Reseda High School cheerleaders in 1978

Taylor Swift, Travis Kelce, and high school

By now, everyone has given their two cents about Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce. Instead, I want to talk about high school.

I write a lot about high school because that’s where I think most Americans are still emotionally stuck. We have been told that high school is The Best Years of Our Lives, which makes sense when you’re 17 or 18. But if you’re 45, and you still believe high school is the best years of your life, something is wrong with your life.

This brings me back to Taylor and Travis. While plenty has been said about the unhinged reaction to their love affair, I see how it all goes back to high school.

Back then, we believed the perfect high school romance was between the cheerleader and the football star—the ideal of teenage femininity and teenage masculinity bathed in the most coveted of teenage needs, popularity. Taylor has a song about this. But instead of being “on the bleachers,” she’s the “cheer captain” who landed the football star.

Not every girl makes the cheerleading squad, and not every boy makes the football team. And if you believe those are the only avenues for achieving popularity and romance, you’ll feel hurt if you’re left out. (And as a shy nerd in high school, I was definitely left out.) Some turn their hurt into sour grapes. (“Cheerleaders are all snobs and sluts, and football players are stupid brutes.” Basically, the plot of most high school dramas.) Or they turn their hurt into anger. They believe the system is rigged against them, and they are unjustly denied the companionship and respect they feel entitled to. Such people become easy prey for “red pill” podcasters and conspiracy theorists. Some have turned their rage to tragic extremes.

There is another choice to deal with not being a cheerleader or football star in high school. You grow up.

You realize you don’t need to be a cheerleader or football star to gain love and respect. You find your talents and build on them. You carve out a place for yourself where you can grow as a person. You won’t become a billionaire superstar or play in the Super Bowl, but you can build a fulfilling life for yourself.

That’s when you realize popularity isn’t about scoring game-winning touchdowns or looking good in a short skirt. Popularity is about how you treat people and what you do for them. The cheerleaders and athletes at my high school are smart, kind, and fun to be around. They’ve stayed loyal friends long after graduation, and they supported each other when they went through hard times. (They showed plenty of kindness and friendship to this shy nerd over the years.) While cheerleader uniforms fade and football scores are forgotten, the friendships we build and the good things we do are the things that last.

High school has value in showing us where we came from and how far we’ve grown. But the past is a place to visit, not a place to live.

When you look at Taylor and Travis, you see two compassionate, thoughtful, generous, and down-to-earth people. They have tight-knit, loving families. They support each other in their careers, and they show a deep love and respect for each other. It’s hard not to be happy for them and want to see their relationship flourish.

Unless you’re still emotionally stuck in high school and continue to stew in your jealousy of the cheerleader and the football star.

I’m rooting for Taylor and Travis. We desperately need more love and joy in the world right now. More importantly, we need adults to stop acting like they’re still 16. High school is over. If you stop dumping on the cheerleader and football star, you can find your own love, popularity, and happiness.