I have never in my life been a popular person. As someone who was homeschooled for my entire life (with the exception of half of grade seven and half of grade nine), popularity just wasn’t in the cards for most of my childhood. I was born in 1992, and homeschooling was not only a lot less common than it is now, but my mom lacked the internet as a tool to connect with other homeschoolers.
I had a small group of close childhood friends who I saw when I could, but on a day to day basis? It was hang out with my sisters and parents, or go to the one ultra-Evangelical Christian homeschooling group within a one hour radius where my (already benign, if compared with “Xtina” and Britney Spears) S Club 7 and Hillary Duff CD’s were anathema, presumably because they weren’t about Jesus.
When I begged and pleaded to attend grade seven at a tiny Catholic school, my academic skills and interest in reading took a massive hit, not to mention my general love of learning turning quickly into seeing it as an unpleasant obligation – but I was, like, super popular in my grade seven/eight split class of under thirty kids.
Grade nine brought the same academic indifference. Though I did do very well grade wise, I just didn’t learn anything.
Actually, that’s not true.
I learned from my French teacher the word for pool is “piscine”, because “You don’t piscine the pool”.
Unlike in grade seven, I was not popular at all.
I learned pretty quickly that when you go a school where you don’t know anybody, and you have no idea how to wear makeup and your clothes are from Walmart and your eyebrows have never seen a pair of tweezers, you probably shouldn’t mention that you used to be homeschooled and are teaching yourself Elvish from The Lord of the Rings (Quenya Elvish, to be exact. My sisters and I made Lembas bread once, and pieces of marble rolling pin got in it somehow and I chipped my tooth. Good times.).
It wasn’t that I was the homeschooled stereotype of poor social skills. Far from it, in fact. I was always friendly and outgoing. Even though I did have some dorky interests, I didn’t talk about them incessantly or anything like that. My problem wasn’t any sort of shyness or awkwardness that most people think of with my sort of people – it was that I had unfortunately (something I will be doing differently with my own child, if I can homeschool him) been isolated from the realities of group dynamics and hierarchies.
I was nice to people and I talked to people, and I learned that was not even close to enough.
On day one of grade nine, I befriended a girl who was really nice, and I ate lunch with her and her friends, and that was that. My fate was sealed – but it was only later that I realized I had befriended the “unpopular” lunch group, and by association I was one of the “uncool” girls, and when I talked to (most of) the other “cool” people, they tolerated me at best and were outright jerks to me at worst.
Now, fortunately, as an adult, I find that my naïve childhood method of making friends actually works perfectly fine.
Yes, it probably helps that I look a lot more put together, that I have the freedom to associate with more people who share my interests (Politics, pretending to be Legolas, same thing, right?), and that I’m a lot more confident and able to be fine with being the center of attention when I need to be.
Now this is just my uninformed, spitballing theory (this topic is really interesting, I’d love to study it properly instead of just pontificating), but I think that being homeschooled and spending so much time talking to adults, for better or for worse, I fell into a sort of “adult” social dynamic much more easily from a young age and got completely screwed by that mindset when faced with my peers.
I think that most adults have a lot more maturity and tolerance for different people than teenagers do, and a lot less of a tendency toward tribal mentality, and I think that informs most of our social interactions and our ability to befriend a wide range of people, from a variety of social groupings – which may or may not associate naturally with each other – and still be nice and gracious to all involved.
Most adults have the tendency towards this sort of maturity.
I haven’t thought about any of this social interaction stuff in a while. I haven’t had any social issues in my adult life at all – so it just hasn’t come up.
I’ve always kept a relatively small circle of friends by choice, but I never had any trouble making new ones. I’ve always had a tendency for less widely shared interests, I’ve always been an introvert (though a very outgoing one), and I also dislike having too large of a friend group where I end up neglecting people I care about because my time is limited.
But lately, in the course of my work, I’ve come to realize just how the desire to be popular and the desire to be part of a group still influences us all, even as adults.
I wrote a piece the other day about the Battle for Berkeley, and why I really didn’t like what occurred there. I don’t think I said anything about this particular aspect of the issue in the article, but on Twitter I touched on my view that a lot of these “new right” personalities are putting their interest in popularity, fame, and money over our supposed shared goal of bettering America. My friend Josh also wrote an excellent piece about the Battle for Berkeley – I highly recommend reading it. Here’s a part that stuck out to me, where he discussed fellow Canadian millennial journalist Lauren Southern (who he is a fan of):
I was very disappointed to see that she partook in and, in my mind, helped escalate the Berkeley riot.
It’s very important to remember that, no matter how principled, admirable and groundbreaking those we look up to in media are, at the end of the day they’re still human beings like you and me. They are still subject to be sucked into drama, and to get lost in their own agendas and narratives. At the end of the day, those in media have to get “the scoop” to get paid, and no journalist (no matter how independent) can escape the need to play to their audience.
This was a big part of what bothered me about the latest Berkeley riots.
I also think that this is a microcosm of the much larger issue of new media and what happens when we, in escaping from the mainstream media reservation, fall prey to our own categorization into groups based on popularity, and our own desire to venerate the popular among us.
I saw this mentality immediately, as soon as I published my criticism of the Battle for Berkeley. Despite what many said to me on Twitter, it wasn’t people disagreeing with my view that bothered me (far from it, I’ve enjoyed many debates since that piece!) – it was the immediate and swift rejection of me as part of the #MAGA crowd because I happened to disagree with the actions of a lot of these popular Twitter personalities.
This is a scary path to travel down, and one we will be seeing more and more as we continue to grow our own media and see many of our own reach the same level of popularity as the mainstream media used to have. We need to be mindful of this natural tendency – and realize when it serves us, and when it does not.
And it is a natural tendency we all have.
Present company included.
I want to be popular. I can admit it. I thought I had escaped the clutches of my childhood desires that had been left unfulfilled, and until now, doing this job, I believe I can truly say I was fine with my status among my small group of peers.
I have 6,000 followers on Twitter. That’s pretty insane, especially since most of them are active followers. Every time I open my phone, I realize I could spend a solid hour just going through my notifications and replying – and when I’m done, there’d be another set ready for me to read and reply to.
People DM me or email me and say that they can’t believe I took the time to message them back (though yes, it sometimes takes me time, sorry y’all), like I’m some sort of famous person who is too busy for the little people. What the hell?
Halsey News is growing massively – and we are only in our first two months post launch. Our internal goals are being obliterated – and this is before we even have our other network sites launched or our Youtube programming (including my show!) live or with any major advertising efforts being made.
— Stefanie MacWilliams (@StefMacWilliams) April 10, 2017
I’ve flitted around talking much about these things happening, because I hate to ever come across as having an ego or being too big for my britches, and I also never want to count my chickens before they’re hatched.
But I feel safe (ish) now to say it: It’s finally hitting me.
Success is coming. Whether I’m ready for it, or not.
And I can admit to myself that I’m terrified, because to be successful means that I will have to flirt with being popular. I might have the opportunity in the future to really associate or collaborate with other, more successful personalities in my sphere – even people I have criticized in the past.
And I want them to like me. I want to agree with what they say, so I can be popular and famous, too! I want to have hundreds of thousands of Twitter followers! I want to travel and give speeches and have people protest me! I want to have enough money to do what I want to do!
But just because I want something doesn’t mean it’s something that should happen. It doesn’t mean it’s something that will serve the most important thing I want to do with my career: speak the truth.
It doesn’t mean that I’m a bad person for wanting it – but wanting popularity at the cost of speaking what I believe is not a want I will act upon.
I want to be popular. I pray to be successful. But I know I will be true to myself and my ideals.