At the great risk of surrendering any possible hope of constructing a cool and mysterious pseudo-persona for myself, I shall admit that the inception of this piece occurred at about 12am on the second night of Freshers’ Week, whilst I was sat, intoxicated, on an unforgiving toilet seat in Plush. Creativity strikes in mysterious ways. Inebriated, confused and grossed-out, I realised that I was trying way too hard to impress the freshers. And I didn’t really know why.
Everyone when they first start university wants to come off as cool, fun and interesting. I remember feeling that way when I first started but I thought I had moved past that. Until that night at Plush, I was certain that I knew who I was, who my friends were and where I was located on an intellectual level amongst my genius peers. Yet for some reason I was reliving the traumas of Freshers’ Week social anxiety all over again. I was anxious to fit in with the new crowd and even more worried about where I stood from the vantage point of the freshers in relation to my year. Do I seem cool? Do they like me? Do they prefer me to the others? This internal monologue of strife and angst ruined any chances of me making any fresher friends that night. I was neither cool, nor calm and most certainly not collected. My attempt at nonchalant nodding along to the music combined with over-zealous (and dangerous) fist pumping probably did not help a great deal. No one took up the offer to do a PG version of body shots. The visible sweat patch I was procuring under my right armpit was definitely a turn off. I had a SULA (Sweaty Upper Lip Alert.) I was aware that I was overdoing it, being too friendly, too helpful and trying way too hard but I could not help myself. I was entering into a vortex of neediness; I just HAD to be liked. In retrospect, my night at Plush was an exercise in transitioning from friendly to down right desperate. Instead of creating a new group of friends, I probably scarred my college freshers for life. That night I was not Sandy from Grease, I was Patty Simcox. The pressure of Oxford got to me that night, reminding me that sometimes it is easy to feel alone and insecure. At 1 am what I really needed was not to be liked but a pair of comfy pyjamas and a sense of purpose.
I think it would be helpful to give a brief account events to illustrate my point. On entering Plush with my college kids in tow, I immediately took them to the bar to buy their love and affection. After downing their drinks, they abruptly left me to start chatting to another group of freshers. Left with a Vodka coke in hand, I wondered how, at the age of 19 I had become an ‘uncool’ mum. I was reserving that for my mid 40’s and was hoping to combat this sense of loss and rejection with a brilliant and clichéd mid life crisis. I felt like an outsider. I tried approaching another group. After a few minutes of small talk it was clear that they were uninterested. Clearly they did not appreciate my nostalgic musings or hilarious anecdotes – telling the story of thinking my hairspray was my deodorant is my personal favourite! Dejected, alone and looking pathetic I entered into half an hour of deflated dancing. Scanning the room I saw one of my friends dancing and joking with my college children. I felt a stabbing pang of jealousy. Are my friends funnier than I am? Do they seem more carefree and fun? My hips didn’t lie; they pathetically wiggled to the rhythm of self-doubt. My confidence was shattered and I felt pretty useless. I couldn’t even bring myself to make a cup of tea when I got home, a sure sign that I was in the midst of an existential crisis!
If you were to take away anything from this article then it would be this: that at Oxford, most people, no matter what age, confidence level or stage in their degree, are just trying to be accepted and noticed by their peers. We support and talk of equality in terms of gender, race, religion etc. and I therefore think it is equally important to not ignore, isolate or humiliate our fellow college members. At Plush I was desperate to fit in but that is only because (in my opinion) there is still an underlying pressure to gain acceptance. This pressure has been inherent in our school careers and has thus transcended into our university experience, no matter how diluted the pressure is. Oxford is synonymous with pressure and I think it is important that we all make a conscious effort to lighten this burden by supporting and perpetuating an inclusive collegiate environment. As I write now I am adding freshers on Facebook, whom I have managed (at last) to talk to, in order to let them know that they can talk to me about anything at any time. But if anyone asks… they added me.