Dealing with Imposter Syndrome
In high school, I could never shake the feeling of being left out, of feeling different. I was never one to draw attention from boys. Throughout high school and middle school, I never had a single date or even a flirty text exchange. It was impossible to ignore all the boys who had crushes on my friends, but never me. My classmates were having experiences I only knew about from movies. I would tell myself that I wasn’t ready to date anyone when really, I felt as if no one was ready to date me.
However short-lived some high school romances may be, it hurts to feel undesired. Leaving my old high school and starting fresh at college definitely pushed me to become a more confident person, but entering the college dating world was not a step I could force myself to take. I didn’t think I could manage another four years of feeling rejected. Considering that this was my mindset, I was completely shocked when the guy I liked at a club meeting asked me out. I had never considered the possibility that someone I liked could like me back. By October of my freshman year, I officially had my first boyfriend.
A lot of aspects of my life were changing when I started college, but this is a change I did not see coming. Like all changes, this one forced me to do some serious self-reflection, and it challenged my preconceived notions of what a relationship would be like. My rom-com-centered heart thought that a relationship would turn my whole world upside down. However, my life pretty much stayed the same, only there was a new person who could witness it. And my insecurities definitely didn’t go away.
As a younger teenager, I thought that my lack of male attention was a consequence of everything wrong with me. I felt that if I had a boyfriend, I would never have to feel lonely, ugly or worthless again. When I finally had one, though, those feelings never went away. There are still days when self-love can feel like a chore. In a twisted way, I found that almost liberating. It’s humiliating to think that a man’s opinion of me could make or break my self-esteem. It’s a relief to know that my feelings about myself are my own. I have all my flaws, fears and shortcomings, but at least they belong to me. I get to be responsible for the love I receive, it doesn’t have to come from someone else. I think that’s exciting.
There are times when I’ve discovered new insecurities about myself as well. Since I had never dated in high school, I almost felt like an imposter. I never really divulged any of my crushes to my friends because, frankly, I was embarrassed by it. I thought that everyone would be thinking the same thoughts I was, that I wasn’t good enough to be deemed acceptable by men. Even a year later, I struggle to tell people I have a boyfriend. I’m scared that they can tell how new I am at this. I brace myself for the surprise on their faces, that someone like me has a boyfriend. This has made me realize that not dating in high school, no matter how superficial it may sound, had a profound effect on how I perceived myself, and how I thought others were perceiving me. I had misplaced resentment for all the girls who had their own high school love stories. Part of my identity was nestled in being a misfit, not quite belonging to the group I should belong to. I always felt left behind, but I was secure in that feeling. I found solidarity and comfort with girls who felt the same way. Now I actually have a boyfriend. What was I supposed to do with that? At first, I felt awkward telling other people about my relationship, because I didn’t want to become the girl I’d always been so jealous of.
After being in a relationship for a year, here’s what I know now. My relationship status has nothing to do with my identity or the identity of the girls I envied. Women are so much more than the love they have to offer. It’s only a small part of the million things that make up who we are. Having a boyfriend didn’t invalidate or erase my feelings, either. I still feel left out sometimes. I still feel like an imposter. But it helps to know that being in a relationship is not something to be accomplished. I don’t have to live my life like I’m crossing something off a list. A relationship is not the end-all-be-all. It’s just one of the many chapters in my book. Even without it, I’d have a story to tell.
Being in a relationship in college has been really fun, but it’s pushed me in ways I didn’t expect. Dating in college challenged my ideas on self-esteem and relationships. It’s encouraged me to become more secure in myself, rather than relying on the definitions of other people. I’m so grateful and pleasantly surprised by what my relationship has taught me about myself, and I’m excited to keep learning.