The Dating Question We're Afraid to Ask

Many of us enter college with little to no knowledge of relationships, dating, or sex. Society teaches us that high school is a time to prepare for college, compete on sports teams, cram as many extracurricular activities as possible onto that one-page resume, all while still finishing a giant load of homework before the next day starts and we have to do it all over again. 

I’m not saying that relationships didn’t exist in high school, because they definitely did… I was just never in one. When I began college, everything I had learned had been absorbed from romantic novels and teenage dramas where tiny worlds full of inter-dating and happy endings left me with a sense of naïve hope and a general lack of real-world understanding. Hookup culture is the reality of early college dating, and one which I was highly unprepared for which to deal. No, not all boys are bad, and I was not an entirely innocent component in the participation of reducing myself to an object. 

I was digging through some old journal entries this past weekend and uncovered something that I wrote during a hazy summer day before my Sophomore year. I am now beginning my Senior year and am in a completely different and all-around better mindset; it was as if I was reading a stranger’s diary. 

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One hand loosely grips a can of beer as his arm lazily hangs off the side of the beaten leather couch. The other occupies the keyboard of a Mac, as he absentmindedly clicks on various videos that catch his attention.  His attention is forward, at the screen. My attention is sideways, at him. 

He laughs at the baseball blooper reel that plays in front of us. The laptop is the only source of light in the entire room, demanding my attention, but I can only focus on the profile of his face, softly illuminated by the glow of the screen. 

“Are you seeing this? This is hilarious. I can’t believe it. Now really watch this part.”

I glance at the computer, attempting to see the video through his eyes, always trying to understand. “Yeah, it’s funny, haha.”

A vibration. 

Text Message from Sarah Lane

I gently pick up the phone – the only object that lies between my leg and his, preventing full contact. My heart drops. I have seen this name before, and images of Liam and his ex-girlfriend race through my head. Of course, I knew who she was. “Who’s this?” a quiet breath escapes my lips.

His eyes flick over to mine, “Oh, that’s…my ex.” 

“So… you guys are still close friends? Isn’t that weird?” I questioned, searching for an answer that would settle my racing mind.

“Yeah, no…we’re just friends. Like, she knows about you. She asks me for boy advice. We just stayed close. We separated because of distance… she was going to Georgia, I was coming here, we have different breaks, it would have never worked.”

Well if distance is the only reason for your break up, then isn’t it very possible that you still have feelings for her? My devotion to this boy was becoming overwhelming.

Now is my chance. My heart rate picks up and my palms begin to sweat as I ask the question that has been resting on my mind for weeks. “Where is this going?”

He sat back. “Well, we are basically dating,” his tone indicating that he didn’t want anything more. I give him a small smile in an effort to reassure him of my easygoing nature.  He glances at me. “Look, I just want to take it slow, I’m afraid to get hurt.”

In my naiveté I agreed – yes, slow is good, I wouldn’t want to do anything to jeopardize this relationship with this boy that I have learned to hold on a pedestal. In this moment, I didn’t realize that it was the beginning of the end.

That next morning, I awoke with an annoyance. What does slow mean? 

Sex, feelings, thinking about you every day, telling all my friends, my family about you. Playing your music when you’re not around, looking through old pictures and smiling at your goofy face. Maybe I fall too fast, maybe I’m too obsessive, or maybe my heart missed the part where you told it to slow down. You said that you are afraid of getting hurt, but as I look at your sleeping body, eyes closed, mind lost in a dream, I am aware of three things: it is 8:11 in the morning, I am still half- drunk, and I am the one that is going to get hurt. The sad part is – I know that I won’t leave until it happens. Like a sick dog, I will follow you around until you decide to put me down.

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As women, we often make ourselves smaller, more portable, un-opinionated, and meek in the presence of someone which we – for some unknown reason – find ourselves infatuated. Finding emotional strength and taking responsibility for our own happiness is a lifelong battle, and through heartbreak and hardships I am proud to say that while the struggle probably doesn’t end, it has become easier. 

To all of the freshman entering the minefield of college dating; Go all in, embrace your feelings, act with an open heart, and don’t let yourself become jaded or be afraid of getting hurt. The pain will fade, and you will become better for it – I know I did.