It was 10 p.m. on a Saturday.
I should have been working on comps — the dreaded hurdle before graduation. Instead, I cocooned myself in bed, browsing through friends’ Snapchat stories. As I watched their nights unfold through a series of blurry selfies, I felt a sudden pang of despair — the first symptom of the shudder-inducing college illness: FOMO, or Fear of Missing Out.
“Do you think we should go out?” I asked my roommate. She glanced down at her baggy orange shirt — the one with “all in for Oxy” emblazoned across the chest —and wrinkled her nose.
“No. Do you want to?”
I did not. I had already changed into a pair of my most comfortable pajamas, fuzzy socks included, and was looking forward to a Sunday morning free from the constraints of a debilitating hangover. I had sleep to catch up on, two essays to write and a midterm to study for. I was too exhausted to rally — to sip cheap beer and make stilted conversation with that boy from my creative writing class.
As a second semester senior, I have recently found myself obsessing over firsts and lasts. With the real world beckoning, I want to capture moments I can string up across my bedroom wall — little memories that will remind me how much fun life at Occidental was. Even though the bucket list taped to my door has remained virtually untouched since the beginning of September, the idea of leaving this campus without having lived the “ultimate college experience” — whatever that means — fills me with a profound sense of guilt.
Though I rarely want to go out anymore, I also can’t help but worry that, by staying in so often, I have failed to live up to that cliché of the wild, twenty-something party girl so profoundly ingrained in college culture.
Social media only exacerbates the notion that everyone else is having fun without me. My Instagram feed, for example, is filled with curated photos of best friends laughing over bottomless mimosa brunches and pink-cheeked sorority sisters getting ready for spring formal. I would be lying if I said I didn’t engage in similar forms of deception — uploading the best version of myself in a vain attempt to prove that I am, in fact, a cool girl.
I realize how little my online persona represents reality. I fine-tune my weekends using the photo-editing application VSCO — even sweat-soaked nights in ATO’s basement can look like fun with the right filter.
FOMO keeps me glued to my phone, waiting for my followers to affirm that going out was the right choice. Every like, double tap or heart-eyed emoji reinforces the notion that I am making the most of my time at Occidental. However, as I loiter in a corner, searching for a familiar face in the crowd, I find myself wishing for Campus Safety to show up — if only to have a socially acceptable excuse to go to bed.
Pop culture would have us believe that we peak between the ages of 18 and 22, that college is a never-ending celebration of our youth and that professors don’t notice when we stumble into our 8 a.m. classes, eyes still bloodshot after a mediocre night spent huddled by the heat lamps at Block Party.
My freshman year, I wanted so badly to take advantage of my newfound independence; I imagined staying up till dawn, bed sheets wrapped around my torso in a crude approximation of a toga. I imagined flirting with cute fraternity boys at day ragers and finally mastering the art of stack cup. I fell for the rose-tinted version of college, one colored by the nostalgic memories of parents, teachers and guidance counselors.
Reality involved a lot less partying and a lot more studying. The first weekend I went out, it was with a group of animated girls I met during orientation week. We milled around an upperclassman’s parched backyard for half an hour before migrating back to the Cooler for mozzarella sticks and greasy slices of pizza.
“Is this it?” I remember thinking to myself — even as I assured my parents back home that, yes, spending four years abroad was worth the hype.
Although my Friday nights seem to blur together in a haze of top 40 playlists, I remember, with perfect clarity, the time a stranger heard my homesick sobs and stopped to comfort me in the Marketplace bathroom. I remember the moment I bonded with a girl down the hall over a packet of Milano cookies and the day that my classmate and I got matching flash tattoos on the lawn outside Herrick chapel. In truth, my best memories at Occidental were made in my dorm room, laughing with my best friends over copious amounts of mint chocolate chip ice cream.
Occidental is not always great; it is sometimes lonely, often stressful and, on occasion, even mind-numbingly boring. FOMO keeps me from appreciating the summation of these experiences: the good, the bad and everything in between. The quintessential “college experience” is shaped, not by the amount of parties we attend, but by the relationships we create with the ones we love.
When people tell us that college is the best four years of our lives, they inevitably set us up for disappointment. That’s not to say that I haven’t enjoyed my time on campus. I have. I just don’t want to reduce an entire experience to one never-ending celebration — especially since, looking back, I have made my most meaningful connections away from Occidental’s party scene.
Sana Vasi is a senior Diplomacy and World Affairs major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org