If you take nothing else away from this post, hear this: Spend the first few weeks of college searching for friends, NOT lovers. Why? Read on…
The first day of college was depressing for me on many levels. Although most wait with eager anticipation for their first day, my first day was a mix of sadness, bad luck, and dumb decisions.
I was supposed to be at the college by 10 AM to begin dorm orientation. Instead, I was at a church funeral service. An elderly cousin on my father’s side of the family, who was a warm, generous, and very kind lady, died a few days before. Since we were next of kin, my brothers and I were pall bearers. It was a sad beginning to my first day of college, and I was also upset that my elderly cousin, who was the last of my grandparents’ generation (who have all already passed) had left us after a battle with old age and disease.
When the services were finished, my parents and I finally proceeded to my school, granted a few hours late, but no worse for wear. I quickly had to “change faces” from a grieving relative to that of an upbeat freshman being welcomed to campus for the first time.
The rest of the day went without incident, and was generally filled with hope and enthusiasm dispersed to us by upper classmen and various members of the faculty and staff. After my parents left, I was on my own at the school for the first time and strolled off to the dining hall for dinner.
It was here that I made my most foolish mistake in the four years I attended school. Let me be more precise: it was a foolish decision at the time, but there were some painfully positive lessons that came out of it months later.
Finishing up my meal, a girl and her roommate sat down and introduced themselves. Mary (name changed) began talking to me and I almost immediately recognized her: she was my state’s top female runner, an athlete who had participated in regional and national high school running championships. I was stunned to meet her and put a name with the face, but at the same time, I felt like there was a connection made. We both ran in high school, participated in the same school activities, and we both were generally shy people. What luck I thought, I’ve met someone wonderful.
That night I bumped into Mary again at a freshman dance, and we spent some time talking. I was once again in awe of her athleticism and achievements, and was thrilled to meet someone like her in the first few hours of my college experience. As orientation week continued, we would meet for meals or go to events together and keep each other company.
As the first few days of orientation ended and actual classes began, we began to hang out whenever schedules permitted and whenever she was around campus if not competing at a cross country race. Her running schedule was intense: daily, sometimes twice daily, practices, weights, and work-outs, plus all day meets on Saturdays. Sunday was recovery run day.
Before I continue, let me briefly introduce an important tendancy of people with Borderline Personality Disorder: the tendancy to admire, almost worship people, in a very idealized manner. My first feelings towards Mary were awe and wonder. I felt like I was in the presence of a celebrity athlete who cared enough to talk with me, and as the days wore on my feelings of intense idealization gave way to attraction.
Once the weekly routine of school and athletic practices were set for Mary, we began to try and find time to hang out and catch up. Mary suggested we meet for breakfast at 7:45 each morning when possible, to chat and keep each other company. I was ecstatic and on some days was up before my alarm shaving, showering, and organizing myself for the day. The night before, I would often think of a funny story or joke that I could share with Mary the next morning, in a feeble attempt to make breakfast time special.
Gradually, I began to find myself thinking, acting, and carrying myself like Mary: Shy, smart, overly polite, and very pure and innocent. I also some how started to run again on my own around campus, after being inspired by Mary. On some days, I would be running by Mary and her team mates and they would all say “Hi”, or, I’d bump into them in the dining hall over the dinner hour when running practice concluded. I truly felt inspired, happy, and head over heals.
It’s important to note that as my feelings gave way to true infatuation, I did not make many attempts at meeting other people. I planned my entire week around socializing with Mary in an attempt to impress her and to cultivate her feelings for me. Eventually, 15 minute breakfasts in the morning was not enough, I wanted more.
So, I blindy forged ahead trying to plan dates. Again, since she was very busy with running, I decided to plan dates for Saturday evening after she returned from meets and had some free time. In an attempt to show my interest in her I asked her out on Tuesday or Wednesday morning at breakfast or over the phone, to show my willingness to plan my week around her.
At first Mary dodged my requests, but she eventually accepted, generally last minute, to go off campus for a meal or movie. I looked forward to these dates all week, and she was constantly on my mind.
Things continued much in the same fashion up until Christmas break: morning breakfasts, occasional evening chats on the phone, attendance at school events, and a few dates off campus to try and win her over.
Slowly, I began to see that Mary really liked me, but I found it impossible to gauge her level of love interest in me. While she was spending time with me, she was also hanging out with other guys from classes or the Cross country team. Once in a while I would see her around campus strolling with another guy, and this confused me and made me extremely jealous.
As a result, I decided to press harder, in an attempt to work out what I thought was indecisiveness or fear on her part about having a relationship with me. This meant I needed to be more forward about planning dates. I also tried to create opportunities when we could casually hold hands or hug; all attempts at trying to work out her “love” interest level. Sometimes, I felt she was truly attracted to me, other times, I could not make heads or tails of her emotions.
Christmastime came, and on the last day we saw each other before break, I decided to put it all on the line. Mary was going to leave campus about 12 noon, so I invited her over to my room to say Good Bye before we parted ways. It was at this moment that I also planned to explain my feelings for her, and that I wanted to develop the relationship more intimately.
She came to my room, and after a few pleasantries, I finally worked up the courage: “Mary, I’ve really enjoyed the time we’ve spent together, and I want to continue to see you – I think we’d be great together”. Mary replied, “Thank you”, and gave me a sincere hug. She didn’t really respond, and instead gave me the impression she was going to think about it. No problem, I thought, and I gave her my number to call me while we were at home.
