Last week, Julie and I were sitting at lunch, talking about Marxism and the Defenestration of Prague, probably. Graduation came up, as it does a lot nowadays, and Julie made a point that stuck with me.
“Life just isn’t a movie montage,” she said. “Starting college, studying abroad, having a boyfriend, getting a job… it’s all just going to be regular life. And sometimes regular life sucks.”
Now, I’d like to pause here and just say that I fucking love movie montages. A spiteful duo can become fast friends. A quirky high school girl finds the perfect prom dress, and also tries on a monkey suit and a coconut bra, probably. The ragtag sports team with a history of yelling at each other on the court/field/ice gets better. Montages leave you with a cohesive, emotional, relatively simple story. They rock really hard.
After my lunch with Julie, I thought back to my first couple of weeks at college—sitting on my squeaky dorm-room bed and waiting for the most exciting chapter of my life to begin. Whether I realized it then or not, some part of me really did believe that my life was about to become a movie montage.
Spoiler alert: It didn’t.
But let’s take a closer look at some college montages, shall we?
The “College Party” Montage
Red SOLO cups clutched in the hands of laughing, young, attractive people everywhere. [Insert Fraternity Name Here]’s luxurious pool deck is packed. The Pursuit of Happiness—Steve Aoki remix, obviously—bumps from the DJ stand. The DJ is unstoppable, meaning he mostly plays the Pursuit of Happiness remix and the Heads Will Roll remix on intermittent repeat. Two lines of people play flip-cup in the corner, in slow motion to emphasize how much fun they’re having. No one’s puking in the corner or crying in the bathroom. When the song crescendos, everyone jumps in the pool, again in slow motion.
I’m not going to lie to you here—college parties can be pretty fucking fun. Sometimes it even feels like you’re the slow-motion uber-attractive flip-cup team. But sometimes the party sucks. Maybe you feel dizzy and a little sick from that last swig of plastic-bottle vodka, or uncomfortably sober in a crowd of slurring people. Maybe you didn’t really want to come to the party in the first place, but the friend who dragged you there is making out with some guy by the pong-table and you don’t want to leave her there alone. Maybe there is no party, because you’re a freshman, and three of your friends came over to split a water bottle full of rum but now you’re tired and kind of just want to watch Netflix.
College partying isn’t for everyone, and it certainly isn’t for everyone all the time. Sometimes it’s going to suck, and it’s okay. That’s what cheesy fries are for.
The “Winter Break” Montage
It’s five weeks of snowy, winter-wonderland. You spend all your time skiing with your best friends and baking with your mom. (She’s endlessly happy to have you home, and never once tells you to get your ass off the couch.) There’s nothing to worry about. Seriously, nothing. You read every book on your list and catch up on all the TV your roommate’s been telling you to watch since August, and you definitely don’t wish that second semester would just hurry up and start already.
I don’t think this montage has ever existed in movie form, as it would actually be outrageously boring to watch, but it has played in my head before every single one of my Winter Breaks. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had some seriously magical winter vacations. But I’ve also noticed that I tend to get pretty anxious during those 5-week stretches between semesters. My family gets really sick of me by the end, and my mom always starts reminding me of how much lower the grocery bill is when I’m at school. (This year I started buying my own groceries—I get it, Mom.) A month is a long-ass time to bask in vacation glory. Somehow I’m always relieved when it ends.
The “Finding College Love” Montage
You meet the first week of freshman year—maybe ice skating at the stadium’s Free Skate, or studying over coffee at your favorite shop with all the Christmas lights. (He spills a little coffee on your shirt by accident and insists on taking you out to dinner to make up for it, which doesn’t make a lot of proportional sense in terms of repayment, but no one brings that up.) After a dinner date, a squished movie-viewing with his computer on both of your laps, and some silly dancing at this crazy pool party you somehow both got into, you walk hand-in-hand into happily ever after.
College dating is weird. Sometimes it seems like all anyone ever wants is sex—that’s probably what the College Party montage would tell you—but pretty soon you realize that a lot of people don’t actually know what they want. There’s this weird pressure to stay single, play the field, seduce as many as possible, etc. At the same time, there’s also this kind of pervasive idea that if you don’t find your soul mate in college, it’s the end of the road for your love life. Like we’re graduating into some apocalyptic romantic wasteland or something. (I really don’t think we are, guys.)
*Author’s Note: I did start dating a really incredible guy this year. (My mom would tell you she never thought this would actually happen. She tells me pretty often.) He’s caring and funny and smart and he listens to me even when I tell the same story seven times. Usually we do homework at the same table and drink chai teas. Unless I got him very drunk, he would probably chew glass before he danced with me at a pool party.
The thing is, these montage-ideas exist in our heads for a reason. Julie and I had absolutely no idea what college was going to be like when we posed with the wildcat at orientation. New experiences—moving to college, making a whole new set of friends, finding a boyfriend, starting a career—can be terrifying. And exhilarating. So, to ready ourselves for the unknown, we look to the montages for inspiration. But those perfect, imagined parties and winter breaks and love stories don’t exist for anyone. Our movies are all full-length and uncut.
Before I moved into my first dorm room—when college was still a montage waiting to happen—I think I truly believed that if I tried hard enough, things could be perfect. I would never drink too much or make a fool out of myself or forget to set my alarm for class. I would never fight with my friends or hurt someone by accident or feel totally and completely lost. But all of those things have happened over the last four years. And it’s okay. It’s important, really.
The weird, gritty honesty of real life never fails to surprise me. Movie montages leave out the best moments—the moments in between. The ones that make us real and messy and complex, that aren’t meant to be strung together in straight lines. The moments that don’t fit your expectations, that can’t be summed up with a tagline or even any words at all. This is not a movie montage, and it never will be. But it can be a pretty damn cool time.