Misadventures in Friendship: The Bad Sorority Experience

Photo by Dennis Magati from Pexels

In college, I pressured myself into joining a sorority.

Let’s just say that the entire experience was neither pleasant nor positive, however, I did create a strong friendship with two women who are still my dear friends today.

When my husband and I relocated from Ohio to South Carolina back in 2008, I found myself brainstorming on how to go about making new friends.

Leaving behind the friendships I’d forged during undergrad, graduate school, and my early adult life in Ohio was difficult, but I was determined to create new experiences with new friends in my new southern home.

Now, despite the fact that I had ‘said’ terrible sorority experience in undergrad, I decided to let bygones be bygones and at least attempt to mingle with the local chapter of my sorority in my new city.

I reached out to the chapter leaders via email and didn’t receive a response for weeks — which was super annoying.

The bad communication was a red flag, but again, determination kept me in pursuit.

Eventually, someone did write me back with information about the next meeting. With a great amount of hesitation, I decided to go.

When Kari Met Chelsey

When I walked into the building, I expected there to be a welcoming committee or at least a friendly greeter (you know like the Walmart Welcomers) waving with a friendly smile and extending a warm, “Hello and welcome.”

Instead, me and another woman, who was clearly a visitor as well, kind of just stood there idly not knowing what to do or where to go.

We turned to look at each other, shrugging our shoulders simultaneously, and then laughing.

“I’m Kari,” I said extending a hand, becoming my own mini welcome committee.

“Nice to meet you. I’m Chelsey,” she shook my hand and smiled.

She was short and a little stocky. Her skin was smooth and dark. Her short hair framed her round face and her rosy cheeks made her look jolly and friendly.

“I don’t know what’s going on,” she laughed, “but maybe we should just find a seat and go from there.”

Her hearty laughter was enough to make me think that maybe, just maybe, I’d met my first South Carolina friend.

Was it possible that this whole adult friendship thing wasn’t going to be so hard after all? I thought.

And while I didn’t hear it, I’m pretty sure the Universe whispered something like, “Yeah right, bitch.”

The Start of a Friendship

After that first meeting — which (surprise, surprise) turned out to be a complete clusterf*ck of rudeness and disorganization — I did not return for another event until more than a year later.

Despite this, Chelsey and I had started to forge a friendship.

She too was a transplant in South Carolina and didn’t know anyone other than the people at her new job.

I think it was this commonality that helped us start to bond because otherwise, we sure as shit didn’t have much else in common.

She was single. I was married.

I had kids. She had none.

She was from the deep south. I was a mid-west girl.

I liked using profanity. She never uttered a bad word that I can recall.

Still, we scheduled lunch dates. Went to the movies together (extremely different tastes in movies but whatever, at least I had a girlfriend to see a movie with).

I invited her into my home to hang out, introduced her to my husband, and my kids.

The point is that I was fully invested in making the friendship work.

During one of our lunches together, I told her the real story of what happened during my undergrad sorority experience. By that point in the friendship, I felt comfortable enough with her to share my story with her.

She listened intently and seemed very empathetic of what I’d been through, despite the fact that her pledging experience was NOT AT ALL similar to mine.

It felt good to share my story with her because it’s a story I only share with those in my inner circle, which I felt like she was becoming a part of.

I didn’t think anything about it again until we had our very first (and last) confrontation.

The Confrontation

To put it frankly, when it came to the local sorority meetings and events, I wanted nothing more to do with them.

Chelsey knew this. I’d told her flat out. But still, she would constantly urge me to give it another try.

Unlike me, Chelsey had continued to attend the sorority meetings and eventually got more involved with the inner workings of the chapter.

I finally gave in to Chelsey’s requests and agreed to attend a community event that the chapter was hosting in the city.

The day of the event, I felt the same old hesitation. But it temporarily melted away when I saw Chelsey as I walked through the door. At least I had one friend here, I remember thinking.

“Hey girl,” I smiled, walking up to her and embracing her with a hug as we had done so many times before.

And then, I froze. What was happening?

Let me pause for a second and quickly explain a few things about sororities:

  1. Many sororities have secret gestures/codes that are used to validate that a person is a legitimate member of the organization.
  2. Basically, there are secret handshakes and verbal cues that are used — and no, I’m not going to tell you what they are.
  3. You’re taught all of these things when you are initiated into the organization. However, in my experience, you really only use them if you are calling into question someone’s membership legitimacy.

So, imagine my complete surprise when I realized mid-embrace that Chelsey — who, just to reiterate, had been to my home and interacted with me and my family on multiple occassions — was trying to test me with one of the non-verbal “legitimacy” cues.

F*cking livid is the best way to describe how I felt in that moment.

Here I am, already stepping outside of my comfort zone by attending this sorority event, and my so-called friend basically slaps me in the face with a silent accusal of illegitimacy.

“Are you kidding me?” I blurted out when I realized what she was doing. “Are you really trying to test me?” I pushed back from the embrace to look her directly in the eyes and make sure I wasn’t mistaken.

“Uh no…no…” she stuttered, the blood noticeably flushing in her cheeks. “My…my fingers just got caught in your shawl,” she lied.

Yes, I was wearing a shawl draped around my shoulders, but NO it wasn’t made of fishing net so there was no way her fingers were caught in anything.

The only thing caught was her.

I was furious but didn’t want to cause a scene, so I excused myself from the conversation and headed to my assigned table.

Chelsey sat down sheepishly in the empty seat next to me and proceeded to try to create small talk as if our confrontation had never happened.

But irreversible damage was already done. She’d inadvertently cracked our friendship right down the middle with her actions.

After the first speaker finished, I simply could not take sitting there next to her for another hour. I coldly thanked her for the invite and left the event early.

Petty Actions and Goodbyes

That day, I blocked Chelsey from every social media account I had and blocked her number from my phone.

It was such a petty thing for me to do, but I was angry and it was all I had. What I really wanted to do was to call and cuss her completely out, but what was the use?

For me, her actions were a passive aggressive move and she basically called me a fraud, without actually calling me a fraud.

There were plenty of one on one conversations between the two of us when she could have simply asked me a few inconspicuous questions and my answers would have easily assured her about my legitimacy as an initiated member.

By that point in my life, I was waaaay beyond feeling the need to prove myself to anyone, let alone a sorority sister who was really just a faux friend at the end of the day.

I’m sure Chelsey had her own version of the story, but I cut her from my life so quickly, there was no time for her to tell it. I’d had one too many bad experiences dealing with sorority bullshit and I’d run out of f*cks to give about it.

Had the phrase BYE FELICIA been around at that time, it’s exactly what I would have said to her.

I never saw her or spoke to her again. And I was totally fine with that.

Although the experience left a sour taste in my mouth and made it harder for me to build trust with new people, I refused to give up on my quest for real friendships.

Check back soon for the next story in the Misadventures In Friendship series.

***Note: Real names of the women mentioned in the stories have been changed.***