Written by Andrea McLean

Voices

Out with the in crowd

As a gauche teenager, Andrea McLean dreamt of being accepted by the popular kids. But a recent encounter has made her wonder if being ‘cool’ is all that it’s cracked up to be.

Illustration by Claire Jones.

Illustration by Claire Jones.

I’m not cool. Never have been. I might pass for it sometimes, but scratch the surface and you’ll find the same spotty teenager who thought it was OK to wear jumpers her granny knitted to school.

I was one of those kids who loved the idea of being rebellious, but was too scared of being told off to do anything wrong. I wanted to be trendy, but the desire to be comfy always outweighed my need for fashion. I wore wellies and a bobble hat because I wanted to be warm. And not even in an ironic way. I wasn’t smart enough to be nerdy, or sporty enough to enjoy being cold and wet, so I joined the public speaking and debating society. It didn’t get much un-cooler than that. I wiled away hours in the library, reading Private Eye and anything by Miles Kington while hiding from girls who saw spots, perms and gaucheness as a shiny, souped-up red rag to their bullishness.

This may have happened almost 30 years ago, but recently I was taken back there. Not physically – I haven’t set foot in my old school since the day I left – but emotionally. I went to an event, a ‘do’ that was full of the kind of people I’d have loved to hang around with in my old days, the sort whose gang I secretly longed to be part of. Funny, sharp-witted and not scared about getting it wrong. In fact, revelling in their ‘wrongness’ while shaking their head and rolling their eyes in a ‘Chuh! What am I like?’ kind of way.

Let’s just say it didn’t work out. Within seconds of being looked up and down by one of these fearless rebels, it was clear that my being there was a horrible mistake. I tried to smile and stay calm, but inside I was sinking. I was 15 again and at a party in my best stonewashed jeans, blushing beetroot as some leery boy snarled, “What’s SHE doing here?”

That horrible feeling rushed back: the cool kids didn’t want me to play with them. It didn’t matter one bit that I’m a successful woman now, with a career and a nippy car parked out front. Nor did it matter that my spots have gone and my dress sense has improved dramatically.

“They say never give up, but sometimes you have to, because you realise that what you were trying to get was frankly not worth the effort.”

Then it hit me: cool kids grow up to be cool adults, who guard their right to intimidate with ferocious intent. You’ve probably read interviews with the famous ones, in which they claim their attitude is born out of insecurity and lack of self-worth. But I think that’s rubbish. I’m as insecure as the next person, in fact probably more so, but I would never take it out on someone else. Making someone else feel smaller just to make yourself feel bigger is a sure-fire sign that you’re an idiot. Insecurity doesn’t make it right to sneer and snarl at anyone you feel intimidated by, or are jealous of, or who you feel just doesn’t fit in with your version of right, or cool, or whatever. It is horrible and mean when you’re a kid, and it makes you a profoundly stupid adult when you’re old enough to know better.

I’m taken aback at how bothered I was by the whole experience. I’m old enough to understand that just because a few people are a bit sneery, it doesn’t mean I am dull, boring or irritating. But that’s exactly how I felt. I pretended I didn’t care, but I do.

Interestingly, while I was busy feeling miserable as hell about it all, I heard from a friend I consider the epitome of cool. She’d also been at the event and texted to say she felt exactly the same way. She’d felt awful – pushed aside, in the way and not wanted. Her! One of the smartest, funniest and bravest women I know felt crushed and angry because of how some supposedly ‘popular’ people had treated her.

This underlined the fact that I had been desperately trying to cling on to, like a freezing Leonardo DiCaprio to that blasted raft in Titanic. They say never give up, but sometimes you have to, because you realise that what you were trying to get was either unattainable or frankly not worth the effort. And I’ve finally decided that they’re not. I don’t want to play with the cool kids, because they’re mean.

It really isn’t me; it’s them. And they can all get stuffed.

@andrea_mclean

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Written by Andrea McLean

I am a 45 year-old mum of a newly teenaged boy and a fearless eight year-old daughter. I am happiest in my pyjamas watching telly and eating biscuits. My alter ego is a TV presenter who dresses well and looks like she knows what she’s doing.