After spending approximately 730 days in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, I can officially declare that I go to the greatest school in the country. Much like the rest of America’s college students, I genuinely believe that my institution of higher education is the most beautiful, inspiring and wonderful place in the whole wide world (roll tide).
However, attending arguably one of the most fun schools in the South with one of the country’s largest Greek populations (roughly 10,000 students) has its drawbacks.
Remember high school dances? Remember how panic would set in a few weeks in advance if you weren’t dating someone? I witnessed some downright scheming in the precious time that preceded these monumental high school milestones. Girls would feign interest in boys who hadn’t yet secured a date, and boys would scramble to locate any halfway decent chick that wasn’t already draped over the arm of an athlete.
Imagine reliving this every couple weeks, and bam, you’ve got date parties.
Ah, date parties: simultaneously the most fun and stressful event on the Alabama social calendar. If you’re in a relationship, these are just exciting events that punctuate the rhythm of classes, band parties and football games. It’s fun to get costumes and plan the perfect evening with your significant other, anticipating the party-themed frat tee that’s guaranteed to follow in 5-7 business days.
But if you’re single… Time to hop on the treadmill and hope for the best, ladies, because the odds are not in your favor.
The ever-classy gentlemen of the University of Alabama have the ratio stacked. A sorority pledge class roughly tops off around 120, while a fraternity pledge class is lucky to hit 50. That means, on a good day, you’ve got an approximate 42% chance at catching someone’s eye and scoring that coveted invitation.
It doesn't sound too intimidating, but when your means of meeting these aforementioned gentlemen are reduced to swaps and pledge parties first semester freshman year whilst consuming beer-flavored water (Natty Light) and surrounded by, like, 90 of the hottest girls you’ve ever seen, the situation turns dire.
By the end of freshman year, I was completely done with the male/female dynamic (because trust me, just about every girl who attends this school is a 7/10 or higher, and that’s not always easy to compete with). I was venting to my friend Mallory on the front porch of her sorority house, hoping nobody I knew would overhear me complaining about potentially the shallowest grievance in Tuscaloosa County. Mallory, per usual, had it completely figured out.
There’s a “perfect girl” ideal that discreetly permeates the social scene here (and probably elsewhere, but I can’t speak to that). You’ve got to be just beautiful enough, but not high-maintenance; just bold enough to be interesting, but still somehow elegant; funny, but not obnoxious; smart, but not intimidatingly so; alluring, but still angelic. It’s exhausting, and I don’t think the boys even realize it.
The basic idea is that if you’re the type of girl who can strike that perfect balance, all while seeming to come about it naturally, you’re set. You have to appear to be just the tiniest bit unattainable (but still down-to-Earth) in the hopes of hooking a frat star by his backward hat and making him love you forever (and therefore securing eight consecutive semesters of themed-party perfection and really cute game day pictures).
Add that subtle pressure to be ‘good enough’ to an already socially competitive climate, and boom: the perfect storm. You have all these girls caught in this weird, hormone-charged vortex of wanting to have fun, but also wanting to seem like the type you’d get down on one knee for, and about half as many dudes sitting on a metaphoric selection panel. It’s enough to make even the most confident girl feel inadequate.
Because it can sometimes feel like the NFL Draft for only the most qualified, girls view one another as obstacles. I can’t even count how many times I’ve walked into a fraternity house to be met by the glares of about 20 glammed up hopefuls with a bottle of Diet Coke in one hand and a flattened water bottle of unidentified clear liquid in the other.
It’s a dog-eat-dog world for college girls on campuses where the boys hold the decision-making power, except the dogs are wearing red lipstick and platform wedges (poor analogy, but I like dogs and red lipstick so just go with it).
Luckily, there is a way out, and it’s painfully obvious.
When you find your mind wandering to the “Maybe if I had longer hair,” or “Maybe if I talked a little quieter,” or “Maybe if I don’t tell anyone that I’ve been to Sonic six times in the past four days” (guilty)… just don’t. I’m not going to tell you that you’re perfect just the way you are, because let’s be honest, we all have room for improvement. But part of growing up is figuring out which parts we want to improve, and which parts we’d change because we feel like we have to.
It’s so much easier and more fulfilling to just focus on who you actually are (it comes off a lot more genuine, too). When you just give up on fulfilling the fantasy, you’ll catch the eye of someone who also went to Sonic six times in the past four days and appreciates your love of fast food variety and slushes with Nerds.
I know it sounds super cliché, but I think a lot of people compete without even meaning to. It’s human nature to love positive attention. It’s normal to want to be perceived as funny, attractive and desirable. But when you allow it to become your focus, the entire end game of your daily life changes. You become a candy-coated question mark.
I really wish I had some profound answer to offer you now, but unfortunately, I’m still trying to figure it out, too. It’s hard not to lose your mind sometimes when your own self-doubt is compounded by ridiculously high standards (real or perceived). I guess all you can really do, at the end of the day, is be conscious of it, and be conscious of who you are in the midst of it.
Thanks so much for reading. KG