Recently I met my high school girlfriends for a weekend trip to Galena, Illinois. We had not been in a room together for over 25 years. As is the case with many people in their mid 40’s, we reconnected via Facebook a few years ago. Arranging this trip was no small task. In fact, with the chaos of work, kids, commitments, etc., it took a small miracle to find a weekend that worked for all of us.
It was a wonderful weekend, that reminded me of how lucky I was to have had these particular friends during that particular decade…the 80s.
For those of you in this age group, I think it is fair to say that the friendships you had during the “Breakfast Club” era are like no other. When you really work for something, it makes it more valuable, and maintaining friendships in the 1980’s took a lot of work.
We were the last generation that had to authentically find our peer group. With no social media to let us ‘like’ or ‘follow’ people, we had to find our way into a group or clique by actually putting ourselves out there with human interaction. You had to (gasp) actually talk to someone on the phone instead of texting them. Your friendships developed organically through human encounters rather than through a blue screen and condensed into 140 characters.
Let me give you an example. If your boyfriend broke up with you and began dating the “new girl” at your school, you could not immediately text your friends about this bomb that was just dropped on your life. (Yes, this happened to me. Yes, I was devastated as only a 16-year-old could be). You had to actually live through the problem. You couldn’t “SnapChat” it away.
This is how the “Breakfast Club” era had to deal with this situation:
Step 1: Pass a note to your friend in the hallway between classes that says “Please call me after school!!!!! (We had no emoji’s so our level of urgency was indicated through the gratuitous use of exclamation points)
Step 2: You walk home (yes, walk). You suffer through your Salisbury steak and canned peas with your family. You wait for your mother to get off the phone because the whole family shared the same phone line.
Step 3: Finally, your friend calls. You pull the phone (that is attached to the wall, by the way) as far away as you can from prying ears, preferably to a nearby closet.
Step 4: You are not even five minutes into your tale when your older sister picks up the other extension. “I’m on the phone!!!” you yell. (Extension hangs up)
Step 5: Five minutes later your dad yells, “Get off the phone! I’m not paying all this money for a phone bill when you can see Jennifer tomorrow at school.” You slam your phone down, hoping your dad can hear it so that he fully understands he is ruining your life right now.
Step 6: You have to spend all night suffering this heartbreak by yourself. You can’t text for hours scrutinizing every detail, like my teenage daughter has the luxury of doing present day. You can’t make a declaration on your Facebook page by changing your relationship status in a needy attempt to gain instantaneous support and sympathy. They only thing you can do is go to bed cradling your cassette tape player. You sob quietly in your bedroom while you listen to the soundtrack of “Pretty and Pink” over and over (in particular the song “If You Leave” from Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark) until you fall asleep or the tape gets jammed from too much rewinding.
Step 7: The next day is Friday, and you finally get some alone time with your girlfriends at a sleep over. Through a junk-food-filled therapy session you down your sorrows with Pepsi (regular…not diet). You hash out all the details while munching on the greatest invention ever: Cool Ranch Doritos.
Step 8: You know nothing about this new girl your ex is dating because Mark Zuckerberg is still in diapers, thus there is no profile to stalk. The best you can do is look in a phone book (an actual paper phone book) to obtain her address…which you do. You hold up the address like it is the winning PowerBall Ticket. Victory!!!
Step 9: You tell the adults in your house you are going out for a bit to get more Pepsi. Instead, with the newly acquired address in hand, you go in search of this new girl’s house. You find it. You drive by it a few times, praying you don’t find your ex-boyfriend’s car in her driveway. You don’t. You scrutinize her house. For what, you aren’t sure. But this was before “Google Earth”, so it is all you’ve got.
Step 10: You head back to the sleepover, and once you are in your pajamas (we actually wore pajamas…not sweats or yoga pants) you and your friends decide to start calling your ex and hanging up when someone answers. This was a very satisfying activity. In the 80’s there was no caller ID, so you could engage in this behavior repeatedly.
Step 11: You play Oijua Board for a while to find out the name of your future, reincarnated husband. You crimp each other’s hair. You try to dance like Molly Ringwold in “The Breakfast Club.” You watch “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” You laugh, and you cry, satiated by sugary foods and aqua net vapors. You drift off to sleep with the kind of solace you can only get from an entire night of real human interaction with your girlfriends. You feel better in a way that is so rare these days. There is no endless texting full of misinterpretations and hateful, impulsive words you can never take back. The most damage your inner insecure “mean girl” can do to the innocent girl (who just happens to be dating your ex boyfriend) is drive by her house. There is no regrettable posts that were written in the heat of the moment and are now forever “out there.” You hashed out your situation with your friends, face to face, through actual human activity and in a safe environment. The only thing you “destroyed” was the bag of Cool Ranch Doritos, not your reputation and not someone else’s. The impulsiveness of social media, combined with the not yet fully developed teenage brain, can oftentimes be a horrible combination with even the best of kids. I’m so thankful that it didn’t exist back then.
The above scenario is only one snapshot of countless trials and tribulations my teen-aged self experienced with my high school friends. That is why these girls and this precious weekend with them was so valuable. Our heartbreaks were now much different thirty years later, but the healing process and power was the same.
We discussed work chaos, divorce, aging parents, parents who had died, babies that were lost, teenagers that temporarily hate us, careers that have stalled, health scares, money problems, finding ourselves, and the importance of “me time.” Sure, we traded our Aqua Net for anti-aging cream that weekend, but that bond and human connection that we shared so many years ago was exactly the same. The comfort and solace that came from sitting on the floor in pajamas (now yoga pants), talking, hugging, eating, drinking, crying, and laughing for hours with these girls was as therapeutic as it was 30 years ago, and as I made the drive back home after that weekend I reflected on the girls we once were and how we were really good kids. We made mistakes, sure, but we were a good group of girls. This was a moment in my life of which I was proud for how I grew up. And as I sat in my SUV for the 2 and 1/2 hour drive back to Iowa, I blared the “Pretty in Pink” soundtrack on my Iphone and thanked my lucky stars for Cool Ranch Doritos, John Hughes movies, and those crimped-hair girls who helped me to be the woman I am today.