A is for Academia.
In first year, the whole thing will seem a little overwhelming. TAs with knitted vests and scarves telling you the “implicit message” in your thesis is a little “deflationary” will illicit a response in you like “uh, what? I’m SO hungover.” Library books for projects will be so full of incomprehensible jargon that you’ll take it all out of context and source it wrong like “fucking academia. I don’t even LIKE this shit and always wanted to be a freelance writer/ performer.” Don’t even.
Fast-forward through three agonizing, bleary-eyed years of all-nighters, excessive caffeine, library fines and broken printers and you’ll be quoting mid-twentieth century Austrian thinkers with preambles like “to his contemporaries, despite the dated nature of his implicit classist and pre-postmodern sociological framework…” and drinking organic fair trade soy lattes in your grandmother’s beret like the best of them. And you won’t even know how it happened. You’ll just shrug and sigh quietly, much less enthusiastically resigned to the fact that you’re still going to wind up a “freelance writer” or “performer” (waitresses perform, right?) despite your liberal arts degree. And it (you) will look really, really pretentious.
B is for Booze.
Alcoholism is actually socially acceptable in university, as is a minor-to-moderate drug habit and generalized blasé air about the whole thing. Whether you spent your high school days smashing 40s in a back parking lot, eating mushrooms from your friend’s dad’s “home office” while watching Garden State, or content being the vice president of the environmental club and studying AP history until your ears bled, being an undergrad will be an adjustment. You will eventually, however (by eventually, I mean “two days later”) fall into line (i.e. start doing body shots off some chick from Manitoba and wake up confused, wearing a glow-in-the-dark body suit, surrounded by Subway wrappers and your own remorse). You’ll sit with your new friends at lunch the next day praying you didn’t send any embarrassing texts to your high school (now ex)boyfriend, talking loudly about how you think you’re drinking too much, but you won’t actually believe what you’re saying because, realistically, it’s “like, so. much. Fun” and because these are “like, the best days of your life!” Night will roll around, and you’ll do it again.
Four years later, you’ll be sitting with those same hungover friends at breakfast at two in the afternoon talking about your grad school options and wearing your grandmother’s beret to hide your tired, ashamed eyes. Everything will ache and nothing will feel like it’s within your control, and then – and only then – you will begin actually wondering to yourself whether you have a “real problem.” But you won’t say anything, this time – for some reason, it won’t seem quite as funny.
C is for Casual Sex.
Movies about university make it seem like everyone at university is literally having sex with someone all the time, usually shortly after a naked mudfight in a bathtub full of jello in the middle of a frat party with Luke Wilson and Tara Reid, or superbly drunk in some awkward situation with a pair of twins while the love of their life is downstairs looking for them and crying or something. This is really, really true for some people, but it’s really, really false for others (obviously, most people are in between and see themselves as “mostly relationship-ish things, except for that one time …”-types). It is hard to figure out just HOW common actual casual sex is once you’re here, because the most frequent casual “bang bus” riders will deny their promiscuity vehemently, while many who never, ever get laid by anyone other than themselves will claim repeatedly, graphically and much to the revulsion/horror of everyone around them that they get laid by everyone. Ultimately, whatever your stance on casual sex, you’ll probably graduate with either (or both of…) a cold, hard sense of disjunction between what TV told you about university and what real life was like or a healthy, (oh so healthy!) sense of denial about your “moral failings.” Which you don’t have, because no one knows the “whole story,” so they don’t “understand you.” Obviously.
D is for Dating.
When it occurs to you that you’re not going to stay with your high school sweetheart and probably aren’t going to a) meet the love of your life or b) maintain an acceptable amount of dignity by constantly making out with random attractive strangers for four years straight, you’re probably going to start trying to date. It might be Friendcest (see below), it might be someone you meet socially, or it might be a total random you met at the coffee shop. You’ll have some really good dates and some really awful ones (to try and turn the mortification into humor, I like to tell this story about this one time when I made like Winona Ryder in Reality Bites and went out with a 27-year-old Rogers exec who talked about his mom a lot, thought I looked like “wife material” and then sang most of Blink 182’s “new” album on karaoke before trying to slobber on me/serrate my face with his godforsaken chinstrap). Remember it all – the nice bits, the awful bits and everything in between. Twenty years from now, you can use it to make your kids uncomfortable or, hey, here’s an idea no one’s covered yet – make a mediocre six season long sitcom about it!
F is for Food.
In residence, you will subsist on various forms of carbohydrates covered in some kind of sauce and cheese. This may not be because you like it, but because literally everything else will taste like a deep fried tire. You might get fat and you might not, but either way you’ll be sick constantly and probably develop some minor variant of scurvy. When you strike out on your own, conversely, you will go through phases. Phases where you make stir-fries and eat “family dinners” with your roommates and try to have dinner parties with wine to seem classy, phase where you try to go vegan/raw/macrobiotic, and phases where you eat the same can of spicy beef (?) chilli for three consecutive meals, every day, for weeks. You’ll reach new lows, both in your weight and your self-esteem. Then your mom will send you a giant, very supportive-seeming vegetarian lasagna with a card saying “I love you, take care of yourself!” and it will all be OK for a couple weeks. Then you’ll run out of lasagna, and it will start again. The Circle of Life.
EXTRA CREDIT: F- is for Friend/Floorcest.
I attended one of the largest universities in Canada, yet literally everyone I know has “hooked up” with, dated, become conjoined at the hip with, regrettably slept with or “definitely did NOT sleep with” with someone else I know reasonably well. In fact, even despite my own staunch “anti-Friendcest” position (there’s a political party for it… look it up…) everyone I have ever dated is actually, unbeknownst to me, the high school soccer pal of my neighbour, the Vice President of the only club I ever hoped to join and actually go to the meetings for, or BEST FRIENDS with that weird guy in my poli-sci class who always smirks at me like he knows something dirty.
Anyway. My point is that it’s a small enough world that it never ceases to amaze me when people make it much, much smaller and start having sex with the person who lives fifty feet from them/ is over all the time watching episodes of Mad Men with them and making fun of the beer stains on their pyjamas. I mean, there’s nothing worse than a run in with a bad breakup than seeing him every day while you’re stressed, wearing sweats and are orange around the teeth from eating breakup depression related Cheetos, am I right? So you, “like, really shouldn’t be doing this,” right? So glad you’re NOT LISTENING AT ALL, or, even better, informing your friendcest partner that you “like, really shouldn’t be doing this” WHILE you take off your pants. It’s ok. Absolutely no one listens. Really.