‘Love Letters’ is a Petal + Sass blog feature that regularly asks a group of diverse women in their 20’s and 30’s about their experiences with health, sex, emotional wellness, body image, college, careers – and what they wish they had known themselves as teenagers. Visit the ‘Love Letters’ To My Former Self page to learn more about the contributors.
Question posed: What was freshman year of college really like for you? What were your expectations versus the reality? Do you have any regrets, and what would you do differently looking back?
Miss Bluebells: Freshman year began exactly as I envisioned it would. Orientation threw everyone together into an intense situation at once, and fast friends were made. I felt for the first time in my life I was exactly where I was supposed to be, complete with a new sense of confidence at being able to start over and be the “new me” (which was essentially the “old but real me” that was once held back by a constrained high school social hierarchy). I had heard about the upperclassmen who preyed upon the new freshmen girls, and I was not let down on that front, either. Frat party invitations filled my mailbox and it was honestly overwhelming to suddenly feel so “noticed” or even “mysterious” to the opposite sex; and complete strangers at that. The classes were fascinating, the schedule was incredible (2 or 3 classes a day…yes please) and the freedom was soul-exploding. If high school is a 10 hour day, college is a 4 hour day at most.
Eventually the dust started to settle after 2-3 weeks, and the immediate friends I had made off the bat started to fizzle. I think that’s when I started to pine over my old friends and the comforts of home, particularly at night when I was crammed into a tiny dorm room that slept three people, two of whom happened to adore country music (pro tip: before college starts, never fill out your dorm preferences questionnaire honestly. I think I underlined “I HATE COUNTRY MUSIC” three or four times. Residential Life loves nothing if not introducing you to the concept of “tolerance”).
I didn’t gain the dreaded freshman 15, but I did gain the dreaded freshman year boyfriend. He was older, angsty, a “cool” loner; and hated everything about the school we attended. His pessimism and isolationism soon rubbed off on me, I felt miserable at college by proxy, and I think I lost out on a lot of friendships and great experiences that year as a result. If I could go back, I would have taken my freshman year as a time to focus on myself, enjoy new classes, new friends, and even “dating around” or just plain old gratuitous hooking up (using protection!). Instead, I got into a serious relationship waaay too soon. Huge regret. Can I get a do-over? God I’d love a do-over.
Miss Lilac: My freshman year was one of the best years of my life. While most parents wept as they dropped off their children, my mom basically slowed to a partial stop, we high-fived, and I tucked and rolled out. She was ready for me to go. I was ready to be there. I had gone through a terrifically awful break up during the summer before my freshman year, and my heartbreak led me to be a whiny, weepy, petulant teen. It wasn’t a good look.
I met my best friend in our mandated community service outing during orientation, connected with a fun bunch of dudes who are still amongst my closest friends and designated a spot on their couch as my own for the whole year, and lived in a single on the same hall as one of my closest friends from high school. My crowning moment was when I stole a penis statue made of cheese from a weird party and then tore a hole in my red pleather pants as I drunkenly ambled down the street and raised it like the trophy it was. Wearing those red pleather pants in the first place is probably my biggest regret.
Beyond that, it was such a period of fun and exploration for me personally and intellectually, and i was so lucky to be in a place that allowed for me to pursue all the wackiness that informed that journey. Oof, what i wouldn’t do to go back and do it all over….
Miss Peony: Freshman year was a truly transformational year for me. I kind of expected college to be one big party, and it was. I met all of my still-best friends going to parties, drinking every night, and generally being wild. I was drunk the entire first two weeks – I stayed out until 6am and would wake up still drunk.
However, while all of my friends managed to get their sh*t together in time for class the next day, I was not able to. I hardly ever went to class and rarely studied; I expected my natural intelligence to carry me through the midterms and finals, but it just wasn’t enough. About halfway through the year, my midterm grades started coming in and they were all terrible. The thought of dealing with the mess of my life was terrifying, and so I kept drinking. I was blackout literally five nights of every week. I was caught urinating in public, and had to attend mandatory alcohol education classes, but that was also not enough to get me to stop binge drinking.
