“The present is never our end. The past and the present are our means, the future alone our end. Thus we never actually live, but hope to live, and since we are always planning how to be happy, it is inevitable that we should never be so.” – Blaise Pascal
Comparing my imagined freshman year to my actual experience is like comparing a five-star restaurant to McDonalds. The word “disappointment” doesn’t quite describe the aching gap that only reality can punch through your stomach. I wish I could say the problem was a bad roommate, a failed exam, or even the butchered attempt to chat up the sexy boy in my mythology class (trust me, that was a mess). But unfortunately, I was the problem.
Horribly misguided self-expectations made college seem like a landslide of imperfection. In high school daydreams, I developed the myth of Anna 2.0. I thought I would shrug off the plain-old high school me and emerge from the Bishop Guertin High School cocoon a drop-dead gorgeous party-animal taking campus by storm.
I would never flirt with the cute boy next to me in World History but I’d offer myself grand consolations. It’ll be fine in college. I’m going to talk to all the boys. Actually, I’m ONLY going to talk to boys. That’s it. It’s the womanizer life for me.
I lied to myself big time. Here’s the truth: Boys are still terrifying in college. And worse, they’re even more handsome and charming. The first time a boy talked to me, he turned his chiseled jaw line my way and told me to not dare cut the sandwich line. I fell in love with him anyway.
Instead of writing notes in my Biology class, I’d imagine myself as the mitochondria of every college party (get it?). By then, I’d look like Beyoncé and show up to parties with boys on each arm. I refused to believe that I would spend my weekends like I did in high school: eating, reading, eating, doing homework, watching TV, and eating. But after a few college parties of making sole eye-contact with my red solo cup and living up to my wallflower reputation, a lot of weekends were spent in the judgment-free zone of my bed.
So folks, pity past me. Naïve baby Anna really did believe that she would be different in college. Just like that. I thought I’d become a whole new person. Brave. Sexy. Noticeable. I want to be perfect now, damn it. I’m a millennium baby after all. The need for immediate gratification is the plague of my generation.
The myth of nerdy, chubby girl-turned-Beyoncé is specific to me, but I think we all develop faulty self-expectations. We imagine that in the future, we’ll be superhuman versions of ourselves: prettier, smarter and more charming. We won’t make the same mistakes or be quite so shy. We’ll finally say the right things at the right time and have the right friends. We’ll just be more.
The summer before college, all you want is a three-second, complete makeover of whoever you were in high school. Go in you, and come out with Scarlet Johansen’s body and Julia Robert’s charisma.
But starting college is like drinking a whole bottle of Smirnoff (yeah, I’m making a simile about drunkenness. Sorry, mom). Sure, you may seem different. Maybe you’ll be a little more bold and courageous and a whole lot louder at the end of the night, but beneath all those layers of vodka, sweat and YOLO, you’re still you.
I was still the terrified, slightly chubby girl who had fallen in love with too many fictional characters and made UNSETTLING jokes about the kind-of-cute Dunkin Donuts cashier (wedding rings can’t stop love).
If I learned nothing else from my first year (I don’t remember much from class), I realized that I didn’t have to trade who I was for a good college experience. In fact, my Anna 2.0 attempt should have come with a “kids, don’t try this at home” label. What really needed to change was my expectations and perception of myself.
Isn’t it weirdly both beautiful and horrifying that you are the only person who can make yourself unhappy? That the one person who has ridiculous expectations and holds onto wildly inappropriate hopes for yourself is you?
Maybe my ramblings won’t convince you. I mean, we’ve all grown up hearing clichéd pieces of advice to love ourselves. But just wait for the first time your new friends make fun of you for seven minutes straight instead of pity laughing your bad joke. Wait for that blue-eyed boy to crack up at your horribly misplaced joke about eating a miniature pony in the vegetarian option sandwich line. Wait for that first feeling of triumph after getting back a paper you ace.
My long-awaited “good” college experience was made up of little moments in which I finally felt seen and comfortable as the girl-in-shambles I am.
So my New Year’s resolution is late, but much needed: Stop being so hard on yourself. Steal it if you like.