Learning to Be Okay with Being a Square Peg in a World of Round Holes

Life is like one of those “Choose Your Own Adventure” novels. With each turn of a page, you unsteadily navigate your way through its every twist and turn, up and down, and all other possible directions in between, even in directions that you may never even have known to exist before. There’s an infinite number of directions you could go in and infinite paths you could find yourself going down, yet despite all of those chances, you inevitably end up at your final destination on the final page with no way to turn back time and change the decisions that led you there, often leaving you with that dreadful array of ‘what if’s. What if I had said hello to that one person I passed on the street? What if I had turned right instead of left? What if I had done x and y and z? The list is endless. Now, you might be thinking, what the hell does this have to do with fraternities? But bear with me. We’re all a part of the same social sphere, but we walk around in such a way that intertwines us in an intricate and sticky web. One step in one direction and we’re stuck to one string. Then a step elsewhere and suddenly our paths are changed because we’re now stuck to a different string.

 

When I was applying to college, I specifically remember being disappointed that Kenyon College had Greek life, unlike most of its other liberal arts competitors. I wanted to be as free as possible from that sticky web that had followed me my entire life. I craved a world where I wouldn’t be defined by what groups I was in and what groups I wasn’t. However, fast forward a few months, and there I was at my arrival on campus at Kenyon, a small school in rural Ohio with seven national social fraternities, one national sorority, three local sororities, and one service fraternity more commonly referred to as a society.

 

The media had fed me countless images of beer-sloshing, red-solo-cup-bearing, young adults stumbling their way through these four allegedly glorious years that were college. I was told I’d be making lifelong connections with my sorority sisters, spending a lot of my time in fraternity houses, getting way too wasted, all while simultaneously reading too many books and balancing good grades. I had seen these images so frequently over the years that I had come to internalize these images and that was no one these would be the best years of my life. It’s what I had been told my entire life, and I never questioned it until my older sister went off to college.

 

The insider view I had received from my older sister was disorienting. She went to a larger university and was in a sorority where she even proudly bore the title of ‘pledgemaster’ one year. For the most part, I guess I could say that most of the sisters seemed happy—but it was an eerie happiness. From the outside, everything seemed forced and superficial. They pasted their Greek letters across their chest like a brand, and they paid their dues as if they were renewing the lease on their lives. My times visiting my sister in college were riddled with off-brand versions of those images I had seen on all forms of media. To sum up my experiences visiting my sister: the summer before my sophomore year of high school while visiting her, I got so cross-faded from the drugs and alcohol she forced on me that I blacked out, threw up in the street, and passed out in a bathtub. My sister chronicled the night on Snapchat, which I discovered to my dismay the morning after. I was absolutely mortified. She always pushed me to my limits because she wanted people to think I was cooler than I was, just as she and her sisters pushed one another and their pledges to their limits. All of the sudden, this sorority dream shattered before me. I couldn’t see myself becoming molded into a plastic replica of a group of girls. It wasn’t who I thought I was.

Regardless of the presence of Greek life at Kenyon, I still hoped this was going to be the beginning of the best four years of my life. Kenyon’s Greek life is definitely not like most others, so I thought I had found the perfect medium where whether or not we chose to be a part of the Greek life web it had no consequences on our social lives. However, just because the Greek life here is different than elsewhere, at the end of the day, it still exists and has some weight on our social lives.

 

My freshman year at Kenyon, I became friends mainly with guys. I naturally gravitated toward their laidback aura, and I always felt the most relaxed when around them. I did everything with them: binge-watched Netflix, napped in their rooms, cried to them, honestly everything. We spent a lot of our nights out together at one specific fraternity on campus. So when Rush Week inevitably came around, their decision to rush that same fraternity came as no surprise. But as they went off to spend every second with what would come to be their future brothers, I realized I was being left behind. I had invested my entire year in these guys, and now I had no girls to talk to, no one to room with next semester, and my only friends were joining a group I wasn’t allowed to be in. Naturally, I was encouraged by many to rush their counterpart sorority. My immediate response to that was absolutely no. I wasn’t the sorority kind of girl! But after some time I warmed up to the idea because I had been lacking a strong female community in my life and I had a dire need to be a part of something again.