Finally, I got pregnant. That was my really big wakeup call. I realized that no one was responsible for my life but me. I had been so used to parents and teachers trying to reign me in, nagging me constantly to do work or make good choices. I finally realized that in college, no one was going to nag me or advocate for me except myself. I had to live my life, not anybody else’s. Getting pregnant made me envision the future I was building for myself, and it definitely wasn’t pretty.
I got my sh*t together. I broke up with my abusive boyfriend, got an abortion, and took summer classes to erase the two Fs I earned that year. I kept drinking, but I made a goal to not get blackout drunk ever again. By my senior year, I had my drinking under control, a really competitive campus job, the esteem of several professors, and a respectable GPA of 3.5. The Ds and Cs I got my freshman year really weighed down that number. I had to spend the next six years of my life explaining that part of my transcript – every time I was up for a campus job, or graduate school, I had to explain that one year I got a 1.4 GPA.
Going back, I mean yeah. I wish I had started college ready to get everything I could out of the classes. I wish I had not destroyed my liver drinking or my lungs smoking. I wish I hadn’t torpedoed the healthy, strong, smart person that my parents built over 18 years. But, ultimately, I’m not sure I would have ever learned to take responsibility if it hadn’t been for that year. I had to learn and do so much, so quickly. The process of rebuilding my life was a true learning experience, and actually made me a much more confident person. If I could recover from the smoldering mess of my freshman year, I could do anything.
Miss Hydrangea: It was a mixture of “oh my god, what the fu*k is happening??” and “at least I’m not in this alone.” I had a difficult roommate situation that came to a head when I carried my roomie out of a building (which at the time we didn’t know if it was on fire or a false alarm). I learned in that moment that it’s okay to be the asshole if it means your well being. My roommate was in a wheelchair and we were placed in the wheel chair accessible building on the second floor. Let that sink in. The SECOND FLOOR. In case of a fire you must use the stairs. But when you are 18 and the school tells you it’ll be fine you believe them. Until it’s 2 am and the RA tells you that it’s not a drill and you should go down stairs and leave your roommate, because the Fire Department will come and get her. Yeah, no. So after that incident I put in for a room change. I felt as though I was responsible for her life.
If I could go back? I would probably have worked harder to continue the friendship with her. She wasn’t a bad person, it was just little things that I was uncomfortable with doing and didn’t know how to say no (“No, I don’t want bunk beds, even though it makes it easier for you to get around” or “No, I’m not comfortable checking on you in the shower to make sure you haven’t slipped.”). No is very hard to say, especially in that situation.
When I changed rooms, my new roommate had been through some really horrible things with her former roommate (let’s call her “Stacey”) who had abruptly left the school, so we were happy to have each other. Neither of us fit in, and we both felt that the administration failed to really listen to its students or help them for that matter – a great line we were once told when we brought up issues with “Stacey” was that “Bulimia is a choice she makes as a woman,” coupled with zero attempts to get her to return her dorm keys (she actually dropped by and rearranged furniture, would leave harassing messages, etc…) Did I mention that my new roommate and I transferred colleges after freshman year? You bet we did.
That year was rough. But I met some great people and came out with a better sense of self. I was in a situation that sucked. I had chosen a college that while on paper was a good fit, the reality was a nightmare. It’s okay to think you want something and then realize that you don’t. Transferring was the best thing I ever did. And now look: I have a helluva freshman year story to tell.
Miss Rosebud: Freshman year wasn’t the greatest, but was okay. I made fast friends because I did a Wilderness “pre” orientation with a small group, but I wouldn’t say these were my people. Finding people I clicked with took longer, but started to fall into place after a few months. It was nice having people to eat and hang out with for the first semester, though. College felt very free after the hyper-structure of high school, and I enjoyed that. You pick your own schedule and classes, decorate your own room, eat what you want, go where you want, do what you want when you want to do it. All of this clicked with me.