In high school I was that girl who was attractive enough to date the captains of the basketball and football teams (not at the same time, of course) while smart enough to be in the top honors classes. Being attractive and smart was not a good combination in 1970. The pretty girls thought I was not cool enough to be friends with – and the smart girls thought I was too cool to be friends with. Neither fish nor fowl, I thought I was a solo specie.
By September of my senior year I could not wait for high school to be over. Perhaps there are still girls out there like I was, nice-looking but not popular, smart but sensitive, sitting in their bedrooms writing poetry, and working on their college applications; hoping that once they reach college, they will finally find a community that fits who they are.
That is what happened to me.
My parents wanted me to go to the same college my mother had gone to – Smith College -a highly-regarded women’s college in Massachusetts. My Mom loved her time at Smith, still had many of her college friends, and happily returned every five years, dressed all in white to march in the campus reunion parade.
A women’s college? I didn’t think so. Let’s not beat around the bush here, I liked to date guys. And yes, I had a thing for athletes who happened to be smart. Maybe because I completely lacked athletic ability (always was, still am, the last to be picked for any team) so dating an athlete was the closest I could come to peer acceptance in my sports-obsessed high school where cheerleaders ruled the popularity pyramid.
The boys I dated did very well in school, too, but somehow their intelligence wasn’t seen as a social handicap as it was, at least then, for girls. We were advised by the teen magazines to hide our smarts if we wanted to keep a boyfriend. So I wrote the requisite soulful poetry holed up in my bedroom but showed it to no one; I would not have dreamed to show it to one of my boyfriends.
I applied to Smith, as I was asked to do by the parental unit but put my hopes on my applications to five other coed schools. Come April 15th, our mailbox was filled with four thick envelopes and two thin ones. The thickest one was from Smith and the thinnest one was from my first choice – a top men’s college on the cusp of its first year of co-education, telling me I was not going to be in their entering class. My parents insisted that Smith offered the best academics, and wasn’t that why I was going to college?
So off I was to a women’s college. Yes, I grudgingly admitted, the extensive course catalogue did impress me. And how hard could it be to find boys to date? I read that they regularly showed up in droves on weekends.
And surely I would find girls in my class who were attractive as well as smart and not afraid to show it to each other – or to the boys they dated. My mother reassured me on that point too.
On the second night of college, I went with a small group of girls from my dorm, all of us new to Smith and to each other, to walk down the hill to see a movie called “Anne of A Thousand Days.” It was a British historical drama about Anne Boleyn, the wife, briefly, of King Henry the 8th, until she failed to produce a male heir to the throne and was subsequently executed. I was a big fan of British history so loved the epic story of politics, religion and romance. My kind of thought-provoking movie; one that I never would have even suggested seeing with friends in high school.
After the movie ended, we started to walk back up the hill to campus. I waited, then said, a bit tentatively, to the girl walking next to me, “Didn’t you think that was an amazing movie?”
She quickly responded, “Oh yes, but I wonder if it was all historically accurate. Do you think the meeting between Anne and King Henry shortly before her execution really happened?”
We talked about historical accuracy versus the need to make a movie appealing to the masses all the way back to the dorm. Wow, I thought, maybe I could really be my true self here in college.
High school has evolved since I was a student but some things stay the same; the athletes are still popular, the pretty girls are in demand and the smart kids join the debate team. While being a female with a good brain is no longer as uncool as it once was, I am sure that there are still many girls, and boys, who like I was, are on the social fringe, for whatever reason, afraid to really be themselves for fear their peers won’t accept them.
Let me reassure you that things do re-sort themselves once you get to college. It happened that way for me; it can happen that way for you, too.