Long before there was a name for it, I was a SWUG.
The internet seems to agree that women crashing Yale frat parties were the first to opine ad nauseum about the life of a SWUG, or a Senior Washed-Up Girl. But they’re far from the first batch of lady-students within view of graduation who have thrown in the towel on any number of things. It’s a term steeped in irony: These Millennial women are successful, driven and on the cusp of a host of new beginnings and opportunities that real adult life promises. Senior year becomes a prolonged social exercise taking place in an airport terminal; we’re courteous and patient, but all basically just waiting for what comes next.
The seeds of my SWUGdom were planted ages ago. But it’s been the particular set of circumstances unique to my senior year of college that brought these traits to the forefront. Namely, that because my plans to leave the state post-graduation are increasingly imminent, investing in new relationships feels like a waste of time and energy. Warding off the senior academic slide is a daily battle, so drinking a bottle of wine on a Tuesday because it’s Tuesday is a decent life choice. And putting the time and effort into making myself appear presentable – whether it’s for the bar or class – just isn’t going to happen.
An “I don’t give a fuck” attitude in also a central driver for a SWUG to cast off the weight of social expectations. So much of college, particularly as an underclassmen, is spent grappling at some semblance of adulthood, all the while trying to look like you had adulthood down pat before you bunked your first bed — making it immensely liberating to do exactly what you want at any given time, regardless of who’s watching (and trust me, people are watching).
Becoming aware of the self-identification led me to classify the behaviors and attitudes that have characterized my senior year as SWUG-y, and I began to mentally (and verbally) catalogue them all, many punctuated with a #SWUGLyfe hashtag and a snarky tweet:
I came to know exactly where to find the best bargain wine on any given weekday.
I ate Lucky Charms in bed. I ate cheese in bed. I ate beef jerky in bed.
I went out to the bar at 11 p.m., still unshowered, only to eat a hamburger and cheese curds while sitting at the bar and chatting with the bartender. Personal pitchers were the special: I had one to myself.
My motto became an ironic “life is pain,” punctuated with a laugh.
A weekend night out was no longer about going home with someone at the end of the night, but instead calling it in at the optimal time to get late-night drunk food.
Anytime I opted to stay home, drink wine and wear yoga pants, I was being a SWUG. When I arrived at the office for a Sunday afternoon of production without makeup or caffeine in my bloodstream, I was feeling particularly SWUG-y. And when I declined a dinner date only because getting dressed up sounded like an insurmountable effort to put forth for a steak, I was SWUGdom incarnate.
“People don’t date anymore,” I complained to a friend months ago, in a typical red wine-infused living room conversation.
We bemoaned the death of men asking women out for the dinner-and-a-movie brand of courtship, which was likely killed off a decade before we were old enough to know what we were missing out on. Enveloped by the overwrought ‘hookup culture’ that launched a thousand ill-advised thinkpieces, SWUGs have cast off high effort, low reward casual sex — they’ve had years of that. But they’re also certainly not looking to find the great love of their lives in their final semester of college the way marriage-crazed women, eager to tie down a husband before graduation, once were. For the SWUG, it’s too late for a boyfriend, although that sounds nice.
Other women writing about SWUGs have defined the walk of life as much more focused on losing the gaze of men our age, whose attention has been caught by younger, hotter co-eds. They also paint SWUGdom as an end to sexual empowerment, which somehow scores points for feminism. That hasn’t been my experience. Rather than feeling animosity for younger women, I feel a new kind of kinship with other SWUGs. Wielding the label has become a clarion call among the senior women in my life, and with it a certain identification that wasn’t there before. As someone who doesn’t necessarily gravitate toward female friendships, I felt a new connection with the tired, disinterested senior woman I made eye contact with from across the bar. Neither of us had felt like donning short skirts and heels for yet another Thursday night out, and probably hadn’t for a long time, but we understood that was alright.
It’s not all reckless abandon. SWUGdom also comes with a measure of loneliness and fear of leaving what’s familiar. Maintaining a healthy distance from underclassmen and potential mates is isolating: After years of knowing this city, this campus as our home for a time, our residency is ticking down. We’re all bound together by our fear, but only admit this to other SWUGs in the comfort of our apartments, after a couple glasses of red. Cool detachment is, then, a kind of coping mechanism. It also strikes me that I should be doing more, experiencing more, making bucket lists. But by now, I know what I like, and I’m content to spend the weeks I have left treading the well-traveled roads that have defined my years here before being unmoored into the wide world that lies ahead.
With one foot firmly planted in the present and one in the future, we exist as contradictions. Even while wearing an apathetic face, we’re deeply engaged in the business of preparing ourselves for what comes next by slowly letting go of the trappings of college life. And when that day arrives, we’ll be washed up no longer.