The directive on my computer screen was simple and enthusiastic. It immediately filled me with a sense of dread. To celebrate the upcoming 25th reunion of my high school class, each attendee was to send a “fun fact” about themselves. At the event, the facts would be read aloud and we’d try to guess each classmate based on their fact. Assessing my last 25 years in a nanosecond — 15 of which I have spent at home raising children — my first thought was, “Why am I going to this?” My next thought, as I looked around my house: “I am raising three human beings who don’t seem to know what a garbage can is.” That is an accurate, if not reunion-worthy, fact about myself.
Why I was going was simple: peer pressure. 25 years out of high school, technology has advanced to reconnect old friends via social media and email. It is also the perfect conduit to coerce one into feeling like attending her reunion is a good idea. One “I’ll go if you go” email from an old friend and I agreed. Now, I had to sum up a quarter century of my life in one brief, tightly edited, interesting and pithy statement. Teenage angst came rushing back and, lo and behold, this reunion suddenly had the very real possibility of allowing me to experience my youth once again.
This wasn’t the first time in recent months that I wondered what I had gotten myself into after giving into peer pressure. Ironically, the more I talk about the perils of peer pressure to my teenaged children, the more I seem to disregard my own advice.
Just a few weeks ago, I found myself in an open field doing walking lunges, surrounded by women, as part of a running group I had signed up for in early spring. I cannot tell you what possessed me to sign up — I had never in my life run before — but the last gasps of the winter were weighing heavily on me, both literally and figuratively. By late March I was in a funk. Something about the flimsy sign staked into the corner of a local park, with its pink lettering and a profile of a sprinting woman caught my eye. I joined.
It all seemed manageable at first. A little running, a little walking, then a little more running and little less walking. By about the fifth week, walking was eliminated almost entirely.
During dynamic stretches at our last session, the director asked, “So, has everyone signed up for the 5k?!” I was in the middle of the pack wobbling to keep my balance as I did high leg kicks. I noticed she was looking directly at me. I tried to avert her gaze as I swung my foot to meet my hand outstretched in front of me.
She persisted. “Jen! Did you sign up yet?!”
I shook my head, “I’m not sure I want to.” We had transitioned to opening our hips, lifting our legs in front of us with our knees bent at ninety-degree angles then swinging our thighs out to the side and stepping down — an army of frog-women on the march.
“Just showing up each week has been enough of an accomplishment,” I added softly, realizing how ridiculous this sounded. I was surrounded by some avid runners, even some marathoners — I was still trotting along, logging few miles.
“No, no, no!” the chorus of women chirped, still opening their hips, “You have to do the race! It’s so fun! You’ll feel so good!”
My protests — “I don’t think I can do it,” “I’m not sure I’m ready,” “I really don’t feel the need to race” — were drowned out until I conceded. “Ok. I’ll sign up.”
It’s taken some unlearning, but I’ve come to realize that peer pressure isn’t always a bad thing (don’t tell my kids yet — this is a lesson better learned than told). The thing with peer pressure among the 40-something set is that it’s less about finding trouble and more about finding yourself. It can help to break up the monotony — especially when the monotony involves separating laundry for decades of one’s life. Most of my days revolve around meeting the needs of others; some gentle peer pressure has reminded me to ask myself what I want to do, even if it means at first trying something because other people like it.
So, I joined the running group. I ran my first race. I felt really good. I joined an ocean swimming group (I get myself to the beach at 7 am, peer pressure gets me in the water). I went to a dance class (and danced like no one watching! God, I hope no one was watching). I’ve realized that peer pressure in adulthood seems to involve a lot more cardio than in one’s teens.
And, I went to the reunion. Ultimately, I didn’t send a fact about myself — “tries to avoid reliving high school in any way” seemed like a buzzkill. It was a fun night and yet another reminder that sometimes I need a little push out the door.
As I stand on the beach this Saturday at 7 am, gazing at the dark water and willing myself to go in over my head and swim for a half-hour, I will yield to the gentle pressure of the women around me. I may not feel entirely sure of myself, but I will hold my breath and take the plunge. Who knows? If I keep saying yes, I may just have an interesting fact for my 50th reunion.