In middle school, my friends and I were what some people would call nerds. We were into comic books, role-playing games, and action figures. I still look back fondly on the time we spent playing together as some of the greatest years of my life. We all had different musical tastes, but several of my friends and I developed an ear for heavy metal, specifically bands like Metallica and Suicidal Tendencies to name a few. Collectively, we owned every album (on cassette tape) we could get our hands on of these bands and we shared them all with each other, as well as any new music we came across. We skateboarded, rode bikes, and got into trouble together. We stayed at each other’s homes every single weekend and knew each other’s families. We were inseparable. Then, we got to high school and one of my friends joined the football team.
Even though none of us were really into football or other sports, we were happy for him because it meant a lot to him. His older brothers were both football players and he was proud to be following in their footsteps. We began seeing less and less of him as the season went on and then, one day, he approached us in the hallway of our school. He told us that he could not hang out with us anymore because we were not cool. He explained that his friends on the football team told him that we were childish losers and that he needed to cut ties with us to be on the team with them. He could no longer associate with kids who played Dungeons and Dragons, played with toys, and listened to heavy metal.
We went from being best friends to being total strangers. It was something I had never experienced before and it hurt all of us quite a bit. In fact, a fistfight between this friend and another ensued at one point and these two former best friends said some things to each other that are not easily taken back. I had grown accustomed to rejection and renouncement, but never from a friend before. The funny thing is that, through all of this, it never occured to me that the role-playing games, the toys, or the music were the cause of our falling out. It was much deeper, or actually much more superficial than that.
I am not resentful toward this former friend. In fact, if given the opportunity, I would gladly take him out for coffee or lunch. In a sense, I am grateful because it made me evaluate my values and I concluded that I would rather be myself with my friends than to be someone else just to play football. My tastes have not really changed much over the years, but my palate has expanded. I am still the same nerd and I still keep in touch with many of my old friends who are too. What I see in myself and in them is that those of us who have embraced this in ourselves have found a way to actually capitalize on it, like a super power.
– Robert Van Valkenburgh is co-founder of Kogen Dojo where he teaches Taikyoku Budo and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu