When in Rome

Off the Beat

One of my best friends once told me that I am the most sexually frustrated person they’ve ever met. And honestly, that’s a really valid statement.

I don’t blame myself for this disposition, though. Don’t get me wrong — there are things I could be doing to relieve some of that tension. Confidence I could be improving, romanticism I could be avoiding, sex I could be having. But for the most part, I blame this disposition on Berkeley.

Before I came to Berkeley, I was under the impression that I was going to be the talk of the town. My skin was surprisingly clear that summer, and I was that girl who went to an art school — most of my pants even had paint splattered on them. I thought I was going to be the cute quirky girl who everyone was interested in. But when I first came to this school, stepped out of the car onto that beautiful fog-cloaked Clark Kerr Campus, I was immediately humbled.

Every girl around me was incredibly beautiful. They were charming and social — skills that my shy self did not have. While I was suffering from the flu my very first week in Berkeley, my gorgeous social butterflies of roommates were speeding between what seemed like endless hangouts and parties. Within a month, one of my roommates had a boyfriend who was actually a good guy, and the other one was basically the Bachelorette.

I was surrounded by people who were more captivating than me, more conventionally beautiful than me, and I absolved to believe that I had very little to offer. Contrary to what I wanted to happen, I wasn’t the girl people were interested in. I was the girl people said “smash” to while playing “smash or pass,” but was ignored outside the context of a hypothetical.

The sexual frustration that my friend commented on is definitely something I am suffering from. But it’s within the boundaries of this country that this tension beats down on me hardest. It’s with the pressures of Western beauty conventions that I feel this frustration the most.

Because right now, I am back in Italy. I have been walking down cobblestone streets and sitting on the Spanish Steps. I have been eating gelato at my favorite gelateria and sipping coffee at Caffè Maurizi on the corner of Via Molfetta. I have been taking in the breaths of this place that I love, and feeling so attractive while I do it.

In Italy, I have the confidence I don’t when I’m in Berkeley. Drinking mojitos at bars, it’s so easy for me to flirt in broken Italian with the man looking at me from the other side of the counter. When my friends and I sit at Santo Spirito, we meet new people every night from all over the country. All over the world. And those nights usually end with energetic and spicy dancing to the early-2000s American music that plays in every club.

I can’t pinpoint the exact reason that I am better at romance in Italy. Maybe it is because my Italian genes make me attractive here and not in Berkeley. Maybe it is because being in my favorite city gives me a lightness and breeziness I don’t have in the United States. Maybe it is because my actions here don’t have lasting social consequences. What I do know is that it is so unbelievably refreshing to feel confident in myself, my looks, my sexuality.

I am not the kind of person who banks my self-worth on men’s interest in me. I love my body and the way I look. But I am not afraid to admit that having someone express attraction to me has an effect that telling myself I am beautiful doesn’t. It’s comforting to push my insecurities about the way others see me aside and just be content to feel wanted or desirable. And it feels amazing to not be a hypothetical sexual scenario, but someone’s actual choice.

In a few weeks, I will be back in Berkeley. It will be another year before I am back in Italy, another year before the whistle of summer heat, the sun-kissed brick walls and the purr of Italian melt my romantic anxieties once again. But when in Rome, I will bulk up on confidence. For now, I can close my eyes, feel swaddled in the vibrance of Italy and be empowered in not just my appearance, but myself as a person.

“Off the Beat” columns are written by Daily Cal staff members until the spring semester’s regular opinion writers have been selected. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter @dailycalopinion.