When I tell people that I was in a sorority in college (which is admittedly pretty rare), they assume I'm the type of person who refers to 100 people as my "sisters."
Instead, I was the one who would fall asleep during initiation ceremonies, roll my eyes when we'd recite our little chants (or whatever you call them) at our weekly meetings, and would declare "uh, actually, I only have one sister" on a regular basis.
I proudly called myself the black sheep. "I joined a sorority so that I can talk from experience about what I hate," I'd tell others. "You know, kinda like visiting Texas."
Behind my laugh was something a little deeper, though. To explain, I have to walk you through the notoriously brutal sorority rush at Indiana University. The year was 1989. I was a small-town Ohio girl, 18 and naïve and totally in over my head. While other girls around me were preparing recommendation letters (!), buying special rush outfits that screamed "I have money" and scoring invites to sorority house lunches before rush, I figured I'd sail through unscathed. I didn't realize until later that only one-third of us parading through the mansions lined up on Greek Row would get into a house.
The first round was a whirlwind. I distinctly remember sitting inside one of the fancier houses on campus, where the sorority member who was "rushing" me gave me my coat after a painful conversation where I knew I wouldn't fit in with the all-blonde, all-rich members. When she handed me my red coat, I looked at my medium blue dress and made a lame joke about how much I clashed, saying something about how I could teach kids about primary colors with my outfit (all I needed was yellow!). Her look of disdain said it all.
When I was cut from that house, I had a healthy chuckle over it. But I lost my sense of humor after the next round, when I steadily began being cut from house after house. "I feel like such a loser!" I remember sobbing to my mom. I wasn't alone — lots of collective tears were shed to moms on the other side of phone lines, and some girls on our floor even transferred schools after rush was over.
When the dust had settled, I decided to join a house that hadn't been on my radar at the outset of the madness, but where I loved how laid-back everyone was. (I make it sound like my choice, but in reality out of 21 I only had four to choose from in the end.) It was one of three newer houses that were still housed in dorm buildings, a far cry from the gorgeous mansions of other houses.
Once I joined, I never had an easy time of it. It could simply be that the sorority rituals would have seemed silly to me no matter what house I'd joined. After all, growing up without religion made it hard for this girl to extract any meaning out of ceremonies. But if I'm being totally honest, there was something a little deeper. At the risk of sounding completely snobby, I'll just admit it: I thought I was too cool for my own house. Not necessarily the people within the house, who were filled to capacity with amazing women, but just the house reputation itself. (And if it sounds like I need to get over myself, you're probably right. However, you also have probably never gone through IU rush!) I envied those girls in my pledge class who were able to embrace our house like I wished I could, but I just wasn't feeling it. I made some great pals, don't get me wrong, but let's just say I wasn't proudly parading my letters around campus.
They say a sorority is a lifelong bond, but that was just another thing for me to guffaw at — until recently. Thanks to the Facebook explosion, I've reconnected with some of my favorite people in the house, and I got to see them while on my book tour in Denver and Chicago last week. As I chatted with Meghan, Bonnie, Jan, Debbie, Julie, and Paula — all of whom I hadn't seen in years — I was in awe of how we were able to just pick up as if no time had passed. In a way, I wasn't surprised — they are some of the warmest, funniest, and coolest girls I've known — but there was a distinct difference than just re-connecting with someone from high school or from my freshman-year dorm floor. After all, we'd lived through a particular shared experience together, and, imagine this black sheep's surprise when I learned it did in fact create this lifelong bond. It was a fitting realization to have during a book tour for a female-friendship book, that's for sure.
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Here are some of my favorite IU girls: Jen, Anne Marie, Ann, Meghan, plus me (I thought this picture of me with a super-loud shirt was appropriate given my love of color clashing!)
As I was flying home, I realized one thing we've always had in common, one thing that made me favor the house during rush over others in the first place: we definitely don't take ourselves too seriously. And to this day, I guarantee that if I made a lame joke about how my blue dress clashed with my red coat, they would get it (and maybe even offer me a yellow scarf to complete the image!). It may have taken me 20 years to understand what this whole sorority thing was really about, but better late than never.