Strangely, during break, I didn’t hear from her except one day, when we arranged to meet each other for a meal in a town that was close to the both of us (since we lived in the same state). When we met, I thought she’d profess her feelings for me, but instead, it turned out to be a lunch filled with idle chatter.
As a result, when we returned to campus after break, things became very confusing for me. Prior to break, I had put it all on the line with Mary, telling her how much I thought of her. Now, a few weeks later, she never said a word about it, although there were many chances when we could have talked. She didn’t go out of her way to see me on weekends, choosing instead to go to campus events with guys from the running team, or leave campus on her own to see friends from high school.
I made all of this out to be her questioning her feelings for me, and trying to come to a decision. As a result, I decided not to pressure her, but instead to continue to woo her and try and get some sort of response, indirectly or directly: perhaps a romantic moment, a kiss, or an intimate conversation.
Sadly, actions began to speak louder than words, and I never did really get any sort of response out of her. One night, we decided to sit down on a bench on campus and talk. Once again, I put it all on the line, this time in teers and desperation. I told her how I felt, but in the end, she said she didn’t want a relationship yet. She valued my friendship and the time we spent together, but didn’t want anything further for the time being.
I was devastated. I had tried so hard to win her over with emotional support, love, and true emotions; and in the end, she decided that she only wanted my friendship. This conclusion came across to me as selfish: I had put my heart on the line, my time, and my affections and she was given the chance to tell me whether or not she wanted more. Instead, she didn’t reply on her own, choosing instead to make it look like she just wanted another campus activity partner, nothing more.
Had I been more experienced in the ways of love and relationships, I would have taken a hint from her odd behavior and the situation she created.
In the end, it really boiled down to these things, which I came to understand by thinking more critically of how she acted with me:
- Just Breakfast – Having breakfast for 15 mins a day with someone does not indicate romantic interest if nothing more comes of the situation. If all you can get is 15 minutes, you’re not going to get much more.
- Last minute dates – If you ask someone for a date on Tuesday, and they don’t have the courtesy to commit to you until the very last minute, it’s clear they don’t want to set aside their weekends for you unless they have nothing else to do.
- Put your money where your mouth is – If one day she holds hands with you, but another day shies away, forget it: yes she might have felt something then, but in reality, she is either to fickle to make up her mind, or simply wants to lead you on so that she can keep getting your attention
- Pony up and be honest – If you tell her you love her, and she can’t find it within herself to reply to you in a timely manner, drop her – this reaks of leading someone on and acting selfish instead of in the best interests of both parties.
- Old boyfriend on the scene – I later found out that the Saturdays she blew me off, she would go to her high school boyfriend’s university or on all night trips to concerts with him. I was surprised because she gave me the impression that she didn’t like to stay out late because of her intense athletic schedule. If she can find the time to plan a whole Saturday with an ex-boyfriend at the drop of a hat, but can’t commit to a date with you, its clear that she values the old boyfriend more than she values you.
…These things and a few others were screaming out to me: “Don’t commit yourself to her more than she commits to you…”, but I ignored them.
BPD amplifies feelings disproportionately. In this case, I had renounced my better judgement, and in some respects my dignity, by falling to the feet of someone who could never tell me face to face what she really felt simply for the reason that she wanted to have a buddy to do things with around campus, or a should to cry on when things didn’t go her way.
The result of it all was that I had to distance myself from her emotionally (and physically) because I learned that I would never get what I wanted from her. Why should I give her enduring affection when she would not return the favor?
So, mid-spring freshman year, after spending several months chasing her, we decided to part ways for a while. My decision to fall for her in the first place was costly, and the fallout became very evident: I had spent so much energy on a fantasy of what I thought would come of our relationship that I never took time to develop regular friendships with others on campus.
This meant that I had to start searching for new friends late freshmen year, when I should have been solidifying relationships with people I met during the first few weeks of my college experience.
Add to that my general lack of self confidence and shyness and you have an utter feeling of loneliness and isolation. I finally realized that I never took time to create my own social network because the one person I desired led me on to believe there might be something more. Sadly, there wasn’t.
Looking back, I can’t believe that I made such a foolish decision the first day of college, a decision that would deeply impact me for the remaining years I spent in school. Had I been more experienced, I would have known that I should have dropped her right away, especially in light of how emotionally ambiguous she was.
The end result was the opposite of BPD idealization: complete devaluation. I began to loathe her, despise her, and soon decided not to even talk with her. While she enjoyed herself around campus with the friends she made, reveled in the lime light and affections of her team mates for her athleticism, and was able to maintain a relationship with some dumb ex-boyfriend, I was left to my own devices to start all over again, facing the grim reality that my failure to make any other true friends meant that I was going into my Sophomore year relatively alone compared to most others.
Don’t do what I did. Don’t fall for someone when you should instead be just looking for people to hang out with during the crucial first weeks of college.
In the end, I ceased contact with her. I was eventually able to cultivate a few friendships of my own, but to this day I detest the fact that I was led on, embarassed, and ultimately left out in the cold from day one because I chose to take a chance and start something I thought would be wonderful.
Lesson learned – if you’re starting up in a new environment like college, a new school, or new job, don’t set out to find a date the first day you start. Instead, look for friends and allies that you can nurture, and once you’ve got your own network of people to share time with, only then should you venture out and go looking for a date or more.