Live Through This

You’ve Changed

What to do when you or someone you know comes back to school…different.

Illustration by Kelly.

In the pre-internet days of 1993, it was easy to spend an entire summer away from your classmates without hearing anything about their lives. So when Carla (not her real name) came back to school in the fall of 1992 with a nose ring and a new wardrobe, I reacted the way anyone would: I immediately rallied my friends around a set of hallway lockers to talk smack about her.

How dare she! For the entire eight years we’d been in school together she was preppy, right down to her penny loafers—how did a nose ring fit into that? Why was she wearing a flannel when last year she made fun of us for wearing them? How did she get her hands on a pair of Doc Martens? Did her parents actually give her permission for that piercing, or does she think she’s some kind of badass? Who does she think she is now, anyway?

While it’s embarrassing to remember how much I used to partake in this girl-on-girl crime of behind-the-back bitchery, discomfort and judgment are common reactions to a person’s changing something about their personality. What I didn’t know then, and what I sometimes struggle to remind myself now, is that people are constantly changing, and some changes are easier to see than others.

We get used to seeing people a certain way (especially in school when you’re surrounded by the same people for years), and make assumptions that the outside matches the inside—that dressing preppy comes with a set of cultural rules about BEING preppy, or that dyeing your hair bright pink indicates a certain fuck-you, non-normative mentality. But maybe someone just really loves polo shirts, or the color pink. Maybe Carla dressed preppy because she had to wear the clothes her parents bought for her, and now that she had a job she could buy the clothes she really wanted to wear. It’s also possible that she really liked preppy clothes one year, and really liked grungy clothes the next—taste is mutable! Maybe she had a revelatory experience over the summer and really clicked into what she liked most about herself, or somehow found the confidence to not care what other people thought about how she should look. When Kat in 10 Things I Hate About You started dressing differently and stopped hanging out with her friends, they couldn’t understand what was up, though the reality was that she’d had a bad sexual experience and just wasn’t down for the clique mentality anymore. If movies have taught me anything, it’s that you don’t always feel secure just because you look the part. A lot of metamorphosis is internal, meaning you can’t always understand how or why someone seems so different, or why it seems they’ve flipped the script overnight.

Internal changes are sometimes the biggest changes you can make on the way to becoming the person you want to be, and some of the hardest to accept or explain. Summer, with all of its sunshine and sleeping late and empty house while your parents are at work, often gives you space and time away from people. It’s possible that after two months of no contact you decide you really don’t hate Jessa (a girl you always thought you hated), that hating her takes up way too much of your day and you’d rather dedicate that time to your new-found love of pottery or reading every book bell hooks ever wrote. You don’t have to form a girl band or make out with Jessa, but simply changing your mind about her can be an affront to your other friendships. If the bulk of your friendship with Ali is spent talking about how much you hate Jessa, you can see how it would be totally weird for Ali if you suddenly stopped talking about Jessa entirely. To Ali, it just seems like your change is negative because you have nothing to talk about anymore, and, as a result, your friendship has fundamentally changed. You may feel like the same ol’ person, but your old friends only see that you’re hanging out with different people now, and seem to like things you never liked before.

Friendships are often casualties in this landscape of personal evolution, but that doesn’t always have to be terrible. The reason we feel upset when the people in our life change is that we’re always looking for authenticity; we want to know that the people we invite into our lives are the real deal. When you start to build a friendship with someone, a lot of your interaction is a leap of faith based on how they appear to be before you get to know them. If they change something about themselves, or something comes along and changes them, you could feel like you were duped or tricked into liking a different person, instead of accepting the idea that everyone changes. But if you can’t change a little something about yourself without a friend’s freaking out, are they really a good friend to begin with?

Sometimes it helps to pinpoint whatever it is that’s making them feel weird; no one wants to feel like they’re being left behind. It’s a little awkward (and kind of impossible) to have to explain your personality, but it could be helpful to grab some coffee and just talk to your friends how you’re feeling. Instead of being defensive about who you used to be, a conversation that’s more like “hey, this is where I’m coming from now” goes a long way toward keeping things stable. Also, it sort of becomes your friend’s decision whether or not they want to take the ride.

If you’re not going to remain close with your old friends, parting ways doesn’t have to be a nasty event. You can sort of decide that, hey, right now we don’t really jibe, but maybe we’ll be close again in the future—or at least reassure them that you still really love them even if you hang out with your new work friends a lot more on the weekends. And if there are people saying terrible things to you about your new look or attitude, throw ’em classic bitchface—you’re under no obligation to reward their ignorance, and who cares about them anyway?

It’s difficult to find hard truths about yourself when you’re surrounded by the same people every day. Trying different things or changing your mind about something is a good way to start having the experiences that’ll lead you to a new level of awesomeness, and it indicates an open-minded willingness to grow. Even if you stay in the same physical place your entire life, it’s up to you to decide who you want to be at any given moment. Unless you’re acting like a complete psychopath or doing something dangerous, it’s really unhealthy to get into the habit of letting other people dictate who you should be. It’s not your job to make people accept you, or to force them to understand your evolution—your only job is be comfortable with the way you move through the world.

