My parents delivered me at college with the helpful advice to study hard, get good grades, have fun and be careful. At least, I imagine they did.
My memory of that day is vague.
We drove four hours to my first day as a university student at a school I had never seen before. A school I had chosen for three reasons. First, I had applied and been accepted; second, it looked okay in the college guidebook, and third and most importantly it gave me a scholarship. Academic scholarships used to be much less competitive. I thought I had earned that money. I believed I was smart, but I have no idea why.
My high school grades and scores were merely okay. I exhibited no particular talents or skills and I was not much of a scholar. My greatest asset at that time was the ability to wear a mask on a daily basis that hid overwhelming feelings of shyness.
I had that mask on tight as I approached college. Confident incoming first year students were supposed to be calm. How to Survive your Freshman Year was not published until 2004, many years after it would have been of any use for me. There were no roommate questionnaires or freshman orientations. There was just a large group of eighteen year old semi-adult children moving away from home and pretending to be absolutely ready to be on their own. At least, I was pretending.
My parents trailed along behind me as I checked into my dorm and gave my social security number to a million people. I didn’t think about my parents. I didn’t think it was hard for them to have their youngest child leave home. I didn’t think about missing them. I certainly didn’t think about them missing me.
I was assigned a room in a dorm suite with five other girls. Four of them were third year students who were already friends. My roommate had already moved in before I arrived. We tentatively introduced ourselves. We nodded and smiled.
We never spoke again.
I don’t really know why. In retrospect I think we were both under-socialized and shy. I know my mask was covering a myriad of insecurities and fear. I was too determined to blend in my new environment to question what was under her mask.
We lived together without interaction in a tiny little room the size of my kitchen table. Industrial carpet, plywood desk and chair, metal bed frame with a very thin mattress.
I’d like to say I learned how to take care of myself at school. That I learned how to talk to people, go to class, find myself and engage in intellectual pursuits.
I would like to say I learned how to be an adult.
But none of those things are true.
After four years of trying, I managed it. Sort of…off and on…sometimes.
College was a long time ago. I held several jobs since then. I got married, raised children, took care of a family and home, formed relationships, paid bills, planned events, bought food and helped with homework.
I’ve been good at some of this. I learned how to listen carefully when people speak to me. I’ve learned how to see conflicts from different perspectives. I’ve learned from my kids about fierce and protective love.
But I realized recently, that I still haven’t learned how to always take of myself. Instead, in the many years since college, I’ve learned it is okay to let other people step in. They can help take care of me and I can help take care of them. We don’t need to do this alone.
I wonder if my freshman roommate has taken this long to learn this lesson.
Sometimes self-care requires a partner.