And leave behind the high school drama.
Fess up to Facebook stalking.
Social media has changed reunions. In previous generations, people hadn’t seen or heard about classmates for years. We have. At my 20th reunion, rather than playing dumb when classmates told me things I already knew, I said, "Oh, yeah. We’re friends on Facebook." It’s less awkward that way. But be prepared for surprises. Facebook and Instagram lull us into thinking we know everything about people, but no one puts everything online. Some classmates hadn’t changed their photo in (probably) years, so I had to hide my shock at what they looked like in person. Some had gotten divorced, which they hadn’t announced on social media. Also, before your reunion, classmates may post old photos where you don’t look your best. I hate that! If someone posts old pictures that you don’t think are representative of your life, it’s OK to untag yourself so the photo doesn’t wind up in your feed. I say the same goes for the reunion photos, too.
Sarah Smiley is a newspaper columnist and the author of four memoirs, including Got Here as Soon as I Could. She lives in Bangor, Maine, and has attended her 20th reunion.
Don’t assume your partner should go.
It’s strange to go as the partner. Partners are often left behind. When I went to my husband’s 20th reunion years ago, he wanted to see all his old friends and old girlfriends, and I was left in the corner with the other partners who didn’t know anybody. I was kind of shocked that I was completely ignored. I don’t blame my husband. He was trying. But he was conflicted about whether he should stay with me or see friends. In hindsight, I just shouldn’t have gone—it was too much pressure on both of us. As a couple, talk it out beforehand: what’s going to happen, whom you may see. Maybe introduce your partner, in advance, to another classmate’s partner. Or have a plan B so your partner can escape.
Elaine Ambrose is a public speaker and the author of Midlife Happy Hour. She lives in Eagle, Idaho, and has attended her 10th, 20th, 30th, and 40th reunions.
Prepare emotionally in advance.
We’re a warehouse of emotional memories. Be aware that they can be triggered ahead of a reunion, and we may feel anxiety about our appearance, abilities, status, or achievements. Consider that what you feel now is simply a reminder of what you felt when you were in school; you’ll learn about yourself and may see classmates in a new light. I had a good school friend who told me in high school that she couldn’t hang out with me on weekends because her mother was concerned that I didn’t have a mother (mine had died) and that I lived in the lower-social-class part of town. At the time, I was baffled. But thinking back, I realized my friend wasn’t at fault. Her mother was worried about her popularity and safety. Your self-consciousness may make you feel like the spotlight is on you, but it’s not. Reflecting may also bring up positive ways that classmates influenced you. Let them know. At my 45th reunion, one woman told me that she would not have passed freshman math if I hadn’t helped her, and she was forever grateful. I didn’t even remember! But what a nice thing to say.
Mary Lamia is a clinical psychologist, a professor, and the author of Emotions! Making Sense of Your Feelings. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and has attended her 5th, 10th, 25th, and 45th reunions.
Pretend you’re meeting strangers.
Very few people are the same as they were in high school. People change—including you. I met someone who was really nasty in high school but had become extremely open, kind, and welcoming. If you see classmates you didn’t really know then or don’t recognize, admit it. Go into the experience as if you were meeting new people. If you don’t know what to talk about, ask about their favorite high school memories, classes, or teachers or what their passion is today. Listen more than you talk. You may have a lot in common.
Jane Bluestein, a former teacher and counselor, is coauthor of High School’s Not Forever. She runs a consulting firm in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and has attended her 10th, 40th, and 45th reunions.
I appeared at my 20th reunion in a wheelchair, after an accident caused me to become quadriplegic. Almost everyone kept their distance. Nobody knew what to say. A few classmates did sit with me, and I talked from my heart—about my discomfort, my fear of being judged and losing friends because of my disability. Vulnerability invites compassion. By a certain age, you don’t care what other people think. You just want to hang out with your friends. If you aren’t real and don’t connect with people on a human level, you’re going to miss the party.
Dan Gottlieb is a psychologist based in Philadelphia and the former host of a mental health call-in radio show on WHYY. He has been to six reunions, most recently his 50th.