When I got into Yale, I felt I had been chosen. I didn’t know if it was fate or pure chance. Either way, I was one of the selected few, not only to attend one of the most prestigious academic institutions in the country, but to mingle with the most gorgeous, privileged and accomplished teenagers in the world. The opportunity was immense. And nowhere did it present itself like a frat party.
In my first year, parties felt glittery, magical fairy tales. That was a juvenile perspective, but then, I was a juvenile. At 18, from an impoverished hometown with a high school graduating class of thirty, my only prior social outlet was Saturday debate tournaments. Drinking was new to me, and so were my elite peers. So when I tripped into sweaty basements, intoxicated by cheap vodka, I was less disgusted and more excited by the endless possibility of connection.
It took three years for me to understand the sobering answer to these questions. It took me three years to learn that alcohol is a depressant. That weekends often made me overwhelmed, anxious and insecure. That I was focusing more on missed connections than the ones I’ve made. That my sleep schedule sucked. Every Friday, I’d try to soothe the nauseating, looping memories of the weekend before by going out again, hoping this time, I’d find satisfaction. Gossiping with that girl, being with that boy, outsourcing my self-worth to everyone I encountered. Just like any addiction, fulfillment never comes from the next fix.
This year, I promised myself I wouldn’t base my self esteem on drunken interactions. So the evening after my red-eye flight back to New Haven, I climbed into bed — at an early hour and in conservative pajamas — and manifested my clean girl, inner peace era in my journal. Secretly, there was little I wanted to do more than launch myself into a crowd of sweaty bodies. When a friend said she could get me into a Sigma Nu mixer with Kappa Alpha Theta and Pi Beta Phi. I leapt out from under my covers, laid my eyeliner on thick and quite literally sprinted to the party. I did keep one promise to myself though — I’d stay sober.
I pushed to the front of the stairs on high street and the bouncer didn’t let me in on the first try. It should’ve been humiliating, but standing on the steps was just the first step of the explicitly exclusive and arbitrary Greek life ritual. Luckily a friend knew a frat brother, who looked like he could’ve starred in a summer blockbuster. When she pointed me out, the brother hand-picked me out of the crowd and ushered me in. Once again, I was chosen.
Inside beautiful people kissed other beautiful people. Beautiful people danced on tables. Beautiful people scanned the room, searching for something or someone more. Normally I would’ve wondered if my body maintained the right proportions to warrant attention. I would’ve wondered if my outfit gave away the fact that I didn’t have endless disposable income. But without a drink in hand, I was secure. I had already counted myself out of the race. I was standing at the bottom of a glorious impossible mountain, and for once I wasn’t trying to climb it.
My friend and I left shortly after we got there. I went home, put my conservative pajamas back on and climbed back into bed. I journaled about all that I had learned. From Greek life, to exclusive clubs, to senior societies, exclusivity is built into the infrastructure of college life at every turn. Those 6,500 drunk teenagers — especially ones at Yale — will continually pine for the feeling of being chosen. These two truths make it a challenge to find contentment.
By no means am I touting complete sobriety. Over the past few days I’ve been properly inebriated more than I’d like to admit. Sometimes it’s been incredibly rewarding. Sometimes the drunken pursuit of belonging in this utopic, dystopic university is nothing less than brutal. So, I’ve been sheepishly telling all of my friends that my sober experience verged on something spiritual. For a night, I focused more on getting out than gaining entry.