It was spring semester of my senior year of college when I met a boy who later would later be known as The One that Got Away. After having taken the time off I would still have one more semester afterward as a “super senior” to finish my credits to graduate, but at the time I tried not to think about that or the embarrassing moniker whenever possible. I had just returned to school after winter break and was looking forward to a night of pizza and booze with friends. My new friend Stacy had come to my dorm room to help me carry the alcohol I had acquired back to her room for the get together. On the way down the hall, she stopped in an open door and invited two boys to come over for the festivities. She clearly knew them and somehow I did not. The one boy looked vaguely familiar with his super friendly smile, I was pretty sure I had run into him and his cheery self in the hallway at some point, but the other boy I didn’t remember seeing ever before. His smile, decidedly less sugar coated happiness, caught my eye. I added an embarrassing aside about how I was bringing alcohol so they should come and then kicked myself for it mentally the entire way to Stacy’s room.
By the time we got back to her shared dorm room, most of our friends were already gathered. I squished in a spot in front of the bunk beds on a small pull-out pillow cot concoction I liked to take naps on Sunday mornings after brunch. We started making drinks and prepping for movie time when low and behold, the one who caught my eye arrives minus Mr. Cheery. I think I blush a little as I try not to stare too much. Since I’ve planted myself in the middle, he winds up sitting behind me diagonally. My only option for communication is to continually turn around and offer him slices of pizza from the box in front of me. Very smooth. Then the movie starts and I fall asleep before it’s over because I don’t drink often and whoever made my cocktail way overestimated my tolerance. I don’t wake up ’til the next morning and trudge back across campus wondering if I could have possibly made a stranger first impression on the one who caught my eye.
Never one to have much patience, I knock on his door later that day and begin rambling about how strange it is we’ve never met instead of waiting to inevitably run into the one who caught my eye again among mutual friends. But it’s ok, because we get to talking and he doesn’t seem to mind the intrusion. And the longer we talk the more I realize he’s incredibly smart and funny and generally everything I like in a guy. I wonder how he could have been living down the hall an entire semester without me noticing, and if I’m not mistaken, it seems like he’s thinking the same thing as his continues to smile at me.
Over the next few weeks we begin to pop in on each other regularly, laughing about random things our friends have done and sharing meals of Easy Mac. I think we would be perfect together, except I think he’s been in love with one of my friends, Jolene, since long before he’s known me. Seeing as I’ve been down this road before with Indecision, I decide to be content with friendship and begin causally seeing someone else. We even discuss my potential new relationship, and he’s surprised I’m interested in his fellow science major, joking about the type of guys he thought I would be into, guys more like his rich preppy roommate or jocky athlete types heavy on the muscle and low on the IQ. It’s said with a laugh, but I can tell he really believes that about me, and it hurts me a little. He seems surprised by my reaction, but I don’t give him a chance to ask about my change in mood before I fake a smile and say I have to be somewhere. I tell myself his poor opinion of me hurt because all this time I thought we connected as friends, but I know the truth. I’ve done it again, falling for someone unattainable.
I stop dating and try to concentrate on me…and ignoring my feelings for the one that caught my eye. But it’s not easy and in a moment of weakness I finally ask him about his feeling for Jolene. He tells me how he used to have feelings for her, but not anymore and he’s earnest, and honest, and I believe him. That night he sits a little closer than usual while we write papers on our laptops, but I try not to read into it, not until he asks me over to watch a foreign movie and he cuddles up next to me on the futon we’ve laid on the floor, making a ridiculous pillow and blanket fort with. It’s hard to read the subtitles as my mind runs through all the possible scenarios of what all of this could mean, and then suddenly the movie is over and I’m saying, “It’s late.” to ease my nerves and distance myself from the situation. He smiles at me and tells me I could stay; as if my room is twenty blocks away and not a mere twenty feet down the hall.
