I never had a big pack of girlfriends. I did not have massive sleepovers with 12 of my closest friends as a little girl. I floated from friend group to friend group, always made a few close friends, but never had that Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants or Pretty Little Liars sisterhood that media made me crave.
I got my first taste of pack sisterhood at 17. At an all girls conference on Scripts college, I walked into an assigned family of 26 referred to as the City of Marshall. Amongst the 500 other girls at the event we felt like we had won the lottery. All of us were sent there to represent our schools and take part in a fake government. The concept was similar to our current political climate – where everyone should aim for individual glory and use party lines to get there. The city of Marshall opted for a different mission; to win the award for best city. That was the day we became the Marshall MadHatters. As a team we utilized everyone’s individual skills to work towards our goal. We had artsy girls draw our maps and crafty girls create decorations. As a group of girls who were all leaders in our respective schools, we surprisingly had no trouble holding space for everyone. By the end of our week at Scripts, we learned that our cooperative method had been successful. We cried as we said our goodbyes, promised to keep in touch (which a handful of us did thanks to social media) and headed to our respective towns. My first taste of TV sisterhood was short but sweet.
I spent the next two years searching for that same feeling. I wanted to be enveloped in love by a group of women who celebrated me for who I was, which is why it was no surprise to me when I rushed a sorority in spring of my freshman year. At 19 I was determined to find that sisterhood again. I went from house to house and found the one I loved by referral of a friend in the dorms. I was part of a small pledge class that was celebrated for being cute, smart and fun to take to parties. I met some of my best friends my first night in this organization. I had sleepovers in the chapter room, went to class with my new sisters, was escorted everywhere by my doting big sister – it gave me everything I wanted at the time.
After the first couple quarters the honeymoon feeling wore off. Sisterhood started to feel a lot like oppression when I was getting fined for not attending parties and reprimanded for not wanting to play by the rules. The bonds of sisterhood felt like shackles when I was being treated callously by 21 year olds who were in charge of the organization. Cliques formed and as a natural floater I was often left out. Once I started allowing a little distance between myself and the sorority, it catapulted. There was an “us” v “them” mentality picking up and I was left out of the “us”. Nothing hurt more than watching this sisterhood that celebrated me turn against me within a couple years. I wish I could say I killed them with kindness, but instead I became a mirror. I butted heads against anyone who butted heads against me. I watched my formerly celebrated opinions and leadership turn in to another reason to attack me. There’s a lot of danger in letting children run an organization of other children and I paid the price for it. By the end of my junior year I was anxious, confused and constantly doubting myself because of the way I was treated.
I ended up breaking up with my chosen sisterhood around Thanksgiving of my senior year. My final straw was asking to not be fined for missing events due to mental health reasons while trying out a new anxiety medicine. I was told by leadership that the organization might not be for me anymore so I took that as my out. Being tried for having a mental health crisis is no way to live.
Now, with time and space, I can look back and see what I learned. After leaving the sorority I lost touch with most of the girls I knew. The only ones that stuck around to see my ugly, to acknowledge my pain and keep in contact were the ones that were part of my chosen sorority family (and some of their close friends). After both of these dances with sisterhood I returned home to my best friend for over 14 years, another best friend for over 11, my older cousins, my aunties, my grandma, adopted grandparents, coworkers, my mom and teachers. From this vantage point, it’s easy to see that I’ve always had a sisterhood – it just didn’t look like the one on TV. A sisterhood is best as a salad bowl with women of all walks of life, ages, experiences and stories. A homogenous sisterhood will never last because we are constantly changing but a come as you are sisterhood has always been there for me. So to them, my salad bowl sisterhood, whether you know you’re in it or not, I want to say thank you – I’m so lucky I finally realized the magic in what I have.