"Why are you so excited about a duck living in the hall?” I asked. My boyfriend’s roaring laughter annoyed me. He had finished telling me what the noise was outside his dorm room and I didn’t see the big deal.
“Why is this so funny?” I asked again. “It’s just a duck.”
“No, it’s a duck in a frat-house. Shenanigans! That’s good stuff,” he said.
I still didn’t get it. It made perfect sense I wouldn’t get it, either. Conversations like this had happened over the past couple months.
I first met my boyfriend in a Spanish language class at our community college. He sat in the back row and was soft-spoken.
In fact, I was oblivious to him until the day I heard him laugh. It was the sexiest, best laugh. I approached him and he was so damn shy. Over the next year, I kissed him first, initiated sex first, and said, “I love you” first. Pick any scenario and that’s how it happened, but it didn’t bother me. People say nice guys don’t win, but he was a sweet, thoughtful guy, and I fell in love with him.
Then, he joined a fraternity.
My boyfriend studied computer science, ate chicken strips exclusively, and drank chocolate milk. Every sexual experience was mind-blowing to him due to his inexperience (this was a confidence-builder for me -- bonus!). I loved that nerdy, sweet guy. It was a shame he didn’t like himself.
“I don’t want to be a chicken-shit little boy anymore,” he said, when I asked why he wanted to join a fraternity. When did he become so self-conscious? I never perceived him as insecure, just introverted.
We didn’t see eye-to-eye on the issue. He struggled with a need for acceptance into this frat-house brotherhood thing, and I feared our relationship would end. I was insecure and vulnerable because I started to suspect his true personality differed from the man I loved.
“Why do you hate fraternities?” he asked.
“I don’t hate them,” I said. “I don’t think they’re crazy, hostile places, but yeah, they can promote shitty activities. Look at the media coverage on campus assaults and hazing. Fraternity chapters are closed all the time for doing reprehensible crap.”
The fights continued through summer and picked up speed as the semester approached.
“Explain what’s so great about joining?” I asked again as we ate lunch.
“Babe, I’ve told you a hundred times! I need to be comfortable around people; I’m a computer nerd and a social freak,” he said, dipping a breaded chicken strip into ranch dressing.
“No, you’re not. You’re great, but you want to join a frat house at the price of ritual hazings and public humiliation. That’s weird,” I argued.
“Yes, but I’ll finish the initiation, and then go to socials and meet people.”
“Sorority girls, you mean,” I said, stealing his French fries.
“I’d never cheat on you,” he promised.
We both transferred to University. He joined the fraternity, and I lived in upperclassmen housing with an exchange student from Japan. I figured he’d hate being a frat boy once he completed pledge week.
When he showed me a picture of his initiation, I was pissed.
“Oh come on, babe. It’s part of the deal,” he said, and rolled his eyes.
“You’re strapped to a chair without pants or underwear! I’m looking at a picture of my naked boyfriend, who has a 40 ounce beer duct-taped to each hand,” I said, tossing the photo at him.
“I know!” He said, laughing. “Bastards wouldn’t take the tape off until I drank both bottles.”
“That isn’t funny. Hazing sucks!” I shouted.
“It’s tradition,” he argued. “You’re uptight.”
I noticed his speech change. Every sentence ended with either “Hells yeah, bro” or “Fucking-a, dude.” He refused to miss a party that was fraternity / sorority exclusive. That made me prickle. Since I wasn’t in a sorority, I was too busy working and studying to go, and I knew everyone drank and had sex. I never asked him not to go because I trusted him.
I expected drinking, and I drank too, but my boyfriend developed a beer gut in one semester. Sloppy drunk conversations took place every weekend, after which he puked in his room. I visited his place once and saw a half-eaten, three-day-old steak on a paper plate under his bed. Cigarettes lay next to his computer keyboard.
We lived at different speeds. He criticized I didn’t attend enough parties, and I protested vodka-and-vomit-filled weekends.
“We used to hike. We liked to see bands play,” I complained, getting ready for work. He stopped by my dorm room when he noticed I hadn’t returned his calls. “Now you binge drink and act like a degenerate. That’s what your fraternity does and you think it’s so great.”
“That’s way uncool. We fundraise too. We help people!” he defended.
“Of course you do, babe,” I said, grabbing my purse from the chair. “It’s the primary reason guys join a fraternity – philanthropic endeavors.”
“Give me a break. It’s good for networking after college, and for showing leadership. It’s a family; we’re loyal to each other,” he said.
He took my arm and kissed me, but it felt different now. I wanted us back, but our relationship seemed hopeless.
I pulled away. “Networking and loyal relationships, huh? Complicated handshakes that last 8-minutes and pledge secrets you won’t share with me. Also, what leadership skills are you referring to exactly? You’re not managing the house treasury,” I snapped. “You talk about friendships and school spirit, yet I’ve watched your buddies antagonize rival frat-houses. I bet you’d beat each other’s assess out of boredom! You act so different, and now I question what you do at those damn parties!”
I slammed the door before he could respond and drove to work.
That Friday night I agreed to stay at his place after he left dozens of texts and voice messages. In spite of our fights, I still loved him. He left to buy our favorite take-out food when one of his fraternity members knocked on his door.
“When is he coming back? I need the newest video!” he said.
“Which video?” I asked, looking at my boyfriend’s movie collection.
His friend described the video in explicit detail. He said he needed it now because he had a naked sorority chick in his bed. She was spread-eagle and willing to act out every scene they watched together in that video.
He had no problem sharing this with me, and no, I didn’t catch his name.
“And you think he has this video?” I asked.
“Hell yeah, he does. He downloads the best stuff. Dude’s the fucking porn king of the fraternity. Tell him I need it!” he said, leaving the room.
So, my boyfriend used his computer skills to help his popularity in the fraternity house. Neat.
We broke up after that and not because of the porn thing. No, we broke up three weeks later because he had sex with the sorority chick who performed film reenactments.
I don’t blame the fraternity, not its general existence or its members. The environment provided a prime spot for him to do what he wanted to do. He was successful, so good for him.
Yes, he lost me when I didn’t forgive him for cheating, but he didn’t love me, so I’m sure he was fine. A few months later and I was OK with it too. I didn’t want to play prison warden or babysitter to his shenanigans and he didn’t want to join my book club.
My grades improved when I stopped worrying about his nonsense and I traveled abroad to study French. After college he landed a leadership position in tech support and stayed in-touch with his fraternity brothers via Facebook.
When friends as if I oppose fraternities and sororities I say, “If it sounds like a good idea to someone, they can join! If they’re in a relationship and just one person joins, good luck to them both.”