Sunday, August 11, 2013

Watamote and Feeling Left Behind

Growing up ain’t pretty, and it rarely happens the way you expect. There are pretty parts to it, sure. For example, I really liked my prom dress. But, a lot of the time, those awkward years feel a whole lot more like WataMote (aka Watashi ga Motenai no wa Dou Kangaetemo Omaera ga Warui!, aka No Matter How I Look at it, It's Your Guys' Fault I'm Unpopular!than, say, The Melancholy of Suzumiya Haruhi. And, unfortunately, there’s no rule that says you graduate from all those in-between feelings at the same time you graduate from high school.
Screenshot from WataMote ep 2. Tomoko isn't
quite as popular as she'd hoped to be.

Tomoko’s a high school first year, and this stage of her life isn’t going as well as expected. She feels like she's behind where she should be. I’ve often felt quite similarly. Maybe you have, too.

Today, my mom and I talked to a childhood playmate of mine. He’s grown up a lot, and seems like a very responsible young man as he thinks about college, work, money, and a serious relationship. My little sister has been working her current job for over a year, she’s had a car for almost as long, and she just got married. A childhood friend is married, about to finish college, and appears to be a wonderful, mature, godly member of the adult word (but still as fun as always). Other friends have moved out of their parents' houses, gone to other cities, held down jobs, and paid their own rent. 

Sometimes, I feel like I’m being left behind. 

I don’t have a steady job. Last year, I had a work study position that gave me five hours a week, and I'm hoping to get at least that many hours again this year, but it's not guaranteed. In fits of insecurity, I’ve talked myself out of applying to other jobs that I might have been able to get. I still rely heavily on my parents for the necessities of life, although I buy a few things on my own, such as clothing and school books. I don’t have my own car. 

Yes, I realize I'm not the only one my age who's in this position, even among my friends. But my perspective isn't always so clear.

I used to think that when I hit college, I’d be an adult, able to function mostly on my own. After all, my parents met in college, and they got married when Mom was 19 and Dad was 22. They both had jobs and, obviously, lived away from their parents. Plus, at 18, I’d legally be an adult. That meant I should have a job and be fairly independent, right?

When high school rolled around and I still wasn’t comfortable around guys, I realized that my life wasn’t going to play out like my mom’s. I was truly okay with that. 

Then, when high school graduation approached, despite my pleas for time to slow down, I was a train wreck and realized that I needed to take a year off from school. I wasn’t mentally or emotionally ready to move on with my life. That was a hard decision, but it took a burden off my shoulders. Eventually, I came to terms with the fact that I’d be a year behind many of my former classmates once I did enter college.

Then, last year, I finally went off to school. I’d grown a lot, but I was still reliant on my parents to help me maneuver the “adult world” and the things that came with it, like job searching, taking out loans, and understanding all the stuff that the school’s business and financial aid offices sent me.

I’ve had to let go of many of my old expectations for the young-adult-me. I’ve also had to tell myself not to play the comparing game. 

This isn’t anything new. I started to feel left behind many years ago, when I noticed some of my childhood friends "growing up" without me. I remember wondering if my slightly older friend would still like to play “childish” make believe games with me, and being too insecure to ask her. That was when I was ten. By the time I was sixteen, I felt like she was even further ahead of me, out of my reach.

All of these feelings add up, and they are a large part of how I relate to Tomoko in Watamote. Tomoko has all these expectations about how life will change in high school. High school status will eliminate her social awkwardness. She’ll be a respectable high schooler, and popular with the boys. 

As it turns out, entering high school isn’t quite as magical as Tomoko expected. It’s not just that the boys don’t care about her. She goes months without talking to anyone at school, male or female. Her social anxiety is stronger than ever. 

Still, Tomoko isn’t completely alone. She has a friend from middle school, an otaku like herself. She remembers her friend, Yuu, as being even more awkward than she was. When they get together for the first time in a long time, Tomoko is startled to see that Yuu is more fashionable than before. Still, they have a wonderful time talking about their fandoms, playing games, and just hanging out as if nothing had changed since middle school. For once, Tomoko is able to relax, lose some of her self consciousness, and enjoy friendship. 

Then, at the end of the day, Yuu drops the bomb: she’d been upset and needed time with Tomoko because she had her first fight with her boyfriend. Her boyfriend

A not so happy ending to a happy day in episode 2.
With that, all of Tomoko’s feelings of security go out the window. She once felt like the leader, like she had better social skills than shy Yuu-chan. Now, she watches her cheerful friend run off, and she’s left behind. She puts on her headphones and retreats within herself once more. 

My heart aches for Tomoko as she stands alone. It’s bad enough that her high school self doesn’t meet her expectations. Now, she’s not just behind her expectations; in her mind, she’s behind her only friend. 

That sucks. At least I can recognize that my old expectations for myself were unrealistic. I can also recognize that my peers and I have different strengths and weaknesses. It’s been a struggle at times, but I strive not to compare myself to them. Compared to God, we’re all equally inadequate anyway, so I try not to use my friends to measure myself. Besides, my understanding of those around me isn’t completely accurate. For all I know, I could be as off base about them as Tomoko usually is.

I still feel inadequate and left behind at times. I combat these feelings with truth about who I am as God’s daughter, and about who He’s made me to be. I talk with people I trust to straighten out potentially twisted thinking about myself and others. Usually, that means a conversation with my mom. 

I am me. Thus, it makes sense that my young womanhood is different than my sister’s or my friends’. And I’m human, so life won’t go smoothly. My expectations and reality won’t always match up. I can accept that... mostly.

I just wish Tomoko could come to the same conclusion. It’s painful to watch her, yet I will continue to endure it in the hope that, someday, things will get better. The process might not be pretty, but if she revises her expectations, she might discover what I have: it's fine to be "left behind," because, in truth, her path is different from Yuu's. It's her own. And if she allows her perspective to change, she'll find that her path isn't all bad, even if it doesn't match up with her anime-inspired dreams.


  1. I think you're actually quite mature in the things that matter, if not in worldly things. And as for feeling like an just takes time and experience. I didn't feel like an adult at 18...or 21...or even 25. I think I didn't really feel it until I had the responsibility of caring for a child, when I was TWENTY-SIX years old.

    On the other hand, there are 50 year old's that still basically act like children.

    1. Thanks, Charles. :)

      I don't think I'll feel completely like an adult for a while, but I'm more and more comfortable with my young adult status. No matter what, I think there will always be a little bit of childhood in me. ^_^


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