Everyone has a million little personal rebellions stored within them, waiting to peek out. It’s an act of bravery to change your mind. ♦

29 Comments

  • Hannah August 29th, 2012 11:11 PM

    I changed a ton over this past summer, and I love it. I’m so so so happy with the ways I’ve grown and discovered myself, especially through Rookie. It does mean people have different opinions of me now, but that’s okay, because I can deal with those. I really like this post. It’s neat.

  • WhereforaWhile August 29th, 2012 11:11 PM

    This is perfect for the new school year!

  • i-like-autumn August 29th, 2012 11:24 PM

    I’ve definitely been struggling with change as of late because I stay at home to do schooling online. That means I’m at home with the exact same six people I’ve lived with for 17 years, so outward and inner change can be complicated when your immediate audience is your family. I appreciate this article, it has been a bit of a push to be a little more outward with my internalized changes!

    Autumn
    i-like-autumn.tumblr.com

  • Maggie August 29th, 2012 11:32 PM

    Danielle, I really enjoyed reading this, especially in the context of the facebook article you wrote a few months ago (http://rookiemag.com/2012/04/breaking-up-with-f/). I feel like facebook is this multitude of fake personas incessantly keeping tabs on each other. But people need room to breathe and CHANGE and be on their own.

  • Katherine August 29th, 2012 11:39 PM

    I’ve got the opposite problem – I changed a lot but nobody noticed. I love this article, though.

  • TamponAngel August 29th, 2012 11:42 PM

    I am so happy this article was written. This summer I had a pretty massive coming of change event that made me feel incredibly alienated from people where I live (not to sound angsty) I’m still working it out. All that being said I’m nervous for school, I had a really shitty year and I am not sure how people will treat me now. I know how superficial that just sounded btw. Anyway, this article was just what I needed. Thanks.

    • madpie August 31st, 2012 3:10 PM

      You shouldn’t ever apologize for sounding angsty or superficial. There’s nothing wrong with saying what you feel!

      P.S. You didn’t sound either.

  • marineliker August 29th, 2012 11:52 PM

    Hey! I really enjoyed reading this. I think lots of it has been floating around in my head recently but now it’s been put into words.
    A few months ago my friend told me he is gay after having spent 6 years in school together. Of course, I was completely shocked and felt I was dreaming because he never gave any hints. So now I’m adapting to this new person who kind of looks like my friend but talks about different things than he used to and it’s really hard! Not that I’m not cool with his revelation but I kind of miss his old self, our relationship has really changed and I feel left behind. It’s just an example of how time moves only forward and change doesn’t wait for you to be ready. So thanks for writing this, it’s helping me understand what the heck is going on.

  • Megan Anne August 30th, 2012 1:01 AM

    I dig this! sometimes it’s hard to embrace the fact the world and people in it are ever changing, and that it can be a good thing. plussss, having the internet can take the complications of girl drama to a whole another level. I’m going to a new school next year and I will definitely head this article.
    http://decayingteeth.tumblr.com

  • PetitePrince August 30th, 2012 2:46 AM

    Thanks. Thanks !
    Lately I’ve been bothered with the fact that I was angry at one of my closest friends without really understanding why.
    Reading this made me realize I was mostly scared that all the changes she went through since we met will ultimately tear us apart. Knowing this, I’m no longer mad, no longer scared. I just want to talk, talk, talk !

    You are amazing <3

  • EithyPan August 30th, 2012 3:00 AM

    This is perfect! I’ve changed a lot in the past year, and I’m really happy with who I am now. But my best friend has been away at boarding school in Denmark and I can feel her trying to change me back. This really helped to clear up what all my new friends have been trying to explain to me and what I’ve been pondering about for the last 2 months.

  • Susann August 30th, 2012 4:11 AM

    This article is so good! Especially what you said about “friends” is very helpful to me.

    Fashion in Pepperland

  • ♡ reba ♡ August 30th, 2012 7:56 AM

    this makes me think of freaks and geeks!!

    great article :-)

  • GlitterKitty August 30th, 2012 12:20 PM

    This really helps a lot. I feel like I’ve changed a lot over the summer. I am particularly nervous about how one friend is going to react. But at the same time I’m not immune to wanting my friends to stop changing. I think we all just have to accept that things change and cannot and should not be the same forever. Eventually, life goes on.

    Thanks for such an amazing article.

  • Yip August 30th, 2012 2:53 PM

    Great article.
    I changed in the past years a lot. I lost friendships and made new. That’s life. That’s growing up.

  • Summer August 30th, 2012 4:24 PM

    Ugh, this is so helpful and relevant right at this exact moment.

  • ladyserendipity August 30th, 2012 5:17 PM

    jesus yes this article is exactly what I needed right now <3

  • joannaaaaaa August 30th, 2012 5:23 PM

    This is such a perfectly written and inspiring article – even for someone returning to school as a teacher rather than a student!

