While It’s Still Relevant

Before days pass and this chapter in my life (and subsequent fodder for my future memoir)  elapses, I thought I should write about it. The “chapter” I’m referring to, of course, is bicker.

First let me say that you might not believe me when you read what I’m about to say. Don’t worry, I wouldn’t believe me either. After all, I didn’t get into the club I bickered, which immediately puts me in a biased position, but hear me out.

In terms of Princeton vernacular, I was “hosed,” a term that has always made me cringe, even when it wasn’t applicable to describe me. I think there’s something about the mental image it immediately conjures up for me. Somehow, hearing the word “hosed” puts a picture in my head of a line of youthful, mesomorphic Princeton men in the 1920s standing in a line in the snow in white tee shirts and long johns on the back lawn of one of the clubs, shivering nearly out of their pale goosebumped skin.

Then, in my head, I zoom in on one of their faces–I can’t see the details, really, but his eyes are squinted shut as he awaits his decision of whether or not he’s gotten in and it’s so cold out that you can see the breath leave his mouth. Sadly for this faceless imaginary man, a warmly-dressed member of the club approaches with a garden hose and, well, hoses him down with water. His head jerks back from the shock of the cold. He sputters and his nose begins to run. His expression changes from one of tentative hope to disappointment, and, disheartened, his chin falls to his chest.

Now before you start getting carried away thinking, “Shit, is that how it used to happen?” Or, “Is she trying to tell us that she is the soaked man in the long johns?” Let me stop you there and say 1) I have no idea, but probably/hopefully not and 2) No, not exactly.

There are a few differences between me and the man from my imagination. The first is that the man didn’t have a dream the night before decisions came out that he didn’t get in, and didn’t feel surprisingly accepting of that outcome the day after. You probably don’t know this, but I keep a dream journal and record every dream I can remember or have time for it. This one, unfortunately, didn’t make it into my archive because I could only remember a glimpse of it, but I know that it happened. Sometimes our subconscious self knows us better than our conscious self does. So, on Friday, I was optimistic of course, but not as confident as some of my peers who had already gone out and bought new underwear to wear for pickups when, according to tradition, apparently, new members strip down to their underthings.

The second is that I was given my “bad news” in the gentlest and most thoughtful of ways, nowhere near what my cruel imagination put poor, poor long john man through. Just as I was about to text a dear friend in the club that I was a bit concerned that I hadn’t heard yet, she texted me asking if I was awake. Obviously, this was not a positive sign. If I had gotten in, she would have just told me. So, lying in my bed in the afterglow of a terrible episode of Law & Order: SVU with my headphones on, I pressed play on Robyn’s “Dancing On My Own,” set my phone down on my stomach, and waited for her follow-up. “Unfortunately I don’t have good news. I’m so so so so sorry :(” her text began, as the drums crescendoed into Robyn’s bridge, and I’m not sure exactly how I reacted after reading that, but my feeling was more neutral than what I imagine that those of many others who found themselves in my position were last night.

This is the part where you might not believe me. I shed tears twice last night. But it wasn’t because I felt the pain of rejection. It wasn’t because I felt that vacuum-y feeling that disappointment sometimes creates in your chest. You know, the one that suddenly makes you feel as if gravity is freakishly strong between your stomach and your esophagus, and as if someone had just dropped a lead ball into the pit of your stomach? It wasn’t that. I teared up because one of my friends got out of bed at 2:30 in the morning to walk through the snow to my dorm to see me, because of the terribly kind things my friends said to me, and because they understood me well enough to be, for lack of a better term, there for me, and not to feel sorry for me.

I know that my friend who had sort of guided me through the bicker process and called me later that night (you might have actually been able to call it “early that morning” by that point) didn’t believe me that I was okay, but it doesn’t matter. To be honest, I wasn’t feeling gracious. I was frustrated when he told me I should still come out for tap nights and feel welcome to come to meals. “I’ll go where I want!” my bitter internal monologue protested. I felt my confidence drop when he reassured me how many people liked me in the club, and how I was a cool person. “I know!” my petulant self thought. It wasn’t mature or gracious for me to feel this way, I know, because his heart was 110% in the right place and he meant what he said. To be honest, I’m a little embarrassed that I even felt that way, but my initial neutrality had begun to morph into anger.

In my mind, “upset” and “angry,” are two very different feelings. “Upset” implies an internalization of sadness. It means something inside of you has been shaken out of its rightful place. “Angry” often finds itself being felt at the same time as “upset,” but it’s different. “Angry” is an external feeling; it is displeasure projected outward. And, to be perfectly honest with you, I was angry that other people beat me and that I lost.

I’m glad that I did it, though. I wouldn’t have it any other way and I don’t regret anything. Everything is a learning opportunity, and I feel that now that I’ve gone through and out of the system, I can look at it from a more informed position than the one I was in before I went through the process. If I hadn’t done it, I would never know what would have happened and I wouldn’t have had anything to learn from. In this case along with many other situations, it’s the not knowing that’s the most torturous, not the knowing.

But that’s enough about me. Let’s talk big picture.

(EDIT: Added this paragraph on 2/10 3:00 PM) Before my friend unintentionally projected what he thought I should be feeling onto me, I was a little let down that I didn’t get what I wanted, but I was okay with it. But my reaction to not getting in changed completely after talking to him because of the language he used. Saying things like, “I don’t know what your plans are for the weekend, but last year I went home,” seemed to place the club above me, as if it should wield power over what I decide to do. Again, I know he was trying to be compassionate and it’s possible that the anger I felt was already inside me–tinder waiting to be lit by a conversation like this. Regardless, this conversation is a perfect example of the common misconceptions on this campus that unnecessarily twist and poison our perceptions of ourselves.

Joining an eating club is sort of like using the word “hose.” We do it because “everyone else” does, and they have for over a hundred years. And don’t even get me started on the phrase “everyone else.” There’s no such thing. I remember when I’d complain that “everyone else” was doing one thing or another in middle school, my mom always asked me to clarify exactly who constituted “everyone else.” Usually, I didn’t even need to use both hands to count. Granted, at Princeton the majority of students are in eating clubs. But that doesn’t mean that you’re wrong if you don’t join one.

Where I think a lot of people stumble amidst the eating club frenzy is thinking that getting into their club of choice means reaching the pinnacle of their social career, or that acceptance into a club somehow cements or elevates their station in life. Maybe you’re reading this and thinking, “What? Of course not.” If so, you rule. But I’d argue that there’s a good number of people out there who, consciously or subconsciously, believed this to some extent, because some pockets in our community encourage these beliefs, both overtly and covertly.

Bicker is not a measure of one’s self-worth. It sounds paradoxical and even unappreciative of me to say, but when people told me how I’m still such a cool person or really awesome after I didn’t get in, it almost made it sound like because I didn’t get into an eating club, I was expected to be doubting this about myself. I know they don’t mean that at all. Here I am sounding like an jerk who doesn’t appreciate her friends’ kind words and again, and I can’t stress enough how much I value other people caring about me. I was so moved I cried, let’s not forget!

One’s eating club is important to a lot of people, and a lot of people love it. To undermine the importance of a tight, caring community–and really anything that anyone cares deeply about–would be wrong, and if you think that’s what I’m trying to accomplish here, you’ve got it all wrong. I’m not saying you shouldn’t care about your eating club, because you should do whatever the heck you want. I just want to do my part of clearing up a little corner of this apparently common misunderstanding that your eating club–or, come to think of it, any manufactured social organization, or lack thereof–is a reflection of your character. If anything, you are reflection of it. You are its representative. Moreover, you are you, and only you can decide what that means.