One of the interesting things about living in the town where I went to college is that I'm constantly faced with images of a former self. Sometimes it's the fresh-faced couple holding hands in Target, reminding me of all the nice things about young romance. Often, it's the fit young woman running down the street near my office, reminding me of the freedom — and the free time! — to work out in the middle of the day. And then, there is the sorority girl.
Some of my friends who only know me in my current incarnation have a hard time believing I was in a sorority. (And if they're not black, I generally have to explain that black sororities are a different animal than their white counterparts, but that's another story.) I'm certainly no flaming rebel, but I don't have the kind of qualities that scream "former sorority chick." I am a nerd to the core. Yet, when I see a certain type of girl around town, I feel an instant, if distant, sense of connection.
I usually see them in groups, and they are beautiful in the effortless way that 20-year-old women are. Their hair is perfect. Their makeup is perfect. They're impeccably dressed, even if they're casual. They radiate confidence and optimism, and they wear their Greek paraphernalia like plumage. It was no different when I arrived at college almost 20 years ago, and as a chubby, awkward bookworm with glasses, I wanted to be that girl. I latched onto that goal with my trademark obsessiveness, as if my life depended on it. When I made it, I felt like Cinderella.
In some ways, pledging turned out to be good for me. It forced me to overcome a host of fears, gave me an instant social life and marked the beginning of my "Doesn't Suck" phase at college. In looking back, though, I realize that I was attempting to bury my real self — the geek — and adopt a more glamorous persona. Except I wasn't glamorous or particularly cool, and I really didn't have much in common with most of the other girls. Toward the end of college, it began to feel like a whirlwind marriage that wasn't quite working, but I stayed out of duty.
I wonder how I'll feel about all of this when and if my daughter expresses an interest in a sorority. After all, both her grandmothers, her mother and a beloved aunt pledged the same sorority at different colleges. My mother remains active, as do several family friends. Shouldn't I want to pass this legacy on to her? On the other hand, do I want her to be a joiner, or worse, a hazing victim?
If she asks, I won't sugarcoat my experience — but I won't deny that, for a brief time, anyway, it was fun to belong.