Recently I took up biking. I’m not talking about the typical short jaunt from home to class to the beach and back that most Isla Vistans practice. I’m talking about the kind of long distance biking that leaves your calves burning and your butt sore in places and ways you didn’t even know were possible. Granted, I’m not really all that hardcore about it – I don’t have a special bike or a cute little spandex outfit – but I have found that it’s a fun form of cardio that’s really helped spice up my usual running, yoga. and light lifting routine. It also provides the perfect excuse for me to engage in one of my all-time favorite hobbies; people watching.
And during August, that can only mean one thing: freshmen. Whether they’re here for orientation, the summer start program, or just to tour the place, this is the height of freshmen-viewing season. Clutching their UCSB-emblazoned tote bags and frantically eyeing the fine print on their campus maps, they’re easy to spot as they walk wide-eyed through campus, pretending that the older, wistful-looking person a few paces behind them is not actually their mother or father. As I was biking back to my house the other day, I couldn’t help but be overwhelmed by their sheer numbers. They’re everywhere.
Now, I’m not going to lie. Most of us (ahem) older girls have a tendency to loathe the incoming female freshmen. The boys are easily dismissed, some of them will become friends and most of them will remain unknowns, as they spend the better part of the year playing video games in their dorm rooms and exploring the wonders of the Del Playa. party scene with the same group of guys they made friends with on their first day of orientation. But the girls, well they’re a different story.
With their nubile young bodies unspoiled by bars, beer pong, and bad pizza and their tendency to travel in male-fantasy-ready gaggles, the girls are easy to hate. Their wide eyes and obvious excitement over every new building, bike path, and beach access point clearly conveys the only information every guy will care to know about them; “I am young, I am naive, and I will worship the ground you walk on.” Forget the fact that most of these girls will end up putting out for the first guy that buys them beer. Forget the fact that freshmen as a whole make a much easier target for enterprising older guys whose ‘sweet-talk’ may not work on the more experienced older female. And forget the fact that they are indeed generally better-looking and better-rested than those of us who have three years of college life – and college-level partying – under our literal and proverbial belts. The reason most of us hate the freshman girls is the same reason we can’t compete with them when it comes to attracting the opposite sex: their inexperience makes everything – and every potentially cool college guy – seem all the more exciting. Which means we’re jealous. Very jealous. We may pity their poor decision-making skills when they sleep with a guy none of us would ever touch, but secretly we just hate the fact that he and all the other guys in his house were drooling over them from the minute they walked in.
Now, I hate to generalize, but some stereotypes are based on fact. And, in my experience, the myth of the skanky freshman girl is generally one of those. To be brutally honest, (sorry, Mom) I know it from personal experience. Freshman girls are generally pretty easy to impress, which is why most older guys love them and most older girls would like nothing more than to run them over with their crappy beach cruisers.
As I contemplated doing just that the other day, I couldn’t help but think why I harbor such enmity towards the entire population of incoming female freshmen. I know I envy them, their perfect physiques, and the fact that they still have four years of Isla Vista-level fun ahead of them, whereas I have a bit of a beer belly and just one year left. But, the more I thought about it, the more I came to realize that as much as I wanted to run them all over one by one, an equal part of me was just as happy not to be one of them.
Sure, I would love to have a flat stomach, a seemingly ceaseless stretch of college ahead of me, and the ability to ignore all of a potential mate’s flaws just because he’s old enough to buy me beer. But I would never want to relive all the bad decisions, bad fashion, bad breakups, bad friendships, and bad influences of that first year again. I would never want to have to deal with all the soul-searching that comes with being far from home when your first major crisis occurs. I wouldn’t want to have to find myself all over again. And I certainly wouldn’t want to have to go through all the time and emotional effort it took me to finally get comfortable in my own skin – little beer belly and all. Sure, being a freshman was a time of unparalleled excitement and energy, but it was also a time of unparalleled uncertainty and a whole lot of what can only politely be put as ‘learning from my mistakes.’ As I cycled on, I realized that I probably have a lot more pity than envy for the incoming freshmen girls. Or at least a healthy dose of empathy where they’re concerned.
That doesn’t mean that I will forgive one of them when she shamelessly hits on a guy I’m dating. And it certainly doesn’t mean that I want them puking all over the next party I throw. I’m very happy to keep that brand of freshman girl as far from me – and my carpets – as possible. But I don’t think I’m going to be running any of them over with my bike anytime soon. After all, they’re just freshmen. They don’t really know how to behave any better than they do. And when all is said and done, as much as I may envy them, with their flat stomachs and indiscriminating innocence, I would much rather be where I’m at now. Especially because I don’t need some desperate older guy to buy me beer anymore. So there.