I look into his brilliant blue-green eyes and I know I’m completely safe with him. He won’t try anything more daring than the act of asking me to stay, which I can tell has him now embarrassed by my lack of response. “Ok.” slips through my lips and I find myself climbing the shaky bunk bed ladder and crawling under the covers, a resounding what the heck are you doing echoing in my brain. The pillow I lay my head on smells like him and when he crawls in beside me, I feel completely engulfed by him. Every feeling I had tried to avoid comes bubbling to the surface and for some reason it brings a tear to my eye that I bury in the pillow, pretending I’m already sleeping. He gently puts his arm around me, as if he’s afraid I might slap him away at any moment, and when I don’t he eases letting the weight of his embrace envelop me further. He gently places a kiss on the back of my shoulder blade before resting his own head, and I want to say something, anything about the way I feel for him, but I’m too afraid to ruin this moment…so I continue pretending to be asleep the rest of the night, only drifting off here and there.
The next day I slip out of bed while he’s sleeping, and grab the shoes I kicked off and sweatshirt I had discarded while Mr. Cheery the roommate gives me a thumbs up with his over enthusiastic smile. It doesn’t take much imagination to figure out what he thinks has gone on, but I rather make a speedy exit than try to convince him otherwise. When I return to my own room, I collapse in my bed wondering if he really did kiss my shoulder, of if I had dreamed it while I dozed in and out of sleep. Too tired to consider it further, I finally pass out from exhaustion.
I’ve barely slept when I’m awoken by a knock at the door. It’s the one that caught my eye, and he’s bundled to the nines telling me we’re going sledding with his friends. Sledding on no sleep…in the cold…without any time to process what just happened. I try to convince him I’ll go sledding another time, but his eyes are sparkling and his crooked smile is spread wide across his face so I go. We would later call it our first date. Later that day I tell him I have feelings for him and he kisses me in one of those moments that they play fireworks behind in a movie.
We decide not to tell any of our friends we’re dating at first, and it’s nice having the privacy as we’re just starting out, until things become slightly uncomfortable as both Jolene and another girl decide that he’s “boyfriend material” and start flirting with him mercilessly at group gatherings. Eventually we have to say something and everyone is shocked by the revelation, but by then we’re just glad to have it out in the open.
I fall madly, deeply in love with him. I truly believe, even to this day, that he did the same. For a long time things were good. Really good. We were that couple among friends that other people wanted to be like. Happy and secure, and looking like we would be together forever. But even good relationships take work, and over time we both got lazy. And as we did, doubts crept in for me about whether or not he was still the same boy who caught my eye and acted like he was the proudest man in the world when he first introduced me to his friends back home as his girlfriend. I was no innocent in the situation; the less appreciated I felt, the more difficult I became to deal with, and the more I looked for appreciation elsewhere. I began to spend more and more of my time with a friend of a friend who was more like the stereotype the one who caught my eye had first accused me of being attracted to: A handsome, rich, preppy type, with relationship issues of his own all too eager to spend his time with me.
Right before the end of my final extra semester at college, when I would be leaving for good, and everyone else would be returning in the spring, things became more strained than ever and when we had a fight where he slammed a door in my face and said he didn’t want to speak to me again. I took it as the absolute end. Even that night as I laid in bed crying, I knew that although he was wrong to say it, he hadn’t really meant “ever again” and it wasn’t a break up in his mind. But it was in mine. I had reached a point where I no longer felt loved by him…and was beginning to feel cared for by someone else. It led to the most miserable birthday week in the history of birthday weeks, including missing my own birthday party, and a reckless remaining few weeks at school that I would seriously come to regret. I began to date the friend of a friend who by then had ended his own messed up relationship, because I suck at love and always make the wrong choices. I pretended like my heart didn’t still belong to the one who caught my eye and he acted like I was his absolute dream girl. Acted, the most important word in the sentence, because he would later become known as the Sociopath. But that’s another story…
As Rebecca Wells so brilliantly put it, “There is the truth of history, and there is the truth of what a person remembers.” I’ll try to bridge that gap as I tell you the story of how I eventually figured out I suck at love. Come back weekly for new installments.