  • onehandclaps August 30th, 2012 11:57 PM

    I love this article so much. I can literally divide my life in half from “when I was paranoid about changing what I did/wore/looked like, etc in fear of other people noticing it” to “I’m tired of thinking of what people I don’t even really care about that much think about me.” It makes me blush whenever I think about how I mentally dissed someone for dressing differently or gosh, being themselves!! because I was secretly so jealous that they could do that without fear of ridicule! Its a bummer that it took me until college to finally do teenage experimenty things that you SHOULD feel safe and comfortable doing your whole life but I am a much happier and confident person thanks to the (slow learned) wisdom given in this article! I want to give a copy of this article to my middle school aged self :)

  • sophster August 31st, 2012 1:26 AM

    I GET IT NOW :)

  • ivoire August 31st, 2012 2:57 AM

    great article. i used to be a slut-shaming little girl on girl hater, but i have learnt so many things in the past two years. and now i am trying to tell my friends, hey that was mean/racist/sexist etc.

  • Kitschlover August 31st, 2012 3:55 AM

    Great article. It’s funny or maybe terrible, that it doesn’t matter if you’re fifteen or thirty, this kind of reactions keep happening a lot.

    Can I give some advice from my years in highschool? I have a very close friend, we’ve been friends since we were 10, and when she was 15 she started to change, she became a redskin, because of her politc view at that moment, she was nationalist (Galician) and likes beer and football.
    I didnt feel really comfortable when I was with her and her new friends, but we keep being great friends. She talked about it normally, she showed me the new music she liked, also we still had things in common so it wasn’t bad for us to hang sometimens with different people. When we were together we always have a good time :)

    We are still good friends, even if we dont see each other all the time. We are now 30. We both change a lot, we met new people, we went to different universities, etc.
    That’s the kind of things that can help you to understand who you are and who you want to be with.

    Well, sorry for this long comment.
    Enjoy the great first days of coming back to school ^_^

  • Newyorkbeats August 31st, 2012 5:50 AM

    Everytime I go back to school I’ve kind of changed. I like to say myself I’ve become a bit more ‘mature’. However I kinda change the way I look more trougout the year because I haven’t really figured out what I like the most and some people find that really strange. However I have to admit that I am a bit nervous to see evryone else because most off the time thay also have changed. What if they aren’t the person I used to know? I used to have a friend and trougout the vactaion I hadn’t heard a single word from her. When we saw each other back in school she was wearing goth clothes (like skulls and alot of black). I didn’t really care that much for it and still wanted to be friends. But somehow she seemed to be avoiding me. She hang out whith people who just dressed the same way as her. When on a day whe accidental met each other in an empty bathroom I asker her how she was and what she had done in the vacation. She just walked away to her new friends. We haven’t talked ever since. That’s kinda why I’ve been a bit nervous because changes scare me anyway.

  • chicagoartnerd August 31st, 2012 2:40 PM

    This is a perfect article for me to read right now! I’ve slowly been transitioning from female to non-binary (really I’ve just changed pro-nouns as far as appearance and attitude goes I am much the same). Which has been hard for friends and for people I am just now meeting in my new classes. I have to explain what pro-nouns are acceptable and why and it’s kinda exposing. I feel cautious and apologetic about it when I really shouldn’t. I’m just becoming more myself now and even though it might be hard for people around me I feel much more comfortable so I shouldn’t stress too much about it.
    I think this would be much easier if English had normalized gender-neutral pronouns but that’s besides the point. Thanks for this great article.

    • Justin Case September 1st, 2012 2:42 PM

      Hey!

      I hope this goes smoothly for you, I’ve had a few friends in the same situation; and though I sometimes felt protective and wanted to rip insensitive/jerk-y people’s heads off, I’ve often had the pleasure of seeing them pleasantly surprised at how acquaintances took the change.

  • emilyida August 31st, 2012 3:32 PM

    This helps a bunch, gee whiz Rookie, you’re the bomb.

  • NoeMee September 1st, 2012 1:04 AM

    I’ve changed a great deal over this summer. I became a feminist, started reading books more, my fashion sense changed, embraced my sessssuality a little more, caught up on New Girl, adopted some more unconventional views, and opened myself up more to different perspectives on various things. I even stopped straightening my naturally curly hair :). I have Rookie to thank for all these nice changes! I’ve dediced to avoided labeling myself and trying to put myself into boxes because some many things are fluid in our lives that it seems silly to limit yourself! YAY~

    • Anaheed September 1st, 2012 2:39 AM

      <3 <3 <3

    • jessie77 November 27th, 2012 6:39 PM

      this year I have changed a lot- also since finding rookie and since changing i have felt this need to label what i think and feel now and am only now coming to the conclusion that i can just be myself (whoever that is) without needing to explain that to other people or fit myself into a category (stereotype) to make myself easier for other people who have different opinions to me to understand. thanks for the comment its nice to know that im not the only person in the world who feels this way <3