When I picked my university off of the matriculation menu, it was because it offered the full enchilada of educational experiences and I was HUNGRY. My didactic dish would be stuffed with meaty coursework, wrapped in a cozy dorm (with a cool roomie), and garnished with the sorority girlsquad I’d been waiting for. All I needed was the bon appetit go ahead from whichever three-lettered club fit me best and voilà. College would be served.
Sure, I was a first-gen college kid with no family legacy “in” to Greek life, but I was confident, motivated about finally sealing those real-deal relashes I missed out on thanks to all the high school musical chairs I’d been playing before. So, the summer before freshman year kicked off, I’d taken some tedious shopping trips to get just the right accessories for the job of collegiate sisterhood, and I dutifully submitted my sorority applications well ahead of time. In my mind, it was already a done deal and rush week was but a brief stopover en route to my destination of sodality.
Never did I expect myself to throw a lead foot on the brakes and bust an illegal U-turn halfway down the road.
Day One: Smiling a lot really hurts, guys
If you’re a pretend extrovert like me, the process of putting on a permagrin and making small talk with dozens of strangers over the course of an entire day is deeply unsettling. Awkward doesn’t even BEGIN to cover the stammering, mealy-mouthed mess that I became on day one, just as soon as I realized pesky things like opinions and flaws and realness were not actually welcome in those mini-meet-and-greets as they were IRL.
My job, I came to realize by the exhausting end of the first round, was to remove all traces of myself and present a Stepford Wife-style substitute, dressed in the same casually elegant sundress everyone else had on (note: whoops, missed that not-so-minor detail in the summer shopping spree) fit with strappy sandals and sun-kissed hair pulled halfway back. My get-up wasn’t totally off the mark, but it was enough to warrant some wardrobe reworking.
Still, when the matches for day two came along, I had most of my original picks ready for another try and felt phew.
Day Two: Falling in a line isn’t easy when you’re not stiff
The next day, I got up extra early to make sure I’d completely mesh with the masses, and even though my jaw kinda hurt from all the cartoonish efforts at some ear-to-ear action, I pushed through the pain and faced the day with a let’s do this mental finger-gun action to get in the spirit.
It only took a few hours for me to start seeing something wonky happening to myself from the inside out, though. Making minor adjustments to my appearance was one thing, but soon I saw myself downplaying my own aspirations as one girl insisted that home decor was her ultimate ambition.
I felt like crawling out of my skin when one group started chanting their sorority’s slogan and made everyone join in with this jumpy clap enthusiasm I simply couldn’t muster. By the end of the day, I had sunk into a self-loathing funk of NO.
Why wasn’t I the kind of girl who thought the house blueprints were worthy of an eep-gasp mouth maneuver that seemed so standard in these rooms? Why wasn’t I comfortable chatting with twenty-one (yes, I counted) different people for five minutes apiece about the same, mostly inane matters?
Everyone else seemed to be dealing just fine with all the vacant, speedy interaction, but I was surviving on falsities and erasing all visible markers of my discomfort. And my brain/heart/soul, for that matter. This couldn’t be all there was. It had to be some kind of emotional endurance test which served this perfect purpose in the end, right? RIGHT?!
Day Three: This… isn’t for me
I showed up at the student union to head out for the third day, already dreading the deluge of doltish discussion, so when my match results came back with two of my top five missing, I stopped dead in my tracks. I had enough there on that page to justify stepping on the giant bus and heading for another day of personality-prodding adventure, but there was something literally holding my feet to the ground. Me.
There was some hella hurt that hit me right then because of those few sororities that didn’t give me enough points to make their day three. I wondered, What have I done wrong? What did I say to mess it up? Why am I not good enough for them? Will these others just drop me like it’s not hot tomorrow too?
All my life, I’d worried about getting good grades, involving myself in ample extracurriculars, and I always knew I was better than whatever negativity existed in my life, as long as I kept my eyes on the bigger picture.
But here I was just volunteering away for more critique and self-doubt, and for what exactly? A whole college experience spent downing myself for not being as groomed for sisterhood as the other girls? A lifetime of TRY and artificiality?
That’s when I literally said the words out loud so they could drown out the conflicted inner but-but-but monologue I was waging as I watched the prim crowd shuffle onto the bus: “No, thanks.”
No one else heard me, of course, but I did. No, thanks to wearing a mask; no, thanks to being categorized and sized up and given a point spread; no, thanks to putting all my hopes of forever friendships in their tidy little baskets.
I came to college to savor my own buffet of experiences, after all. And throwing away the cookie-cutter crutch that just wasn’t the mold for me meant I was free to try the full variety of spices the campus had in store. And I’m telling you now, it was delicious.
What mold do YOU want to break when you get to college?