Earlier this year, after completing my Master’s Degree, I reconnected with an old friend from high school. Socially, high school was a terrible time for me. I was the (more) socially awkward, lanky kid who wasn’t good at any sports and who had nerdy interests: not exactly a magnet for friends or girls. This friend I met up with was one of the few who hung out with me and accepted me for who I was, and I’d been meaning to see him again for a while. I had a great time catching up, but actually went back home with a bad taste in my mouth.
My friend let me know that some other high school acquaintances were spreading a very damaging rumour about me. He told me exactly who he heard it from, and who that person heard it from. There was another University of Ottawa alumni at the end of the chain, let’s call him Neill, one of the few ones from high school who graduated in the same year. It was easy for me to figure out who Neill heard it from, since we had few common acquaintances at OttawaU.
I tried to get in touch with the person who started the rumour, let’s call him Dylan. I messaged him on Facebook and when I didn’t get a response a day later, I called a friend at OttawaU. Dylan often hung out with some of our friends, and I was able to get his number. I sent him texts, and waited days for a response. Finally I called multiple times. I managed to get a hold of Dylan once, but he said he “had nothing to say to me” and then hung up.
To say that this situation angered me would be an understatement. It weighed on my mind more heavily than anything else. It was all I could think about at work and at home. I actually ran into Neill at my local gym and approached him politely, advising him I heard he was spreading a rumour about me. He wasn’t man enough to own up to it.
I realized that what bothered me so much about the situation wasn’t just what Dylan said. I had wronged him in the past and I figured the rumour was his way of getting revenge. It was petty, but it made sense. When it came to Neill and the other person spreading the rumour (let’s call him Mark), I was lulled into thinking there was some level of respect between us. We weren’t friends in high school and I know that during high school they thought of me as a loser. There was no bullying, but I knew they never wanted to hang out with me.
At one point, I though the social stratification of high school ended with those four years. My first year at OttawaU taught me that wasn’t the case. I was still a socially awkward, lanky guy with nerdy interests. I still repelled plenty of girls, although I had an easier time making friends. University was an improvement but it wasn’t the utopic, nerd-friendly, clean slate that it’s made out to be. Knowing this, I never thought Neill and I would be best friends at OttawU. I knew he would still be the popular guy with money and all the other things girls valued. We saw each other around a few times, exchanged a few words and moved on. I thought that there was some semblance of respect there.
Dylan started the rumour during first year, so it was clear that Neill was already spreading it by the time we graduated. Behind all those smiles and kind words was someone who refused to see me as anything but a loser. He heard the rumour and immediately believed it. My good friend didn’t do that. He told me about it. Gave me a chance to clear things up. He did that because he either didn’t believe the rumour, or didn’t want to. This realization is what made me realize that the rumour didn’t matter. People who believed it, spread it, and treated me differently because of it obviously never thought much of me. I wasn’t losing any friends. I wasn’t losing any respect. I never had any from these people in the first place, and that’s fine.
It’s always easier said than done to ignore what people say or think about you. We hear that mantra from kindergarten on, but it can take decades of self-improvement before we finally start applying it effectively. I know writing about this may seem to negate that message, but I hope that this post can help anyone who has struggled with people’s perception of them. I never thought that I would be able to think about this situation without getting angered. Now I write about it just to share a lesson with others, and to reflect on my own progress with developing more mental toughness and maturity. There was a long time when I thought I would want to kill Dylan the next time I saw him. Instead, we’ve now buried the hatchet. As for Mark and Neill, they’re little men and what they do doesn’t matter.