“I know we just met yesterday, but I already know you’re going to be one of my bridesmaids!”
Four years ago, my doe-eyed pledge sister said this to me as we walked out of our new sorority house. It was a Saturday morning and we were wearing all white to participate in a new member ceremony. It was one of the most genuinely sweet things that anyone had ever said to me, but even in my excitement to become fast friends, I knew the statement was shrouded by naivete. How could one be so sure of a strong lifetime bond based on the Greek letters embroidered on our matching tee shirts?
I went through spring recruitment at the University of Florida because I saw it as a great way to assimilate into my new life as a Gator. Starting college is a spring semester was unconventional, and I was already locked into living off-campus with random upperclassmen that I had found online, as UF was not able to offer me housing on-campus with the other students my age. Generations of women in my family had raved about their sorority experiences in college, so I had high hopes that my bubbly personality and new Lilly Pulitzer dress would help me find a home and a close knit group of women to experience college with.
Within the first few days of accepting my bid, I knew I didn’t fit in with the other girls in the house. I was a lanky science geek in a sorority that seemed to place a lot of value on tiny girls with big curls and Southern accents. But I told myself to stick with it. After all, they were a top house and they picked me! Nobody was squealing when I walked into a room, hugging me close and calling me a “little nugget”, but I’d made it! I was a ZBZ!*
All through my new member education period, it seemed to become apparent to those around me that my values did not align with the majority of the other girls. It seemed as if every time I had the courage to speak, my words were met with an eye roll or a negative comment. As a result, I suppressed my naturally enthusiastic personality. In just a few weeks, I had lost my sparkle. I felt cripplingly insecure and hated the person I had become. Initiation day came, and my feelings of isolation pushed me to hide in dark corner of the house and cry. Nobody noticed. I finished off the semester, making sure to go to every Greek event and attend most of the meals served in the house in an attempt to make friends and find my place amongst my sisters.
I left Gainesville for a few months to work at summer camp, and had one of the best summers of my life. A thousand miles away from school, I proudly wore my ZBZ letters whenever I could. Because of the length of my work contract I was not able to participate in formal recruitment, but I returned to school feeling refreshed and confident in my ability to turn my sorority experience around.
Things didn’t get better that fall, they got worse. The social pressures that came with attending a SEC school during football season took a toll on me, so I started distancing myself from Greek life. The “Gators for Obama” pin I wore proudly on my Longchamp prompted my sisters to shun me, and I would sit alone at dinner while listening to them whisper about how being politically liberal was wrong. I found solace in an acting class, and thought about dropping ZBZ to discover other parts of college life that would help me be happy and confident again. On a whim, I applied and got accepted to an internship program that would allow me to move away for a semester. The excitement and relief that I felt when picturing life outside the sorority’s rules and expectations lifted a huge weight off my shoulders.
After talking to my parents and hearing their support for me leaving ZBZ, I scheduled a meeting with a member of the executive board to formally leave the sorority. She didn’t attempt to sway me or listen to why I was leaving, just handed me a contract to sign and return. The next day, I dropped it off and left the house for the final time. There were no goodbyes, just a clean break. My pledge sisters, even the one who swore I’d be part of her wedding, didn’t attempt to contact me. I spent my last month in Gainesville flying under the radar as a GDI**, and started to feel like myself again. One calendar year after joining ZBZ, I moved to Orlando and never looked back.
My miserable year as a ZBZ taught me a lot about who I am, what I stand for, and the importance of finding your own path. The extreme sadness I felt drove me to find my wings, and I have had so many amazing opportunities come my way in the past three years. What made me a freak in the sorority house has helped me find so much success in the new life I have created for myself. Giving up my letters led me to become a safari driver, improv actor, pageant director, stilt walker, stylist, show host, professional zombie, and writer. Today, I am a successful student leader at UCF with a great job and an amazing group of true friends. I haven’t had a panic attack in years, and I wake up every morning happy and excited to live my life.
Leaving my sorority was the best decision I’ve ever made. My experience is just that- my experience. I think Greek life is really great in a lot of places and for a lot of people, but it isn’t for everyone. Anyone who says that is being unrealistic. I have a lot of friends who love their sororities and fraternities, and I am so happy for them. But for me, happiness came outside the Greek system.
So what can you learn from me? Don’t let anyone or any organization dictate your life. Be yourself and don’t be sorry.
Fake smile vs real smile. Can you spot the difference?
*Obviously, I was not a Zeta Beta Zeta. A bid from ABC Family’s hit show Greek’s famed fictional sorority house would’ve been awesome! I changed the name of a very real sorority for writing’s sake, I’m not here to point fingers and I want you as a reader to remain objective.
**Derogatory term used to describe one who is not part of a Greek organization.