This past week, I celebrated my sixteenth birthday! Well, I mean, I ate ice cream cake with my family. That was about the extent of it. I did get my license though, which is about the most exciting thing that’s happened to me in a long time.
Sixteen years old. Sixteen, in my mind, is the most teenage year a person has. Think Sixteen Candles, (and, for that matter, every 80’s coming-of-age movie in existence), Looking For Alaska, 16 and Pregnant (which I’ve never actually seen, thankfully, but when I think of sixteen, it comes to mind). Everything tells us teens that sixteen is a big year. And that big year starts with your Sweet Sixteen party.
DISCLAIMER: I didn’t have any party. I don’t really have friends to invite.
I have friends, I guess, but not ones that like each other and me enough to attend a party together. Everything social about my life has been deteriorating lately, in a strange, slow, fading sort of way. My friend group of four is growing apart, everyone joining another group and leaving me behind.
It used to depress me a lot, to be a teenager without a solid group of friends. When you’re a kid, everything you see leads you to believe that your glory years occur in high school, and that’s where you make the friends you will carry with you for life. Every high school movie centers on a group of teenagers who stick together through it all, even if they have bumps along the way. Teenagers are the most social creatures on the planet; it’s what we are known for. When you don’t have friends at age sixteen that you can count on to stick around, you feel like there’s something wrong with you.
At least, that’s how I was feeling on my birthday, sitting alone at lunch and editing my story because it’s easier to be alone with a computer in hand. But I’m not going to make this a sob story, because I don’t believe in spreading those, not from my easy, privileged life.
In the last week, I’ve decided that I need to take a more Buddhist approach to life, I suppose. The reason why I’m unhappy with my social life is because I have an expectation that all teenagers are entitled to a budding social life. That being a sixteen year old means being part of an inseparable group. When I arrived at my sixteenth birthday without a group cheering behind me, I thought I was missing something I was supposed to have, by virtue of my age. I figured it meant there was something wrong with me, and I was denying myself something I was meant to have.
Obviously, there’s no entitlement to friends in high school. The truth is, teenagers probably feel more isolated than any other age of people; apparently 20 percent of us become clinically depressed from age 13-18. If anything, we feel more alone than anyone. It’s just that media always tells us that it’s the other way around, that having friends is a given at age sixteen.
I’m trying to teach myself that it isn’t, and that I’m not failing as a sixteen year old by having a failing social life. I’m also realizing that it’s a learning process for me, to go through a period of feeling alone. Everyone has to go through a socially difficult phase in their life, and this is mine, and that’s okay. Life doesn’t owe me friends, and I don’t need friends to be happy or thrive in this life. As far as life goes, I’m happy; I’m content with a life of writing and eating and spending time with my family and calling my boyfriend every weekend. It’s not that I’m horribly sad not to have friends, it’s just that I’ve always expected myself to.
I think that’s a universal reason for suffering in people, and I’m not the first to think so; the Buddha would agree. We suffer because we expect life to give us a set of things, material and emotional, based on our age, social status, economic status, race, religion, etc. We feel entitled to the life presented to us by the media and by the outspoken people around us.
We have to realize, in order to be happy with less than ideal circumstances, that life owes us nothing. Really, everything we receive from life is a gift. Life itself is a gift. And by letting go of that preconceived notion that we are supposed to have and achieve things at certain periods in our life, that is when we can truly be happy.
During the sixteenth year of my life, I do have plans. I want to become an agented author, and grow this blog, and grow my social life. I want to get a job and learn to relax and spend more time with my family before I go to college. But if these things don’t work out, I have to remember that that’s okay, too, because life goes on. I already have the most precious gift in the world, and the rest is just extra.