Love them or hate them, school reunions often compel us to return to the scene of our youth.
For most of us, reunions provide an opportunity to reconnect with old friends and to reminisce about the “good old days.”
For others, reunions offer second chances: to show that the ugly duckling became a swan; the wallflower gained social skills and became rich, powerful and popular; and the directionless burn-out emerged from the purple haze, got a grip and found success.
For those for whom Father Time has not been so kind, reunions provoke anxiety: the fear of revealing to old pals that they’ve gained too much weight, lost too much hair, failed at relationships or ended up, to quote Chris Farley (RIP), “living in a van down by the river.”
And, after months of anticipation, many find that when the actual event arrives, it’s fun to catch up with schoolmates from long ago, but difficult to know where to take re-invigorated friendships from there. Will you check in again within the next decade, visit each other’s homes or take vacations together? Or, is it more likely that you’ll add each other to Facebook Friends rosters, check out some family photos, “like” a few comments and eventually lose interest?
Probably because I attended a huge, Big Ten university and an out-of-my league graduate school (let’s just say a certain U.S. leader graduated at the same time), I prefer “boutique reunions” with a select group of people that I really want to spend time with. The reunion organizers usually cast a wide enough net to include several people I’ve lost touch with, so the events truly offer wonderful opportunities to re-establish relationships.
As such, last weekend, I was excited to leave the kids behind (thanks to a coordinated effort by my husband, in-laws, mother and brother) and attend an unofficial sorority reunion 2,000 miles away, where 14 of my “pledge sisters” and 20 older “sisters” gathered for a weekend.
We toured the sorority house, walked through campus (despite 107-degree heat), shopped for those at home and ate and drank at old, familiar spots. Along the way (actually late at night at the “old watering hole”) several “sisters” helped me create the following “Permission Slips for a College Reunion”:
We hereby grant each other permission to:
- Just for one night or a weekend, forget that you’re a mom, a wife or a business manager. Let yourself be transported back in time. Of course, you have permission to brag on your kids if you want.
- Give yourself a break from the things you always do at home. Perhaps more important, give yourself permission to do the things you never do at home.
- Pick it up where you left off, and forgive any lapses, hurts or misunderstandings between then and now.
- Remember where you all started, and celebrate how far you’ve all come.
- Take on old roles with your pals. The sorority president shall always be in charge, the “standards” chairperson shall forever set a high moral bar and the “footloose and fancy free” gal shall always pave the way for fun. However, give yourself permission to change up the roles, too. Who says only the social chairperson gets to dance on tables?
- Connect on an adult level with people you knew in your youth. Talk about politics, social issues and personal problems if you want. Then again, give yourself permission to act like a kid again and keep the conversation light.
- Tell each other that no one has changed a bit., and feel grateful for the age-induced far-sightedness that masks the wrinkles, blotches and extra 5, 10 or 15 pounds.
- Take pride in feeling young and healthy after all those years. However, feel free to skip your daily workouts and eat junk food and drink fattening, sugary drinks all weekend. If you want to eat ice cream twice in one day, who will stop you?
- Remind each other you used to “have it “ and assure each other you’ve still “got it.”
- Prove that you’re in the know as you text – using capital-letter abbreviations — your friends and kids, even if you need reading glasses to do so.
- Laugh as you recall the good times, and cry about the tough ones – then and now.
- Laugh until your cheeks and ribs hurt, and be grateful that you are still a few years away from needing Attends.
- Have a hot flash in a bar crammed with twenty-somethings, but assure each other that it’s really just the heat. “Doesn’t anyone have AC around here?”
- Say “No” to that one last drink, even if that wasn’t standard behavior in the past. With age, you’ve learned that restraint leads to a cheerier morning after. Of course, you can say “Yes,” to it, too, as you don’t need to drive or face your family.
- Dance on the tables if the spirit moves you (see #5 and #14). If you enjoyed that at 20, it will be even more fun now. Just make sure no one takes pictures, because you will not appreciate them the next day…or when your friends and colleagues see them on Facebook.
- Join in fun activities with old friends, but don’t feel compelled to participate in everything. A reunion weekend can provide great “alone time” as well.
- Promise to stay in better touch, knowing full well that once everyone returns to their homes, families and careers, life will continue as before.
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