“An email to a group of students in Iceland gave birth to the idea that people anywhere would want to share their homes with strangers (or, as we like to call them, friends you haven't met yet).”
That, according to their “About” page, is how Couchsurfing got started. For those who don’t know, Couchsurfing is an organization founded in 2004 that allows travelers to stay with hosts all over the world—for free. “Couchsurfing is a service that connects members to a global community of travelers,” their “How it Works” page boasts. “Use Couchsurfing to find a place to stay or share your home and hometown with travelers.”
Couchsurfing preaches peace, love, and a free place to sleep. Everyone is your friend, and you should assume all people are inherently good-natured—that’s what my 2016 self gleaned from their “Values” page. I was all about trusting strangers at the time, of course, so I excitedly made myself a Couchsurfing profile in February of 2016 and reserved my first couch in Butte, Montana for the first night of my visit.
Nothing went awry with Couchsurfing in Butte. Even when I later became a host, I never had an issue with Couchsurfing. That being said, for a young lady with a burgeoning reckless side, everything on the Couchsurfing website screams, “Yes! Be overly trusting! Be nice to everybody because everybody is nice! Overshare, be vulnerable! Embrace your lack of boundaries!”
Indeed, it was because nothing went wrong with Couchsurfing in Butte that I began to believe that I could get away with doing shady things. The more frequently I came out the other side unscathed, the more I believed I was immune to consequences for reckless behavior.
One might argue that I was already getting away with doing shady things to an alarming degree. This is true, yes, but I was doing them without a foundation, without any sort of reference material for my beliefs. Then, in early April of 2016, when I reread all of the information about how Couchsurfing works, it was as if I’d picked up a holy text and found the truth in its pages. I really vibed with their values and missions. But in my state of mind, I misinterpreted them. Instead of seeing their values and missions as goals, I saw them as existing truths and quickly adopted them as a means of justification for my risky behavior. “I’m just being nice to people and sharing my life with them so that they don’t feel awkward sharing their lives with me,” I thought. “It’s all okay.” So, naturally, I upped the ante on the recklessness in Butte, which resulted in a situation that was so stereotypically “bad” that it’s going to sound like it belongs in a movie. On Saturday, I’ll tell you that story.