Last year I wrote about rush for North by Northwestern. It was honest, uncomfortably personal, a bit sugar-coated, and, in the opinion of my editor, the best article I’d written. (I disagreed, but the comment did assuage my fears of publishing such a forthcoming article). This is the follow up story: The stuff of dramatic, never-before-seen footage, juicy updates and deleted scenes. But it also might be the most candid reflection on a process that is enormously guarded and secretive, even as you take part in it.
A short while after my “rush perspective” was published, I decided not to initiate. (Or… what was that part called? Swear in? Activate? I forget, but recall it involved a ceremony, special pins, and wearing nude underwear that wouldn’t show under a white gown.) This was not an easy decision, and although I think I knew it was coming, it was something I agonized over at length. In the end, the pros of dropping out outweighed the cons for me, and I knew that I had to do it, despite the inevitably uncomfortable and awkward nature of doing so. Because despite the many reasons for dropping out, it unavoidably feels like telling a group of people who’ve tried to welcome you into their organization that you no longer want to hang out with them.
This I foresaw, but what I could not have predicted was the grown woman with graying hair who demanded a $700 check in a closed basement-corner meeting that took place on folding chairs in a scene straight out of Greek. To be fair, this unexpected financial pressure came not from any student but straight from the scary force of Nationals. This seemingly embittered Nationals woman went as far as to say that if I didn’t pay dues for the few weeks I had lingered uncommitted, my credit could be affected. Although I (correctly) suspected this was highly unlikely, the experience was traumatic enough that I left the house practically crying, feeling guilty and harassed. I felt worst for the chapter members who sat in on the meeting with me, all of whom looked uncomfortable and were very apologetic. The incidence brought into sharp focus the fact that sororities are, at their core, financial institutions.
The hardest part about dropping out, though, was explaining my decision to the girl who had been assigned as my “pledge mom”. For those of you unfamiliar with the sorority pledging process, pledge moms are older chapter actives assigned to new members, who shower them with a rich stream of gifts, serenades, decorations and a zillion sorority t-shirts for an entire week before revealing their identity. It’s easy to imagine that this was a great week in my life, throughout which I repeatedly thought, “Well, I can’t drop out now… I guess the decision is made for me.”
But ultimately, I realized that I couldn’t let the guilt of enjoying this week and then dropping out stop me from doing so. It would be dishonest to myself, as well as to my pledge mom. In the end, when I met with her to settle all the details out, we ended up having an hour long heart to heart at Café Ambrosia, and I realized just how much I liked her. And this felt infinitely more genuine and natural than liking her for the presents she had given me.
The thing I have the most trouble with, still, is explaining to freshmen exactly why I’m not in a sorority. I want to be honest, but I don’t want to keep them from making their own decisions. I usually spin some story about not being into the ritualistic sisterhood/singing and already being so involved in a couple of organizations with fantastic built in social lives that I just didn’t need or want to pay for another one. This is the genuine truth, but its not the whole story. What I wish I could tell them was how much I hated rush and how inadequate it made me feel, not just during the process or after it but for the rest of freshmen year, the way it hung over my head for so long and reopened an old Pandora’s box of insecurities. In comparison to my first months at college, when I made new friends easily and felt more confident and happy than I had throughout most of high school, this was a huge disappointment.
These days, I’m extraordinarily happy that I’m not in a sorority. I’ve formed a wide and diverse group of friends who I truly like and enjoy hanging out with, and I know we are friends because of that, and not because of any Greek letters they or I wear on our sweatshirts. I think that if I had been more honest with myself a year ago, I would have known that I’d never really be content in a sorority anyways, and saved myself a lot of anxiety and disappointment. But I do think that I’ve grown because of the process (Destiny’s Child’s Survivor style) and I am satisfied with how things have ended up.
I’m not sure if I would say I’m glad that I rushed. While it answered some questions, it raised many more, questions that haunted me for some time. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get anything out of the experience. I’m familiar enough with the Greek system that I’ve never felt unable to relate to my affiliated friends.
But one thing rush undeniably does change is friendships. I sincerely hope that you are still idealistic enough to not believe this. But in a few months, reevaluate who you are closest to, and think of this. I’d like to think that most shifts are natural, ones that were in the works regardless of rush — and maybe the changes will be positive. But most likely, you’ll lose a friend or two.
Here’s the most important thing to know. Whether you are agonizing over deciding not to rush, stressing out over whether rushing was really the right plan, or panicking over whether or not you’ll get a bid from Theta, I can promise that it matters a whole lot less than you think. A few days ago I was listening to Ted Turner on NPR (he’s the billionaire founder of CNN) and he said something to this effect: “Gay marriage? I don’t care about gay marriage. They can do whatever they want. I want to talk about nuclear weapons. Those can kill people.” And as I was listening, I realized that this eccentric 70 year old was totally right. So, in the unlikely analogy of the century, think of sorority rush like gay marriage. While politicians and citizens across the country are obsessed with the topic of gay marriage (much like the freshmen girl frenzy over rush), it’s more symbolic than truly important. Gay marriage matters tremendously to those it directly affects, but to everyone else, it’s largely symbolic. It’s simply not a matter of life or death. While sororities seem like THE Big Deal, they just aren’t. Rush is exciting, nerve-wracking, time consuming, and sometimes disappointing — but it is by far not the end-all moment of college, much less life.
In rush, as in many things, like grades and breakups and being broke, it’s incredibly important to have perspective. Which, in a year or so, I promise will come.