Taylor Swift, Travis Kelce, and high school

Matthew Arnold Stern
3 min readFeb 1, 2024
The cheerleaders at my high school, 1978.

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…

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Matthew Arnold Stern

A novelist and award-winning public speaker and technical writer. My novels Amiga and The Remainders are available now.