My freshman year, like many people’s, included a lot of mistakes. “Freshman year,” our freshman counselors and academic advisers and deans and (some of our) parents tell us, “is the time to figure things out.” Try the ballroom dance team, policy think tank, club Frisbee and anything else that sounds appealing when you arrive at the vast activities bazaar. If you drop some activities in a panic-stricken freak-out later in the semester, it’s fine. And it’s fine to get the first C of your life in “Introductory Microeconomics.” But my mistakes were not academic or extracurricular. They involved men.
I have to confess: I was That Girl. Not the one you’re thinking of — the one who hooks up with a different guy every night. And definitely not the serial monogamist (a strange breed of girl who seems to have a supernatural ability to locate the next boyfriend while still enjoying the attentions of the current one). I never played Hookup Bingo or tried to “get” all 12 colleges. But I was the girl who made the most spectacularly ill-considered decisions about who, where and when.
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The European rugby player at the bottom of my entryway? Check. The bathroom of L-Dub? Check. The middle of the night before my first final? Check. I was seemingly incapable of good decisions. Everything was a humiliating story, told the next day to the laughter and disapproval of my friends. My suitemates shook their heads at my escapades, not necessarily because of their wildness, but because of the brazen thoughtlessness with which they were undertaken. But that’s what freshman year is for, right?
At least that’s what I thought. It wasn’t until much later that I understood the real reason for my many “learning experiences.” My sophomore-year roommate, speaking of her own most recent morning-after regret, said, “The problem is that my default answer to everything is ‘yes.’” Maybe for some people it’s easy to say no, to reject the obvious bad idea; for some of us, though — myself foremost — the opposite has always been true. It’s not the allure of the forbidden (though sometimes that bears a part), nor is it (at least not always) a problem of colossal stupidity. It’s the problem of low standards.
When your default answer — like mine during freshman year — is “Yes, why the hell not,” you are more likely to find yourself making out in the unoccupied bathroom stall when you should be studying than you are to find the love of your collegiate career. Perhaps we make choices we might regret the next day (or the next hour) because of leftover disappointment from other failures entered into with much higher hopes. Maybe it is the curse of overachieving in academics, of countering my high-strung week with a let-loose weekend or simply of wanting to make sure I don’t miss out on anything with even the tiniest shred of promise. For me, I think it was mainly a problem of value: No situation is bad when none is good, desired or prized.
There’s nothing wrong with the random hook-up, but when I look back at my freshman year, I wonder at what the year might have been like with fewer people to avoid the next day, fewer stories to tell at brunch, fewer poorly chosen rugby players, Directed Studies kids and the odd bathroom encounter turned morning-after sobfest. Of course, as my guru-like roommate also said, “There’s no reason to call a mistake a ‘mistake.’” Freshman year is, I still believe, a time to figure things out.
There is at least one redeeming factor to my personal litany of poor decision-making. During my tenure as That Girl, I kissed a guy against the front door of LC one Thursday night at the beginning of freshman year. I then avoided him diplomatically for the rest of the semester. Recently, I kissed him again with no classroom buildings or drunkenness involved.
It turned out to be a much better decision this time, though maybe I should credit him rather than the change in my standards.
Elisa Gonzalez is a junior in Pierson College.