My first year at University probably sounds like the more realistic version that doesn’t make it into the movies: I left high school ambitious but was still a cripplingly shy and insecure person. I fantasized about what college life would be, certain that I would come into my own with new friends, new perspectives, and guys who would finally "see me for who I am."
Some of that was right.
I got off on the wrong foot at college with my high school ex-boyfriend, who I had broken up with multiple times. Still, the line between our friendship and a relationship blurred, largely due to my tendency to default to niceness and non-confrontation.
My ex followed me out to my chosen school, announcing to every new person I met that “we were going out," when we were only ever casually meeting for lunch or movies. In my naivety and insecurity I didn’t speak up.
I had a solid group of girlfriends, though. We were all shy to some degree — we would cozy up in one of our dorm rooms on a Friday watching Friends DVDs, then find the nerve on Saturday night to amp ourselves up with shots and go out looking for the party that we had missed on Friday night.
One Saturday night, I met the guy I will call Jerry.
Jerry was visiting friends on campus and was super cute, tall with an athletic build. He was a trades apprentice, which was refreshing after meeting so many undergrad men who were studying Foucault and started sentences with: “To play devil’s advocate . . .”
Jerry and his friends invited us in, shared their schnapps, and we all just hung out discussing pop culture, trading jokes and banter like we had been friends for more than a night. When I had to head back to my dorm, Jerry offered to walk me there in the dark. We talked about ourselves, with no awkwardness, just a casual hand on my shoulder. We hung out a few times after that whenever he was in town, but lost touch.
Jerry found me, and friended me, and we slipped right back into our easy conversation. He was living three hours away in another state. He messaged that he had "started thinking, and thought of you, and always thought that you were a missed opportunity.” He said that I had stuck out in his mind at odd moments in the four years since we had seen each other, that I was funny and sweet, and that he regretted not keeping in touch.
We were soon trading messages every day for hours over Facebook or text. We shared our career goals and sports interests, talked about going bungee jumping, and recapped every Walking Dead episode together. The day I had an entrance exam for a post-secondary program that I was stressing about, he messaged me: “Good luck, you’re smart and confident and I know you got this." As soon as the three hours for the exam were up, he texted me: “You did it! I know you did great!” It was so nice to see that Jerry was taking a genuine interest in my daily life.
We always talked about meeting up — he kept reminding me that it was only a three hour drive. Plus he still had friends in the area that he could stay with. We would make plans to meet up, grab dinner, or go hiking. He would message me how excited he was to see me, but something always came up. He passed through my hometown for a longboarding event, saying he would take me out for a drink, but again, the timing just didn’t work out.
I did get a little suspicious when I looked through his profile and saw a couple of pictures with him and another girl, but he had said that he didn’t have a girlfriend and that the girl in the photos was just his best friend/roommate’s sister. He was just waiting for someone like me, he said.
Finally, after a year of this back-and-forth, of having a fantasy relationship and ignoring my suspicions, I sent him a text that said: “You lead me on. You lied about ever wanting to see me. You need to stop using women for emotional gratification.”
All I got back from him was: "I never meant to lead you on."
After our last exchange, I never spoke with him again, though I do sometimes reread my messages to him and cringe at how eager and naive I sounded. A year after our contact ended, I noticed that his relationship status changed from "Single" to "In a relationship with" the same girl that I had noticed two years ago. I’m suspect she was his girlfriend the entire time and I'm assuming that I was not the only girl he was leading on while in a committed relationship. Now it was public for everyone to see. I was devastated, but part of me also felt sorry for his girlfriend, who likely had no idea.
Though I look back and feel embarrassed for actually falling for his charms, it really was a learning experience for me.
I wonder if I believed him so quickly because I wasn’t ready to handle a true adult relationship, and it was a lesson on making sure my voice was heard — that I did not have to "default to niceness" as I had so many times before. This fallout ensured that I would never make that same mistake again.