I’d never been one for dating; every guy that came my way was too weird, too desperate, or a total jerk. I kept to myself, obsessing from afar over celebrity-like upperclassmen and mysterious guys who passed by in the hall, though I never smiled or said hi, always making sure to keep a safe distance. The only guys I talked to were those I was sure I could never date, yet that didn’t stop them from crushing on me, which resulted in me emotionlessly rejecting them and cutting them out of my life. My friends said I was independent, picky, but the truth was that I was scared out of my mind.
Growing up, I was the “awkward” one—a picture-perfect representation of a nerd: glasses, braces, unkempt hair, tasteless clothes, and not to mention a face spotted by acne. The more popular guys treated me as a joke, flirting with me to see what I’d say, audibly sighing whenever they were paired up with me for an assignment. I was the girl everyone loved to hate, teased mercilessly until my self-esteem was practically nonexistent. When I was around 14, I grew out of my awkward stage physically, but I was still the same shy girl inside, terrified of rejection.
I tried to stay under the radar, keeping the same two best friends from 9th grade on and staying silent in class. My friends were like me, swearing they’d never get a boyfriend until college because high school guys were too “immature” and obsessing over guys from TV shows and supermarkets that we’d never talk to. I was happy with this arrangement, this sort of silent existence, until my senior year of high school when both of my friends almost simultaneously got boyfriends, leaving me in the dust.
Suddenly, it was all about dates and dances and making out; girls’ nights and chick flicks became a thing of the past. I went on a few dates under my friends’ supervision, but I was uncomfortable and completely unprepared. The first time a guy even held my hand I had a full-on panic attack. So I kept to myself, watching Gossip Girl and Keeping Up With The Kardashians after school, living vicariously through fictionalized people.
My first year of college yielded no change. No dates, no prospects—shutting down every guy who said hello, including a total sweetheart that sat next to me every day in Biology and made his interest in me obvious. I had a miserable time (for other reasons besides a nonexistent dating life, but that was a big part of it). College was supposed to be my time to shine, and here I was, the same as always.
After that miserable year, I decided to transfer to the University of Utah, where I knew I’d feel safer and more in my element, but I didn’t want to wait for school to start to change my life. I was finally feeling happy, and I was worried that if I waited an entire summer to break out of my bubble, I never would. I started reaching out, and as luck would have it, others started reaching back. I finally agreed to be set up on dates, and surprisingly, I learned a lot. Some guys made me feel uncomfortable, some made me laugh—suddenly, I was seeing dating as it is in real-life, rather than how it’s portrayed in the movies.
One day, my friend Katie told me that she wanted to set me up with a guy named Zack, who was best friends with her sister’s boyfriend. I agreed, and she gave him my number and he texted me within the day. Even then I could tell there was something different about him; it was so easy to talk to him—no hang-ups, no awkward pauses, just real, genuine conversation. He asked me out, and we had a date planned for two days later.
The night before, I realized that as part of the date, he wanted to go for a hike. Being who I am, I was thrown into a full-on panic attack. Anyone who knows me understands that I am utterly embarrassing when it comes to the Great Outdoors—face planting on the dirt included. I sent a text asking if it would be okay if we did something else, certain that he’d think I was bratty and high maintenance, as so many of my friends have thought before, but he surprised me. He assured me that it was completely fine, and when I apologized with a smiley face for being “so weird,” he sent a huge response telling me stories about his friends and the “weird” things that they’ve done, saying that if he doesn’t think they’re freaks, he wouldn’t think I was.
He made me feel better despite my anxiety, and then he made me laugh, which was exactly what I needed at the time. After a fun date the next day, we quickly had more and more things planned until we saw each other almost every day. We would stay out until 4 a.m. talking about everything and nothing. I had never felt so comfortable around anyone before; things with Zack felt natural, and I was always excited to see him.
However, I was terrified by how much I liked him. It was hard for me to let someone in, and I’d never felt so close to anyone before. Everyone advised me to take it slow and get settled in school before becoming exclusive with him, and knowing that I was inexperienced, I listened to them. I was enjoying my classes and making friends, so under the advice of my support system, I talked to a few different guys, but no matter whom I met, no one compared to Zack. We’d known each other for about three months when we finally made things official.
It was weird at first to say the words, “I have a boyfriend.” My whole life I’d classified myself as “the girl who never dates,” and “the girl who doesn’t need a guy,” yet here I was, allowing myself to feel something for a person that was right in front of me.
This being my first and only boyfriend, I wasn’t so sure I knew what I was doing. I received a lot of unsolicited advice from my friends and family. I’d say what I thought, and it was always, “You’ve never had a boyfriend before, so you don’t understand.” Everyone wanted me to know what they thought was best and what I should do and think and feel, and more often than not, one person’s advice contradicted another’s.
I was confused, and kept myself at a slight distance from Zack, trying to sort through the piles of instructions I’d been given. The more and more I thought, the more confused I became. In the middle of the chaos, Zack came over to visit, and an hour turned into a whole day of laughing and talking. Suddenly, I wasn’t so confused anymore.
After being official with Zack, I can say that having your first relationship in college can definitely make you feel like the odd one out. Self-proclaimed “experts” will try to impose their convictions on you, but at the end of the day, it’s your relationship, and no two people experience dating in the same way. I wish I could go back and tell my high school self not to worry so much. I wasted so much time feeling like there was something wrong with me for not being ready to date and forcing myself into situations that I wasn’t prepared for because of it. I’m not embarrassed to say that I didn’t have my first boyfriend until college because I know now that I had to figure myself out before I could figure out how to be with someone else. If I hadn’t had the experience that I did, I wouldn’t be where I am now: in a happy, fulfilling relationship, feeling confident in the person I’ve become.