 

So I went through the rush process for a sorority, but when I wasn’t invited to that sorority’s invitation-only final dinner at the end of Rush Week, I was devastated. I broke down in tears when I realized I hadn’t been chosen to be a part of this group. It especially stung because this group was the one group that I was told by so many that I belonged in and that I was meant to be a part of. My boyfriend at the time, who was a member of the fraternity my close friends were all rushing, was livid that I wasn’t chosen and my other fraternity friends (rushes and actives) seemed disappointed their friends didn’t approve of me. I honestly felt as if I had catastrophically failed at something. I wanted to be welcomed by a group of girls so strongly that getting a bid seemed like my last chance to be part of a community. Not receiving a bid made me believe that I would never be accepted by anyone. I watched as my other friends received their bids, and while I couldn’t have been happier for them, I still spent a good portion of the week in tears, feeling defeated and unwanted. There are days that I still think about what might have happened if I had received a bid from that sorority. What if I had turned left instead of right? What if I had done x and y and z?

But, Rush Week was just the beginning. As the pledging process began, I slowly began to be able to hold my head high again. I started to remember who I was and how I strongly detested defining myself by what group I was a part of and what group I wasn’t. As I came to embrace my sorority rejection, my best friends went on to pledge their fraternity, and everything began to change for the worst. Their days, nights, and weekends seemed to be occupied entirely by fraternity obligations. We went from doing everything together to nearly nothing at all. Even things as simple as meals changed because they were only permitted to eat at their fraternity’s designated table in the dining hall. It felt as if I had lost all of my friends, and suddenly it felt as if I were a first-semester freshman all over again, struggling to find a place to sit in the dining hall and people to hang out with. My friends were there one day, and then the next day, they weren’t. It was as quick and easy as that. For a long time, I resented that fraternity because I genuinely felt as if they had robbed me of my security and happiness.

 

Time passed and the freshman pledges slowly got the life drained out of them during the pledge process. Day by day, my friends walked around looking more and more like zombies. They were sleep-deprived, overworked, and seemingly miserable. All Greek life organizations publicly state that they do not haze, that they do not believe in the principle of hazing, and that they will not stand for anything that resembles hazing, but we all know that to be false no matter what school you attend. And, sure, I guess there is one thing to be said about enduring tough acts together in order to build a “stronger bond,” but at what point does a rite of passage become too much? In order to gain a stronger bond with their fraternity, I lost the bond I had with my best friends, and I often think about how things could’ve been different. My friends tried to attach themselves to multiple strings and ended up indirectly severing ties to the previous strings they were attached to.

 

How easy is it to consciously detach and attach ourselves to and from impossibly sticky strings? How much of a choice do we truly have in the place we fall on the web? When I think about this, I often find myself rolling the saying ‘a square peg in a world of round holes,’ over and over again in my mind. It’s easy for things to appear as two-dimensional, as nothing but a bunch of like-minded, same-shaped pegs blindly navigating the world. But, in reality, no two people can fit into the same hole, no matter the shape of their peg. We try to fit ourselves into these holes, constraining our bodies and our minds to fit the shapes. But do those holes even exist? Or are they just conjured up in our imaginations? Aren’t we all ever-evolving pegs just staring at imaginary holes that we’ve created all on our own? Regardless of the answers to these questions, I’ve realized I never want to fit into just one peg and be attached to a string that pulls me away from my other beloved strings. I’m simply tired of trying to squeeze myself into unimaginably tight boxes that don’t fit me and I never want to forget again that I want to be my own person inside and outside the gates of Kenyon.

Image Credit: Feature, 1, 2, 3