The Social Experiment

(… and also a story or two. Bear with me.)

Hey yo. I’m back from a long moment of inactivity. Currently enjoying my graduatedness and starting off the summer with a huge graphic design project. 😀

But that’s not what we’re here to talk about.

Anyone who knows me well, or at all, knows that I’m shy. Quiet. Not outgoing. Somewhat introverted and antisocial. I prefer my own thoughts, and all my favorite pastimes are things I do alone: write, draw, and read. I also never really cared for everyone else’s opinions of me. I detest wearing makeup and girly clothes; I’ve worn a minimum of cover-up for my zits and shadowed eyes, and boxy t-shirts with jeans is pretty much my whole wardrobe. I cut my hair short and now I can’t even remember how many times I’ve been called “sir” or “bud.” The only time anybody ever sees me in a dress (well, until these last two years) is at church on Sundays. (In fact, here’s a funny story. During my sophomore year, I borrowed my cousin’s old prom dress to wear to Bennett Cup, a musical competition put on by my school that the participants dress up quite fancy for. I mentioned this to my friend who would also be competing, and she announced it loud in front of many of my guy friends, who looked genuinely shocked that I’d actually be wearing a dress, and a few of them even showed up that night just to see me wear a flipping dress.)

I know what everyone’s opinion of me was/is. I became a bit more aware of it since coming into high school. I’m unnoticed. I sit in the back, or the front, or wherever, and kind of get ignored. Too often people forget my existence and have some interesting conversations I was probably not meant to hear. I know all my peers like they’re my best friends, and none of them know a whit about me. (Unless we happened to be in the same ward. Ward friends don’t count here, k?) Sometimes, I would honestly try. I’d sit by these people I knew so well and try to have conversation. But I saw their expressions very clearly when they smiled and responded. Empty smiles. Pained. Forced. Eyes that didn’t shine. An expression that very clearly said, “Ah. I will appear friendly for this weirdo. I hope she loses interest soon so I can drop the act and get back to my real friends.” I noticed this more with the other girls my age. The guys would look down on me, appear vaguely interested, nod and make a comment of acknowledgement, then turn away. A good chunk of my grade, the ones I call “the smart people”, were people who held me in disregard. My real friends were the ones the smart people talked about behind their backs. The smart people were nice, but they were not my crowd. It was always weird when I got a “smart people” class, or went to a “smart people” gathering such as National Honors Society. I technically belonged to the smart people, but they did not recognize me as one of their own. They sometimes looked surprised to see me there, like “Oh yeah. I forgot she was so smart. I never really noticed her.”

I kind of gave up on these people. I endured them. I drew my awesome dragons quietly in the background. When I reached junior and senior year and found myself lumped into their classes of smart people, I stuck it out. Quietly. Don’t deny it! I know exactly what everyone’s opinion of me was.

I’m also a little afraid of boys. That may sound weird because my best friends have been boys since I was old enough to have friends, but here’s my argument. Because I like having guys as friends more than girls, I care more about making an impression on them that could form a friendship. I’m extremely shy when meeting new guys.

So when I turned sixteen, the magical “dating age,” I developed a terrible sense of dread. Because there are two formal dances a year: homecoming and prom. I wanted nothing to do with either, but as I had reached the magical dating age, every guy became a danger. When school started again after the summer, I kept my head waaaay down as homecoming approached.

Long story short, one of my guy friends took me to homecoming. Thankfully, I knew I was not popular enough to get asked to prom, and the same guy had a rule to not take a girl to a dance twice in a row. So I was safe for that year.

Senior year I went to homecoming again with someone else. Neither of these dates had actually been much of a surprise. I knew both of the guys quite well, and knew that both liked me well enough, both as a friend and otherwise. But then spring came. And the Prom Drama happened. And I am going to make you listen to the whole thing because it has a lot to do with the main point of this post.

The guy who asked me to homecoming the first time – we’ll call him TT because that’s his username in many places – has another friend who is a girl who he took to homecoming when I went with the other guy. We’ll call her Rylee because that’s her character’s name. TT planned to ask Rylee to prom. I planned to enjoy a night home on prom, probably go to work. March 15, the day of prom, also happened to be the day of my kenpo karate belt test, so I considered the day booked. One night, I was texting TT to help him think of creative ways to ask Rylee to prom. He jokingly asked, “If Rylee says no, will you be my backup plan?”

I responded with, “Heck no. I’m NOBODY’S back up plan.” Even though I really didn’t want to go to prom, the very thought was offensive.

He responded with, “I know it sounds bad, but that’s essentially what it will be. Will you?”

“NO.”

We proceeded to have the one-millionth conversation of reasons I hate prom: dress, makeup, dance. I hated these three things the very most out of everything in the world. And TT knew it. He knew it well.

I kind of forgot about the whole thing. Around here, nobody says no if they get asked to a dance. It’s just unheard of. He asked her with bacon roses.

