I forgot how wide-eyed freshmen are when they’re walking around in their brand spankin’ new Husker gear. Desperately trying to seem cool while secretly looking down at Apple Maps directing them to yet another asbestos-ridden lecture hall.

It’s wild to me as a senior because I remember when I was that fresh faced and bushy tailed. When I didn’t know how to dress for my shape or when I thought Bath & Body Works was acceptable perfume.

In a way, that time was so much simpler, but it was also a wild mess. I didn’t know anything useful or realistic about sex or relationships; I put up with so much garbage from people, specifically men; and I made a lot of questionable choices. We’re all young, dumb and broke in college, it’s just laid on thick freshman year.

With this in mind, I have composed a list of sage words of wisdom that I wish I knew when I was a freshman. Smart people learn from their own mistakes, but wise people learn from the mistakes of manic pixie dream girls. 

Be Mean…

When I was a freshman, I was a whole lot of talk and no bite. I didn’t speak up for myself and rarely said anything in class. If some guy was bugging me in any environment, I would always play nice because in my head, vaguely aggressive and uncomfortable attention was better than no attention at all.

Now, jaded but significantly smarter, I am blatantly mean and confrontational to anyone, especially men. I don’t sugarcoat anything. I don’t even try to raise my vocal pitch to appear more soft and feminine. I say things the way I want to say them, I don’t hold back and at times, I rarely even have the energy to use a filter.

As women, we have consistently been taught that we are responsible for the feelings of men, letting them down easy to appease their egos and tempers. The biggest piece of advice I can give is to take that 18 years of socialization and flush it down the toilet. Women deserve to say no and to be assertive, aggressive and sarcastic. We don’t have to respect anyone if they don’t respect us first.

If a guy is bugging you at a party or a bar or in class or on social media, drop the “I’m so sorry, you seem like a nice guy” spiel and opt instead for a straightforward “I’m not interested…toodles.” Walk with purpose and loads of sass, lean into the resting b**** face and always confront issues of respect with maturity, poise and demand to be treated like someone valuable because that’s exactly who you are — you just might not know it as a freshman. 

If you went to college with a significant other that isn’t in the same city, break up

I hate to crush the soul of every girl who came to college while having a high school boyfriend with all the intentions of making long distance work, but someone’s got to tell the truth. You’re probably going to break up. Would you rather break up with the opportunity to start anew in college pre-cuffing season, or would you rather wait for the mass break-up exodus before Thanksgiving when you have to go back home in the thick of cuffing season?

College is a time to be single and have fun, at least for a little bit. Use the time in the early years to go out and make mistakes. Later on you will be more of a formed person and more equipped to have a healthy relationship with someone. Not to mention there won’t be a fear that you missed out if you tried everything there is to try.

Don’t diet during your first year, or at all if you can help it

My first year, I was terrified of the highly prolific concept of “The Freshman 15.” I was already curvy with a potent dose of disordered eating and body dysmorphia, and the threat of gaining 15 pounds was so palpable that I took drastic measures to try to avoid it at all costs.

I tried keto, intermittent fasting, diet pills, laxatives and veganism my first year, all while the dining hall offered an array of delicious, and free, food choices. I ended up breaking my metabolism and gaining a ton of weight. I couldn’t even enjoy the food in the dining halls without feeling guilty. I cannot communicate how much I regret that decision. 

Since then I’ve bounced back from those bad habits, but if I could’ve avoided it altogether I would have. Your body is supposed to change and mature in college, which means weight gain in your hip and tit areas. You need food to fuel your classes and midnight mental breakdowns. Don’t deprive yourself, just eat a balanced and inclusive diet and move in whatever way makes you happy. College is way too hard to be doing it on a diet.

Never fall in love with just someone’s potential

This was really hard for me to learn, and it took me way longer than freshman year and too many heartbreaks to realize it. I am unfortunately cursed with two malignant personality traits; they are known as hopeless romanticism and a savior complex. I would see these damaged and emotionally unavailable dudes and fall inexplicably and consequently in love with them at record paces. The problem, however, was that it wasn’t them who I fell for, it was their potential.

The problem with basing a person on their potential is the idea that everyone has the “potential” to pick up a gun and start shooting, and everyone also has the potential to join the Peace Corps. We don’t label everyone as a mass murderer or saint simply by what they are capable of; we label them based on what they are doing now.

I fell in love with everything that could be and nothing that actually was with a lot of dudes. I got my feelings hurt many times thinking with that much of a growth mindset, even recently. As an old pro, learn from my mistakes and make sure when you fall in love, you fall in love with the way a person is, not the way they could be.

Learn to radically love yourself

It’s cliché but humility is so not punk rock, and the worst thing that can happen if you start seeing yourself as hot shit is that you might start having higher standards and that severely thins out the dating pool.

I was talking about this with a friend of mine, when I was a freshman I had less than no sense of self-worth. I was super self-deprecating; I had no standards for dating and I was willing to accept the bare minimum of treatment from other people because part of me didn’t see myself as anyone worth treating well.

It’s taken me a while to actually learn to like myself and even go so far as to be cocky about my sparkling personality, radiant sense of humor and phat ass. When I finally did, I actually became more likeable to other people, and by then I didn’t care about whether or not other people liked or disliked me because I liked me. 

So many signals from society tell us to be small and quiet and insecure, and that’s because when you learn to actually love yourself intrinsically, not because of others, you no longer feel the need to conform with society’s rules. You’re free to place meaning on everything you want to place meaning in, and now as someone on the other side of that journey, I wouldn’t trade that freedom for anything.  

College is hard, there’s no doubt about it, but it is also one of the most prominent moments in life where the most incredible prolific changes can occur. I wish I knew these things way back when. I wish the girl who was depressed in a dorm room and taking walks during blizzards just to feel something could have known that she could be mean and formidable and strong and beautiful all in the same breath. However, she didn’t, but the girl with red hair, a pistol for a mouth and a thirst for life and love does, and that’s all that matters. I just hope everyone can get to that place eventually, even if it takes some time.