to be an awkward fumbling moment that will be over in 30 seconds or less. And when you’re done and after the realization that you’ve just had sex starts to sink in, you’ll realize that nothing has changed. You are the same person you were five minutes ago. You won’t have been granted insight into the working of the universe. Hell, it may not even have helped your self-confidence. You will be exactly the same except you will have actually ejaculated with the help of a second person.
This is not to say that you have to or should wait; being a virgin makes you no better and no worse than not being one. The only difference is an experience you have or haven’t had yet.
The best thing you can do right now is preparation. Whether you’re a virgin or not, you’re being thrown into the world of adult relationships and sexuality without so much as a by-your-leave or even a handbook – and no, The Game doesn’t count. So it’s up to you to prepare yourself.
Start becoming more at ease with women; being able to be comfortable around them will give you confidence that will serve you well when you do want to ask them out. Hang out with girls just to get to know them; don’t put pressure on yourself to date or get laid. Just learning how to talk to them will give you an advantage when you get to college.
Learn to understand women and women’s sexuality; despite the frequently recurring message, women are sexual beings as well and want sex just as much as you do. Don’t believe me? Try reading Her Secret Garden by Nancy Friday some time. Coming to understand that sex isn’t something that women have to be wheedled, begged or convinced into giving up will smooth out your interactions; you’ll be able to relate to them as a person instead of the guardian of some secret treasure.
And don’t forget: you have an archive of valuable information to help you out when you’re ready to start studying.