One warm Friday afternoon my senior year of college, I came home to find the two-bedroom apartment I shared with three other girls empty. The four of us lived in a complex a few miles from our private Christian university, Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego.
The balcony facing ours belonged to two guys, who we’d often see shirtless at their barbecue. One roommate suspected they were male strippers because they were fit, stayed home during the day, went out together in the evening, and didn’t return until late at night. The boys were actually mixed martial artists training for the UFC.
I saw their apartment door ajar and could hear music loudly playing. With my roommates gone, I decided to walk over to introduce myself. It was completely out of character, as I was normally shy, but I was fulfilling a mission given to me by my therapist.
As graduation neared, I’d developed anxiety—not about finding a job, but about my lack of dates. “I feel like I’ve wasted the past four years,” I told the on-campus therapist, who I could meet with for free in my remaining months as a student. Despite being surrounded by nice Christian boys, the kind I was supposed to marry, I had yet to go on a first date. My shyness, I told her, was to blame.
She sent me out of her office with a few extra Kleenex and a homework assignment: Strike up a conversation with a stranger at Starbucks. I knew her intentions were good, but coming up with conversation starters for a coffee shop made me feel sad and incapable.
This is why I decided to modify the assignment. Instead of going to Starbucks, I knocked on my neighbors’ open door and said, “Hi, I’m Dani. I’ve seen you guys a bit—I live just across the sidewalk—and wanted to say hi.”
I was formal and buttoned-up, and they were way too cool for me, slumped, holding cans of cheap beer, and shirtless. I’d done my deed, so I was ready to run back into hiding. And then they offered me a beer.
Drinking was just one of the many things that could get a student expelled from my Christian college, because all students were required to sign “The Covenant,” a contract that outlined the school’s expected Christian lifestyle: no drinking, no premarital sex, no smoking. Unlike the Christian colleges my friends attended, we didn’t get a break on holiday weekends or after we turned 21: drinking was off-limits for all students, staff, and faculty.
Still, it was senior year, and I didn’t want to be rude, so I took the beer.