Most of us don’t have fond memories of middle school. Certainly not me: the retainers, the training bra that refused to “train” my pectoral muscles into breasts and — wait for it — the purple titanium leg brace. To say nothing of the social traumas, like the time my mean AIM gossip was printed out and posted around the school or the fact that my first “boyfriend” had a rattail … and wasn’t Ad Walker, my middle school life was merely one long ride on the struggle bus.
So it’s funny that now I’m about to extol the virtues of the middle school experience. Because as much as we might deny it, the college social scene is not all that different. Maybe slightly more complex, but the essential truths we learned then still hold. For example, “French kissing after s’mores with braces = BAD.”
Recently I spent the day hanging around Yale with one savvy seventh-grader — the daughter of family friends from home who were in New Haven for a visit. Lee came to lecture, she came to seminar, she came to a two-hour, five-course dining hall dinner and she came home to find the Pundits dressed as monsters jumping around the room. No offense to my “grown-up” friends, but we had a blast. Yeah, you can’t take them to the bar with you, but here are a few reasons middle schoolers make the best besties:
1. Ashley’s really is the most fun you can have in New Haven after dark.
Forget Bass Café. Forget beer with the bros. Forget that sketchy little dance club a few doors down. There is nothing that gives you more bang for your buck than Ashley’s ice cream. Grab a something with sprinkles and a window seat for processed sugar bliss and great people watching. Bored? Play one of those hand-clapping games or MASH. Throw snowballs at each other on the walk home. Go to bed no later than midnight.
2. They have great gaydar.
Blindsided by that freshmen-screw-date-turned-sophomore-surprise? Between all the thespians and hipsters, butches and bis, we can easily lose track of sexual orientations (including our own). But Lee’s judgement was unerring. Friend who squealed and ran in for the cheek kiss when he saw us grabbing coffee? Probably gay. (Elder Assessment: yep, closeted for years.) A cappella acquaintance who speaks with an intonation reminiscent of Jack in “Will and Grace”? Gay, even if he “has a girlfriend.” (EA: grudgingly agrees, sending love to the gf.) Boys wearing hip little scarfs? Gay. Upon correction (“Yale boys are preppy. And it’s cold”), opinion was revised to “Fine, it’s WEIRD.” (EA sort of agrees – especially if your scarf is more expensive than my coat.)
3. They know how to survive seminar.
Thirteen-year-olds don’t know much about the differences between the Hindu and Buddhist conceptions of transcendence of the natural world and how those philosophies map onto our Western Judeo-Christian world view and they generally don’t care much either. They certainly haven’t read the professor’s textbook. But they know how to smile and nod, they know to save the bathroom break for the halfway mark and, most importantly, they know how to check Facebook.
4. Most boys are “cute but dumb.”
…So you should probably be dating a couple of them. The solution to the surplus of less-then-perfect specimens isn’t to try to change the man you’re with; it’s to be with more than one. Take the studly eighth-grader Lee’s been ice skating, bowling and going to the movies with for two months — he sort of ignores her when he’s with his friends, but the relationship probably won’t survive his transition to high school anyway, so she’s enjoying it now and has some boys on the back burner. (I’m routing for Alex the hot transfer student.) Older men, her ex-boyfriend’s friends, whether or not to DTR … it’s creepily similar to talking to my 20-year-old suitemates. But even more encouraging: “WAIT. Are you just talking or have you kissed him yet?” She asks, “Oh, yes? Well then you’re fine, you’re cool enough for him. Text him. How’s that other guy?”
5. They’re a great ego boost.
Not only am I hot enough for 2+ boyfriends, but college is awesome, I’m awesome and we’re having a great time! Let’s be real — Commons looks like Hogwarts and my friends are almost as cool as the people on TV. Plus, I got some really sweet gifts — belated Valentine’s chocolates and those party snap things that explode when you throw them on the ground. A little babysitting is a small price to pay for confidence, candy and the means to drive everyone in your life absolutely berserk.