When I was first given the opportunity to write for Ditch the Label back in February, one of my first ideas was for an article like this. However, back then I had got it all wrong.
This September (two and a half weeks ago at the time of writing) I started Sixth Form at a brand new school, and it has completely refreshed my perspective on the friendships I had before.
You see, back in February, I wasn’t as happy as I thought. I was fine, on the whole–I did well at school, enjoyed studying all my GCSE subjects (and when I say this I am NOT counting Maths), had supportive, easy to talk to teachers and was, on the whole, doing pretty well.
However, no matter the learning environment provided by the school, or how engaging and supportive the teachers are, the one thing they cannot control, which is super important to any teenager in school, is who you sit with at lunch. This simple aspect of the day felt like it would then dictate who you hang out with at breaktime, and leave with after school, and gossip in lessons with. When you don’t have that, it can make school feel very isolating.
When I walked into the dining hall in Year 10, I would be unsure where my place was. At break time, I hung around the common room occasionally chiming into the conversation, but not feeling hugely wanted by people. In lessons I would studiously pay attention to the teacher, and I never seemed to have people to meet up with outside of school.
I don’t have trouble making friends–I formed solid friendships with students in the years above and below. It wasn’t that the other students were nasty to me either–in lessons, I got along with the other kids in my classes just fine, and was able to have friendly conversations and work well as a group. But I was never able to form a proper, lasting relationship with anyone in my year group. Contrary to everything I had heard about what secondary school was meant to be like, I hadn’t found my crowd.
When I had the idea of writing this in February, I got it all wrong. Back then, I wanted to write what was pretty much a step-by-step guide for other kids in this situation. I wanted to write something that would show me how I could get myself out of that situation, and to feel less alone. But now I realise that that sort of guide doesn’t, and can’t, exist.
The most important words of wisdom I can give for anyone who feels out of place, lonely, or like they just don’t fit in at school, is that you are not alone.
We are sold this idea of our school days being ‘the best days of our lives’, filled with stupid pranks, teenage parties and raucous days out. The truth is, that doesn’t happen for all of us. Some don’t want to, and that’s perfectly fine. But for those of us who do, we can sometimes get hooked on the idea of the ‘typical teenage experience’.
First of all, it’s worth noting that the way the world works for our generation is completely different to our parent’s generation–teenagers in our day have far more parental restriction than the generations before us, and the way we socialise nowadays is completely different to the days pre-social media. Now, we communicate primarily online, and there are fewer teenager-friendly spaces in our towns and cities.
Secondly, having spoken to several adults about my situation at school, I’ve gathered evidence that school never seems to be the best days of anyone’s lives. There are so many things that make being a teenager kind of suck – school pressures, strict teachers, not to mention the fact that almost nothing you can do is independent. The best is yet to come! You have so many more adventures and exciting experiences ahead of you, this is only the start of what will be a long and exciting life.
And most importantly, no matter what, you will eventually find your tribe. Some people find their crowd at sixth form. For most, from what I’ve heard, it’s at university or even later in adult life. Whatever it is, it doesn’t matter. You are still SO young, and have so much time to live your life the way you always dreamed. The point is, you will grow, you will learn, and you will find people you feel safe with. Friendships are really important and special, but most of the relationships you form will not be solely from the first 18 years of your life – it gets SO much better as you learn more about yourself and the environments you thrive most in.
And just remember, you are NOT the only one who feels this way. You are not alone if you feel like you can’t make any friends. It feels like everyone else fits in, but there are other people, just like you, who haven’t found their place yet. Let’s face it, school isn’t a hospitable place for most people regardless of how big your entourage is. If you haven’t found it yet, it’s just a sign that the best is still to come. It’s normal to not have any real friends while you’re in school, and to make them at university instead, or even much later in life. It’s perfectly normal and okay to just go through your teenage years, and come out at the other end, not having had any life-fulfilling experiences yet, but having emerged unharmed.
Above all, once you exit this page, I hope something you take away from this article is that your experience is just as valid as anyone else’s. Your time will come, and I promise you won’t always have to feel as lonely as you might do right now. Trust me, I speak from experience – the best is waiting for you very soon.
If you feel like you need to talk to someone about not fitting in at school, you can reach out to our Community here for confidential and free support and advice.