Ask anyone who is deliberating about whether or not to go: The prospect of a high-school reunion can be intimidating, exhilarating or one big yawn.
People worry about having gained too much weight--or too little status. About whether they'll still be treated as the wallflower--or the king--they were then. About whether they'll have anything in common with their old classmates. ("When they sent me a newsletter as to what everyone was doing," sniffed one woman, "they were either active in bowling leagues or had found God, and I lost my interest in going.")
There are those who sincerely want to see friends they haven't seen in years. And there are those who simply want to answer the question--as Rona Jaffe said in Class Reunion--"that lies at the back of nearly all our minds. Did they do better than I?"
But even for those whose high-school years--or the years following, for that matter--didn't exactly come off as TV's "Happy Days," a high-school reunion is still a chance to relive a special time.
There are the surprises: the boy voted least likely to succeed who is now a millionaire; the once-mousy girl who grew up to be a beauty.
Love was the last thing Diane Manley thought she'd find at her 25th reunion last June in Donovan, Ill. "I went with great reluctance," admits Manley. "I was just ending a long-term relationship and couldn't decide whether to go with him or by myself."
Manley, owner of an office-services center in Alexandria, went back to Donovan High School alone and "re-met" a high school friend she hadn't seen since her wedding in 1956. "We found we shared a lot of special memories," says Manley, 43, who was divorced in 1968. "He was in the process of getting a divorce, and we decided to get together when his world was back in order."
That happened in December, and they went on a ski trip in March. Since then, "It's been a whirlwind . . . we're in love. We've touched on the future lightly."
Others say they feel closer--although not necessarily that close--to their classmates, and that the more years which have elapsed, the more relaxed the reunion.
"I just wasn't interested in going to my tenth reunion," says Sandra Arnoult, 37, a writer who lives in Silver Spring. "At that time I was pregnant and my husband was still in school."
Now, however, she is looking forward to her 20th reunion in August at Wheaton High School.
"After 20 years," says Arnoult, "there is less pretense. People are more sure of themselves and less interested in trying to impress everyone."
For some people a high-school reunion can be a reminder of their roots. Says Ruth Spector, 47, a member of the Montgomery County Council, who went to her 30th reunion in Wyoming, Pa.: "Going back to Wyoming was almost like going to another country after living in Rockville. Although a few people have moved to New Jersey, most of my former classmates still live where I grew up."
Although most reunions involve a dinner and dancing or some form of entertainment, the main attraction is the people. For Julia Baker, 68, who two years ago attended her 50th reunion of Eastern High School, the format was irrelevant. "After 50 years, we didn't need a program. We just had fun among ourselves."
Besides arousing emotions of nostalgia, pride and even envy, reunions make us more aware of the passage of time, and perhaps the vulnerability of our own lives in the context of our classmates'. We tend to know our numbers.
Whatever the motives or reservations people may feel about confronting classmates--and thus their own lives--they usually don't regret going.
"The closest thing I can compare it with," says Susan Howard, 42, Potomac, who attended her 20th reunion a few years ago, "is going to a great wedding reception where everyone has a wonderful time.
"I may have been reluctant to go at first, but I'm definitely glad I did."