I never had an established friend group growing up. I had a few really close confidants with whom I did virtually everything with, but I lacked the large girl gang made popular by movies like The Craft and Heathers.
By the time I got to college, I reluctantly pledged a sorority because “everyone was doing it” and quickly learned it wasn’t for me when we were required to wake up at 2 am for a rendezvous that included blindfolds and eating cake in an abandoned barn.
If it would’ve been pie, we’d probably be having a different conversation.
What I lacked in ladyswagger, I made up for in the slew of boyfriends that seemed to define my late teens and early twenties. They each represented something I was seeking at the time, and served as a talisman, protection from the unknown.
I’d been dating one aforementioned man for over a year, let’s call him P, when I agreed to shack up with five other girls for the duration of my final year in college. They were sorority sisters of a friend I’d known through playing soccer in high school.
I was beyond ecstatic about moving in with them. It’d be like my own little sorority minus the high heels and curfews, I thought. I envisioned nights in, cuddled on the couch watching trash TV and eating trashier food. They each had lovely all-American names too: Jessica, Amanda, Emily, Callie, Hannah. At one point I even blurted to P, “So we might not see that much of each other this year because I’ll have five girlfriends on the top of my priority list!”
And that’s precisely what happened. In the midst of juggling 18 credits and five new friends that fall, P and I struggled to keep our relationship afloat. I loved him, but we were outgrowing each other. In a last-ditch effort to save what we had, I’d agreed to a couples costume for Halloween. He would be Charlie Brown and I’d go as Snoopy, complete with dog collar and oversized ears dangling on either side of my face.
Yards of velvet, cotton and felt lined the card table in my basement as I violently sewed and glued pieces together for both of our outfits. The result was a mess of ill-fitting fabric, glaring under the fluorescent light, a symbol of two people in ruin.
P wore the outfit the next night without complaint and we walked hand in hand to the house party down the road. I felt like property.
We ignored each other most of the evening, and because my new roommates were in the process of recruiting new members and weren’t allowed to go out, I was eager to get back to them.
I told P I was leaving and he followed, making sure his friends knew that I was the reason for his early departure. We made it back to his bedroom. As he sat on his desk chair, I stood and told him in an authoritative tone that he wasn’t in fact, “being very nice.” He told me that I didn’t make him a priority and that it was over. As I turned to leave, he told me to wait.
I paused, thinking he would reason with me.
“Can I get my sweatpants back?” he said instead.
I started crying before I reached my front door. Those two blocks felt like miles. Tears felt down my neck, resting on the dog collar that had become so tight I unclasped it and threw it in a stranger’s garbage can.
As I walked up the stairs to my bedroom, Hannah was waiting for me at the top. I sunk into her arms, exhausted and defeated. I laid in her bed while she hurried to light candles and burn incense, doing everything she could to transform her cramped bedroom into an oasis.
Within minutes the rest of the girls joined me on the bed, one by one. I’d only lived with them for a few weeks and already here I was, raw and unadorned.
I expected them to treat me like a fragile object, tensing up as our eyes met.
Instead we laughed at the absurdity of it all, that I was still wearing a headband with dog ears attached, that P had been so level-headed as to remember that I still had a pair of his sweatpants hidden away in my closet, and that six of us fit on a single bed.
That night I lost someone I cared about, but I gained something more. It looked a lot like love.