We’ve all heard it many, many times. It’s a cliché at this point. “She peaked in high school” or “High school were her glory days.” There is this notion in the ether that most people know and understand which is that often—not always but often—being very popular in high school winds up not being a good thing for someone in adulthood. In movies depicting high school reunions, we see that the football quarterback and cheerleading captain are still together, but they hate each other, work minimum-wage jobs that they disdain, have eight children that they don’t really want, and are cheating on each other. Yet, they still have the entitled, holier-than-thou attitude they had in high school. That’s not exactly how being popular in high school affects someone. Most people grow up, evolve emotionally, and don’t marry their high school sweetheart (and shouldn’t). That being said, I’m here to confess that I’m a former popular girl. I know, I know—you want to throw figurative stones at me. But I am here to talk about the real ways being popular in high school can mess you up.
It puts emphasis on your appearance
Let’s be honest: there’s typically one reason a girl is popular in high school, and that’s her appearance. All because of the way she looks—something she didn’t even necessarily do or earn—she gets everything she wants for a while. Doors are open socially. Older boys like her. She’s voted class president.
It takes longer to learn you’re so much more
Unfortunately, it took me a long time to learn that I have a lot more to offer than my appearance. I was so used to relying on that, that I would date men who only liked me for my looks. I didn’t really know…what other type of connection or attraction there was. I spent the first half of my twenties dating men who didn’t really know who I was on the inside. And, honestly, it’s because I didn’t know. Nobody had ever asked me to take a look inside and find what gifts and strengths I had besides my looks.
Friends were just given to you
Everybody wants to be your friend when you’re the popular girl. And, you sort of just wind up befriending the other popular girls to strengthen your status and stay in the “cool group.” That’s about all the thought you put into selecting friends.
So you don’t know what you want in a friend
I didn’t really know what qualities I wanted in a friend until my early twenties. I was so used to outside factors determining whom I spent time with, that I hadn’t asked myself, “Well, who do I genuinely enjoy being around? What sort of character traits make me happy?”
Everyone thought you were fascinating
Everyone wanted to know everything going on in my life when I was popular. People wanted to be one of my friends, to elevate their status, so they’d hang on my every word, from what clothes I’d just ordered online to what I fought with my sister about. I was given the impression that I was very interesting.
Now you fixate on your own micro details
I’ve noticed that many once-popular girls will still monopolize social situations by going on and on about unimportant, mundane details of their lives, under the impression that everyone still finds that interesting. But, truly, nobody really wants to know which moisturizer I’ve switched to or what diet I’m on. There are much more interesting things to talk about. There are probably much more interesting people than myself at the table.
Your opinion was always very valuable
When you’re popular, your opinion matters. Your opinion carries weight and plays a role in all sorts of decisions. People asked what I thought a lot when I was popular in high school.
Now you must have real credits
It took me a while to realize that, in the real world, you need to have credits for your opinion to matter. There needs to be some real reason you should be considered the authority on an issue. Did you work in that area for years? Write a book on it? Study it? No? Well, those will be the individuals whose opinions will actually carry weight in major decisions in that matter.
You always had company
I spent very little time alone in high school. People always wanted to hang out with me. I had no shortage of invitations. Friends—or, sorry, “friends”—would eagerly come over, just to do chores with me or do nothing with me.
Now you can be uncomfortable being alone, socially
It’s very important to not just be comfortable with alone time, but to recognize the value in it. But if you grew up popular, you can become afraid of alone time, because you had so little of it in your formative years. That is what can lead to codependent friendships.
You always had suitors
There was always some potential crush or relationship in the atmosphere in high school. I had plenty of options. I had plenty of male attention. Every day, when I woke up, there was a boy who took up a good portion of my thoughts. If there wasn’t, I’d just find a new one.
Now you can fear being alone, romantically
I’ve certainly seen how many high school popularity queens go onto being relationship addicts as adults. The have to have some romantic entanglement at any given time. Not having one gives them anxiety. But it also leads them to make poor romantic choices—they choose partners just to have somebody rather than to find that one person.
You dated boys who boosted your popularity
As for whom I dated in high school, it was whoever would boost my popularity. People would begin to whisper, “You’d be good with so-and-so” and suddenly, I’d be dating so-and-so. I chose partners based on what others thought.
You choose partners based on outside approval
I still see some women who were popular in high school choosing romantic partners based on outside approval. They want partners who have a high profile in society or with whom they could be a “power couple.” But none of that has to do with the real, interpersonal compatibility.
Your reputation got you opportunities
In high school, popularity alone led to real opportunities like being on the student council. Not experience, not hard-earned wisdom—just popularity.
You may try to get by on charisma
When I went out into the real world and applied for internships and jobs, I learned a hard lesson fast: the fact that I was charismatic and likeable was not going to get me a job. You can’t put “Charming” on a resume. I’d have interviews that went great because I could partake in witty banter and make people laugh, but I wouldn’t get the job because I didn’t have the real skills.