When I was 11 years old, I went to summer camp for the first-time. This wasn’t your average YMCA “let’s get rid of the kids for the day ”camp but one of those overnight experiences where parents drop their children off in the middle of nowhere for a few weeks, leave them in the care of a bunch of 19-year-olds and hope that their kid will come back to them as better-equipped human beings, or at the very least, alive. Fortunately for my parents, I came back as both. For the next five summers, I’d return home from camp to the ‘burbs as this totally confident and independent young woman – the kind of girl that Beyoncé would love to sing songs about – and try to hang onto that feeling for the rest of the year. That was the hard part.
Here’s some life advice that I gleaned as an expert summer camper:
1. Sometimes The Unattractive Guy Is The Better Choice. When I was 15 years old, I met Jonah*, also 15. My first impression of Jonah was that he was a troll. Okay, he wasn’t so horribly disfigured that he belonged underneath a bridge, but he definitely didn’t turn my crank. That didn’t stop him from pursuing me hardcore though. No, I couldn’t shake this defiant troll no matter how much shade I threw his way. Whether it was during meal times or campfires, Jonah would always find a way to sit beside me and crack jokes, or laugh out loud at my dry one-liners. He even had a nickname for me: Spaz. Sure, it wasn’t very complimentary (fitting though because I did freak out a lot with bugs and other outdoorsy shit), but whenever he’d call me that, he would do so with a twinkle in his trolly brown eyes. The guy freaked me out. Why? Because he liked me too damn much and I didn’t know how to handle it since a) I was emotionally immature and b) I still wasn’t attracted to him.
One night Jonah and I were walking back to our tents from a campfire. We were goofing around and suddenly he scooped me up in his arms and ran towards the lake: he was going to lake me (for non-campers that means to throw someone into the lake against her will. This happened to me a lot). But Jonah lost his balance and we went rolling down the hill instead with me landing on top of him in a precarious position. That’s when it hit me (along with his boner): I liked Jonah! The troll! And actually, the more Jonah and I connected as friends, the more I became physically attracted to him. By the end of the summer, I thought he was smokin’ hot.
Though our chaste romance was short-lived, my time with Jonah still resonates with me now in the dating world. Admittedly, I’m usually an Amanda Seyfried—kinda-girl who’s gotta “feel it” in the vagina first, but if a guy makes me laugh, asks me tons of questions and is obviously digging me, then I’ll give him a shot.
2. Some Girls Are Bitches And Some Are Not. As much as I would love women to all “lean in” together and synchronize our periods, we can be pretty fucking mean to each other. Case in point: a frizzy-haired girl Francie, with whom I bunked during my first year at summer at camp. She was a straight-up twat, so I’m using her real name. For some reason, Francie didn’t want me to become friends with Stephanie, another girl in our cabin. Apparently Stephanie had arrived five minutes before I had or something, causing Francie to claim dibs on their friendship using the old “Finders Keepers” law. Francie’s tactics included saying disparaging things about my appearance – from my clothes to my teeth to my body – while always complimenting Stephanie. Placement was also important to Francie as she always sat beside Stephanie at meal times and made sure that I was at the far end of the table, furthest from them.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t hurt by all the bitchiness, but I would go off on my own or join other campers and try to make the most of my time at camp. After a few days, Stephanie grew tired – and a little leery – of Francie’s overbearing ways (“I think she’s gay for me,” Stephanie confided to me later). She apologized for what went down and we ended up becoming good friends for a while, even attending camp together for a couple more summers.
The thing is, even as an adult, I’ve met my fair share of Francies, and I’m okay with that. I’ve realized that for every Francie who doesn’t like me, doesn’t “get me,” there is always another Stephanie who does. Haters gonna hate, so you might as well appreciate the ones who don’t.
3. Let Your Freak Flag Fly. Even though I went to dance class for ten years, when it came to school dances, I was a wallflower. But I was the worst kind of wallflower because I was secretly dying inside to bust a move to “Funkdafied” so hard that it hurt. That all changed at a camp dance when I was 13.
Camp dances are fun. Usually there is a theme that’s announced at dinnertime and campers and counselors spend the next hour trying to come up with something cool to wear (which often includes a variation on a garbage bag). After sticking some twigs in our hair, my friend Stephanie and I went to the dance. Stephanie was not a wallflower. The minute we walked in, she was already hoofing it like Janet Jackson. I strayed behind, like I often did at dances, but then a counselor took my arm and led me to join her dancing circle, encouraging me to dance as weirdly and awkwardly as I wanted to. As I watched the others do terrible renditions of the running man, I realized it wasn’t about looking the best or having the right moves, it was about just having fun and, most of all, doing you. I dived into that dancing circle with my best Achey Breaky Shaky and I never looked back. Now you can’t get me off a dance floor if I hear a beat that gets my groove on. This is pretty much my philosophy for all things in my life that I long to do but haven’t yet experienced: if the rhythm’s gonna get you, let it.
*Name has been changed.
Brianne Hogan is a freelance writer living in Toronto, Canada. Brianne once won the Ding-a-Ling award on her camp canoe trip for falling down the same boulder twice while portaging. She never went canoeing again. You can follow her on Twitter.