But a few days later, I got a text from TT. “She said no :(”

“Aww sorry.”

“Have you thought about it?”

“I already told you, I really don’t want to go to prom. And I don’t want to be a backup plan.”

But he left the offer standing as he searched around for someone else to take.

There was nobody left. Those who hadn’t been asked yet were the few that mutually agreed with TT that their personality clash would cause them to hate each other by the end of the night.

I didn’t know what to do. He really wanted to go to the senior prom. By this point, I a little bit wanted to go because I learned it was going to be held at Castle Manor. Read that name and guess why I wanted to go. But the three reasons still screamed for attention. DRESS. MAKEUP. DANCE. EUGH.

I asked EVERYBODY for advice. Many of them were angry with TT for telling me I was his “backup plan.” Most discouraged saying yes.

But Castle Manor…

Plus I’d never get to find out what prom was like. I knew that nobody else would ask me, for reasons we’ve discussed. So I caved in, said fine, bought a frickin’ prom dress, and went to prom. Oh, that was a day to remember. I had to get someone to cover my shift at work. Then I had my belt test, which was super awesome. The next five hours were spent hemming the dress, which we hadn’t done professionally so it took extra long. And because I didn’t know how to makeup, my mom jumped between working on the dress and working on my face. I’ll admit it, we pulled out all the stops. All the makeup. Nail polish. Earrings. She even did my hair awesome.

Whoa. I looked in the mirror and didn’t recognize myself.

We ended up being late because of the stupid dress, but that was okay. And when I looked at people, friends from school, church, people I’d known since first grade, they looked at me different. I saw it. The weird empty faces I’d received so many times before were full of life, friendly, and, more than once, a little awed. Unassuming, weirdo Pi had transformed. I liked how they looked at me. I liked what they said and how they said it. They acted like… my friends.

So after that weekend, I decided to try something. Could it be possible to get this reaction out of them every day? With some practice and pointers from my mom, I did my full makeup for school on Monday. Just the makeup. T-shirt and jeans stayed the same; they’re so practical. But all the makeup: cover-up, foundation, eyeshadow, mascara, cheek blush, lip gloss. Maybe if I didn’t look like eww… Thus began my Social Experiment.

It was gradual at first, but I noticed the change. I focused on noticing reactions from those in my English class, which consisted entirely of people I knew very well, but most I could not consider “friends.” Nobody I had ever hung out with, or ever hoped to.

From the girls: they genuinely talked to me. In group discussions or activities or projects, they included me like it was nothing. I could approach any of them at any given time and be greeted as a friend. They would talk about me too, and tell me they had done so. They’d smile and say hi between classes, at lunch, and even outside of school.

From the guys: well, this one was especially interesting. In my English class, the tables were arranged in a three-sided square with the open end at the front of the room. I purposefully sat one chair from the end on of the side tables, forcing some socialite to become separated from the herd. It did happen. I occasionally exchanged words with the lone socialite, but more often allowed him to commune with his friend over my head. By sitting in this spot, I accidentally immersed myself in the “guys’ side” of the room, where the majority of the male students sat. This was actually okay once I started wearing makeup. The guys were happy to talk to me, and even start conversations. I made friends with a few I never imagined being friends with. I distantly made friends with the guys on the other side room as well, through common interest and loudly voiced conversation. The point is, they wanted to talk to me.

The first time it happened, I was surprised and a little taken aback. I didn’t actually expect results, but they happened. Gradually, but they happened. I struggled to remember how to behave like a normal human in conversation, but they didn’t seem to notice. Then the end of school came and these new friends wrote huge paragraphs in my yearbook and wanted pictures at graduation. Shocker. Seriously.

I didn’t and don’t want to think that having a nice face is just as important as a great personality. All I changed was my face (and I left my bubble a little more often, but that hardly counts). My FACE. Not even my clothes. Same boxy t-shirts and worn jeans. People can go on and on how, “It’s what’s inside that counts,” but I have just proven that it absolutely takes both nice looks and nice attitude to make friends. I hate to admit it, but its unfortunately true.

If any of my friends read this, SURPRISE!!! I’ve been watching and analyzing all of you since March. 😀

And hey, a quick tag-on.

I consider everybody my friend. Most people I consider very, very distant friends. But hey, I’m so cool if some random kid decides to talk to me. It’s great. Because love to make new friends. Then I saw this filter through my facebook feed:

Sometimes people think we’re friends. And it makes me really wonder why. They come up to me and start a conversation or just message me or comment on my various posts and I congenially play along when really all I’m thinking is, “Why are you speaking to me.”

This really made me think. Is this how people see me? When I started my social experiment and made it a point to talk to people, which for me was huge because I don’t talk to people, is this what people thought of me? Was I actually making a bigger idiot of myself? Is this the world’s reaction to my existence? To wonder why I think it’s okay to be friendly?

I’ve rambled long enough. Think what you will.

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