In nearly every corner of the internet, pop culture revivalism rears its head. Listicles and requiems are written for discontinued cereals and toys; production companies continue to reboot TV shows that haven't had a new episode since the Clinton administration.
Riding the nostaliga express right into the bedroom, a lot of 20-somethings are yearning for the slumber parties of their (not-so-distant) youth. It makes sense: in a grownup world of student debt, job shortages and low energy levels waned, why wouldn’t we look back longingly on nights centered around Cosmo quizzes, belting top 40 hits and imagining a far-off future that could be assembled however we pleased?
But sleepovers consisted of more than envisioning an idealized version of adulthood that, we hoped, would be realized down the road. Since they existed in a time before our future personalities were defined, sleepovers also carried a crushing pressure to fit into a group identity.
Those of us lucky enough to spend childhood Saturday nights at sleepovers logged valuable hours playing grownup. A chance to sleep at a friend's house gave us a rare opportunity for unsupervised peer time. We dabbled in adult romance chat, confessing crushes on locker neighbors and hot English teachers.
We played M.A.S.H, the game in which you'd map out possibilities for your future in different categories: What type of car would you drive? Who would you marry? What kind of house would you live in? (The options Mansion, Apartment, Shack, and House gave the game its title.) Of course, we watched films like "Clueless," "10 Things I Hate About You" and "Coyote Ugly" that starred women a little older than us and promised will-they won’t they relationships and bartop dancing not as Hollywood tropes, but as rites of passage we just hadn’t yet experienced.
But anxiety was always mixed in. I felt it most poignantly when, in middle school, my friends would regularly engage in a sleepover staple: the prank-call. We'd regularly dial a number we referred to as “Susie,” who had been birthed one night in seventh grade, when we had called a random number, a man had answered and whoever had been holding the receiver on our end thought the funniest approach would be to insist, over and over again, that she was looking for someone named Susie. She put the man on speaker, and no matter what he said, everyone would just shout back “Susie.”
I cringe thinking about how irritating those nights must have been for that stranger, and felt the exact same way at the time. But when my friends cued up the number each sleepover, I hopped on board as though it was the paragon of fun. “Calling Susie” had become a codified sleepover activity, and voicing my anxiety would just have been announcing that I didn’t get it. And I wasn't ready to speak up yet.
That same desire ultimately motivated my involvement in a lot of sleepover activities I didn’t actually want to do. I forced myself to stay awake until dawn because that's what was expected of me. I spent hours feigning laughter at internet videos featuring people singing in weird voices that I didn't find funny. I shouted “BDA” while prancing across a basement floor with my friends, even though I didn’t know what the letters stood for. I hadn’t been in the car when the inside joke was formed and only vaguely understood it was about not liking a super popular girl in our grade. If my friends all laughing to the point of choking were any indication, normal people were supposed to enjoy these moments.
Watching my friends all laugh to the ppint of nearly choking, while I felt nothing, was profoundly isolating. I wondered why I didn't enjoy these moments that, clearly, normal people were supposed to enjoy. What was wrong with me?
The answer, of course, was nothing. And looking back, I’m sure now I wasn’t the only one faking it at some point during those very long evenings. But at the time, disliking pranks, desiring a human amount of sleep and thinking internet videos whose entire shtick is “weird voice” didn’t feel like valid personal preferences; rather, they felt like flaws I should hide. In the collective reverence for childhood fun, many skip over the fact that the sleepovers for which so many wax nostalgic existed at a time in our lives before it was a viable social option to own our own desires.
So, yes, there’s currently a little less magic in a night spent spinning scenarios about our futures, mainly because there’s more imminence attached to actually accomplishing our goals. But the flipside is now that we're adults with fully formed personalities and control over our lives and I can join my friends for a night of teen movies whenever I want. And on those nights, even though I'm able to voice my opposition, nobody ever wants to make a prank phone call.