Jelena; a recovering idealist
Sometimes on a random evening, when I have the chance to really sit and think, I get caught up in the recurring thought that a lot of what I say is judged more harshly than what others say. Essentially, that people’s reactions to me are disproportionate to my actions, and other people get away with doing worse things than I’ve ever done.
That sounds like a bold claim. What’s the story behind this? Well, I suspect there are a few components. For one thing, I’m upfront about my feelings. Befittingly, I’m a politics student who studies and critiques diplomacy between different countries. Yet are the things I say really that confronting? Is it how I say them, rather? Well, I became acquainted with the less favourable side of my personality several years ago…
It was towards the end of year 12; my friends were planning Leavers. Many people had planned their trips way in advance- we had wanted to go to Bali, but with Covid came WA’s grim hard border, so we had assumed Leavers would be cancelled anyway. However, later in the year, my peers at school reignited the discussion around Leavers, and my friends and I decided it would be great to put some plans into place. I was eager to get things sorted early and brought it up in conversation but was spoken over. So, when they finally got around to planning it, we were in the leadup to our end-of-year exams, and I was frustrated and restless. I knew I had to focus on my studies, so I sent a laconic message to the group chat saying I would be withdrawing myself from the Leavers’ plans. Little did I know the repercussions that would come of this.
They were badly hurt. We had been a close-knit group since Year 10. We understood the myth of popularity but were mostly well-liked: we were focused on studying, having fun hangouts at the beach, and singing in the car driven by one of our parents. By year 12, my humour had turned almost entirely into political satire and jokes about mistiming our sprint to History after recess. But we were a close a group of four, and rarely argued before this. The lead-up to exams challenged this, and the immense stress I felt converted itself into one angry and crucial text message that, for a long time, I believed meant my friends would never forgive me. I watched my three ex-best friends wrap their arms around each other for graduation photos whilst I lowered my head and examined my certificate to confirm that my name was spelled correctly.
I never went on Leavers. I don’t ponder over this too much anymore, although it’s strange when it comes up in conversation with my university friends. I never experienced that end-of-high-school climactic celebration. About a month later, we met up again for one of their 18th birthdays parties. She had forgiven me, but I had a tentative and strained relationships with the other two. I enjoyed the evening anyway. My memory of the weeks that followed is fading, but one thing I recall is that my summer holidays were lonely, and I underwent a period of intense self-examination, probably for the first time in my life. Why haven’t they messaged yet? Was I really that mean? Then at the intersection of these two ideas: Am I selfish to think they should care? In high school, I identified with being a selfless and empathetic person, who with nonchalant willingness shifted to another group in class so my more introverted friend could work with familiar peers, and as someone who fiercely defended my friends from any criticisms hurled at others (although I was more on the receiving end of these than any of my friends were). I knew my flaws just as well. I am also the girl who, poised in my prime in year 12, tried (and succeeded) to prevent a former bully from sitting at our ball table and who detested someone my friends got along with because I deemed her ingenuine. So, maybe my judgements were too severe, too binary, to assume that someone who once sat below my moral standards would remain that way throughout their life.
Today, a few months shy of turning twenty, I pride myself on generally understanding what’s happening around me. I have matured and realised the importance of context. In fact, the handful of people I’ve carried through past high school are not at all who I expected them to be! I dislike gossip unless it’s relatively inconsequential. I support those around me in all their endeavours, and I suppress spite the moment I feel it’s ugly intensity rise. Some people don’t understand why I’m such a well-wisher and what it takes for me to get there. In a jokingly cynical manner, I say something along the lines of: “Sometimes you care so much that when you stop receiving it in return, you turn it into a holly-jolly good mood instead of sulking about it.” I used to think a mutual disagreement warranted equal feelings of hurt for both parties, but I often feel the effects far longer.
I spend many weekend nights at home. Not all of them, but it’s a time for me to rest from a busy social week. Sometimes, I’ll check some social media stories to see what everyone’s up to. Every now and then, I see my three best friends from high school hanging out once again. To the best of my knowledge, they don’t see each other as often as they would like to, but they’re all still close. I’ve reconciled with them all, but I know they have no desire to see me again. It’s a hard pill to swallow, knowing my nit-picky condescension led me to friendlessness over that summer and then again during a difficult winter in 2021, exacerbated by the pain of a statistics unit that I put the bare minimum into. I think words are better than numbers: a debate I’ve engaged in since I wore ribbons in my two ponytails at school.
Sometimes I succumb to the classic Gen Z methods of observation and fact-checking, like who I have the most mutual friends with on Instagram: most of my high school peers have unfollowed me. I don’t blame them: they remember someone who merely tolerated her environment and lacked the means to thrive. So as the number of high school mutual friends drops, the number of UWA mutuals rises. At least in the digital world, my old identity is being wiped away gradually- and it’s not a conscious decision of mine.
I expect you’re thinking I have some grand lesson at the conclusion of this article. Perhaps, I could find one buried in my angsty journal entries from over a year ago. But I’ll be realistic here: I can’t say I have changed a whole lot. My personality is inherent to me, and I stick to my values to this day. Yet I haven’t had any major disputes since the Leavers one. Call it compromise and diplomacy if you like. I have awesome friends now who view the world with the same passion and seriousness that I do. Friendship is a turbulent thing, but I’ll gladly ride every wave for the opportunities out there.