I suppose I should divulge that I am (or was, I’m not sure how it works after you graduate) a member of a fraternity, and I turned out fine. I loved every minute of it and wouldn’t trade it for a second. Why? Because in those four years I made close, genuine connections that will last a lifetime. It was almost non-stop fun, and when it wasn’t we had a tightly knit support system to help us in times of need. Not every college student can say the same thing. The older guys mentored the younger guys, and as you grew and moved through school you did the same thing for the guys coming up behind you. It was a great environment, especially for young men on their own for the first time without direct parental supervision. Sure, a 22-year-old senior might sound awfully young to us now, but when you’re 18 and away from home there aren’t a whole lot of other sources of advice. On top of all that, what’s better than spending four years in a house with your closest college friends?
A lot of naysayers approach fraternities with the tired insult of “oh, well when I was in college I didn’t have to pay for my friends”. That’s a great way to let everyone around you know you were lame then and still have a chip on your shoulder now. I didn’t “pay” for my friends any more than you pay for yours by paying membership dues to any club or team you might belong to. In fact, I’d wager that fraternal bonds are as (if not more) genuine than those you can form independently. People seem to forget this, but fraternities (at least the good ones) are pretty damned selective. It’s not a situation where you can walk into the house and request to exchange money for brotherhood. Instead, it’s the opposite. During the rush process, existing brothers evaluate each potential new member for fit. Of course, we want to be sure that the kid is someone we’d want to be around for the next four years, but it goes both ways. It’s just as important that a new member decide whether or not the existing brothers are his kind of people. When a bid (a request for a member to pledge a fraternity) is extended, it’s a simple “we want you if you want us” situation. I’ve dealt with military recruiters pushier than that.
Another area where fraternities catch a lot of flak is in the female department, and sadly there’ve been a few high-profile incidents in the last decade that cast Greek life as a whole in a bad light. I will say that instances of sexual misconduct are not exclusive to fraternities, as it seems to be an issue anywhere cohesive groups of alpha-male types are involved (aka sports teams). Most importantly, I hope that young men of all demographics are being educated on the subject and that reforms are being put in place to squash that kind of behavior. It’s disheartening, obviously for those who are victimized but also for the huge majority of fraternity guys who have never and will never be involved in anything of the sort. I cringe whenever someone makes a quip about a girl needing to watch her drinks at a fraternity party. First of all, that’s sound advice for anyone, regardless of gender or venue. Secondly, it makes you sound like a jealous chump. Like it or not, at most colleges there are a lot of girls who prefer to hang out with, date, and yes hook up with frat bros.
In his article “5 Ways Modern Men Are Trained to Hate Women” at cracked.com, David Wong brought up several interesting points, but one section in particular stood out when I was thinking of putting this article together. Growing up, we’re reminded through virtually all forms of media that the hero always, always “gets” the girl. Because we see ourselves as the hero of our own story, if we do the right thing and make the right decisions, we feel almost entitled to the girl of our dreams. Following that, when a kid spends countless hours working to maintain a high GPA and involve himself in extracurriculars, it makes sense for him to fume when the kinds of guys he can’t stand are the ones getting all the female attention.
It makes sense, but it’s not the frat guy’s fault. I don’t care if he’s on track to graduate Suma Cum Laude with a double major, I’ve got speakers mounted in my ceiling, a handle of Burnett’s vanilla vodka, and an awesome new playlist that she totally needs to come check out. Fraternity guys have figured out that, for whatever reason, many 18-22 year old girls are into guys who are arrogant, rebellious, and just a little shady. And don’t get me wrong, it’s not all about sloppy drunken hookups at parties with girls whose names you can’t bother to remember. Plenty of fraternities find themselves building connections with sororities that have similar personalities and tastes, leading to some great friendships and real, committed relationships. A couple of my brothers have been with the same sorority girls they started dating their freshmen years. I happened to marry one this fall myself.
Fraternity guys take a lot of heat, and to be fair it really we bring it on ourselves. I mean, it’s tough being thought of as so good-looking and popular, so naturally we expect the criticism. In all seriousness though, the real benefit of joining a fraternity extends well beyond your hazy college years. It’s about the friendships you make and the network you build. I have brothers spread all over the country, and it’s comforting to know that should I ever need a job, there’s a chance the guy hiring is someone with whom I spent several late-night hours hurling empty beer bottles off of a fire escape.
My alma matter’s homecoming is this weekend, and I fully intend to muster up the energy and liver function to frat as hard as I did when I was 20. My body would probably rather sleep in and take it easy, but I’m not about to miss out on the chance to build more memories with the same guys I’ve been building memories with for the last decade.