When I first met my now boyfriend, I saw him as nothing more than a party friend. We would drunkenly bump into each other at parties and bars, a string of mutual friends and acquaintances being the driving force behind conversations. Still, he was nice, very social and somewhat of a personality amongst our friend group, and I always made a point to say hello when we were out.
Our encounters became more frequent when my best friend began seeing a good friend of his. As we spent more time together, I realized we shared common tastes in music, movies, and, most dangerously, partying. Weekends were spent the four of us, drinking heavily into the early hours of the morning, laughing and equally intoxicated on each other as we were on booze. One night, our mutual friend made a casual suggestion; would you ever be into *Tim?
I scoffed at the idea at first. Tim had long, shoulder length hair and a full beard. A bonafide Dead Head, he wore flannel and tie dye and was rarely caught without a joint in his hand. Of course we had fun together, but his romantic reputation was questionable. I was aware of several girls he had screwed over in the past, and had never considered him more than a good friend with whom I could share a drink and a laugh.
All my past relationships were with the exact type of guy I was raised to bring home too; clean cut in every respect. But something about the idea excited me. For the first time in my life, I fell victim to the infatuation that I used to warn my friends of, the kind I swore I would never have. I fell for the bad boy.
Thus began a twisted, tormented, on and off, hot and cold relationship of two years. It began with an aggressive confrontation of a girl he had previously been with, furious that he had moved onto me. This should have been a red flag, instead, it fueled my addiction. I felt special that a well known party boy who was hard to pin down could be into me.
The first few weeks were great. He was consistent with his texting, always trying to make plans to meet up. He was straight forward about how he felt about me, he told me I was pretty and fun, not like other girls he had been with. I thought I had played it perfectly; we didn’t hook up right away, but spent nights together cuddling.
He would seek me out at school, sit with me in the library, even kiss me on the cheek in front of our friends.I thought I was on a one-way street to a relationship, and I felt proud to be the girl he had picked.
Then came the disappearing act. I wouldn’t hear from him for a week. We would end up at the same party, and he would make little or no effort to talk to me. I was hurt, but mostly confused at his behavior. He told me how into me he was last week, now he can’t look at me in the eye? My anxious thoughts kept me on edge, constantly questioning myself and if I had seen something that was never there to begin with. After a week of this, he would call me. We would meet up. And it was like he never left.
This continued for months, but over time my feelings magnified. I was falling for someone who would ignore me, deny our involvement, but then drunkenly slur to me how much I meant to him the next night.
I felt like I was losing my mind. My friends were fed up with my constant talk of him and blatant weekend agenda of trying to bump into him. I had fun with other guys at times when we weren’t speaking, but still couldn’t bring myself to invest in anyone else because he was always in the back of my mind. I never went to bed without checking my phone, hoping to see his name on the screen. I had become the exact type of girl that I hated; completely and utterly at the beck and call of a boy who clearly didn’t value me enough to make this real.
I realized that I had spent a good majority of my college career chasing a boy, and had nothing to show for it. I loved him, and I knew that to some degree, he did too.. He wasn’t seeing anyone else, I was sure of that. But for some reason he couldn’t give me what I needed, and that was a title. I was afraid to tell him how I felt, terrified as coming across as clingy or crazy, and as much as I wanted things to change between us, I was also afraid of losing him. He was the closest thing I had to a relationship in 5 years, and our on and off nature made it more stressful to make a clean break.
I know what you may be thinking; why would she want to be with this guy anyway? The truth is I knew that despite all the bullshit, we had something real. We had long talks about our favorite memories and concerts, and could understand each other with a single look. I felt safe in his bed. I knew that his sketchy behavior was coming from a place of insecurity, a fear of what his playboy friends would think of me and him. I understood, and I tred gently for this reason. But one night, when I overheard him refer to me his “special friend,” I had finally had enough.
I told him everything I felt. That I thought he was great. I saw all the best parts of him; his love of music and people and laughter. He made me laugh and still gave me butterflies after all this time, and he made me feel special when I was with him. But I had had enough. Enough of trying to explain to people what we were. Enough of constantly having my eye out for him, never feeling secure that he wouldn’t make a fool of me and hit on another girl at the bar. Enough of premeditating how I would respond when he acted whichever way he would, whether it be affectionately or icy cold, when I saw him out. Enough of this twisted hook-up culture that says that THIS IS OKAY.
Because no matter what Tinder tells you, it’s not.
It hit me that when I subject myself to a person who treats me in this way, and I keep coming back for it, I’m communicating to everybody around me, and most importantly to myself, that this is what I’m worth. I tried to fool myself by calling it modern day romance, but there is nothing romantic about things that hurt. I had seen so many girls around me be treated in this way, boys who would fuck them and then spottily communicate until they disappeared. At first it seems fun, the whole “will he text me or will I see him out Oh I better make sure I look hot OMG is he talking to that bitch??” game.
But the truth is,it’s exhausting. I was placing my focus and energy on the idea that at the end of the night, I needed to find a way to be with him, but this obsession was draining me of the great things about me, the things I loved most about myself. I didn’t spark up a conversation about the new Wes Anderson movie with a stranger who could have become a friend because I was too busy analyzing the body language of Tim and the girl he was talking to. I neglected to join in on a game of pong with my best friend, who desperately wanted to have fun with me because I was sulking in the corner at my text that he didn’t respond to.
I couldn’t enjoy myself and the real things that were happening around me because I was so deep in my own head about this boy who was clearly having a great time without me. And that, my friends, is pathetic. I could no longer be in this confusing place, where I needed validation from a boy to be okay with myself. And I told him I was done.
Plot twist: The next day, Tim asked me to be his girlfriend. I was surprised, but the connection that we made through all this modern-day-dating back and forth bullshit was real and withstanding, and I knew that. I think he understood that having a person who is devoted to you is much better than looking like you’re above emotions (when did this become cool…?) This is how you turn your whatever it is into a relationship: do not ask for it.
Demand it. It’s hard to navigate the murky waters of hook-up culture. But at the end of the day, you get to decide what you put up with. People can act like they’re above real, meaningful connections and just looking for sex, but we are human. We crave emotional connection, and people who say that they don’t are missing out on a beautiful part of life. Tim and I are still dating. He’s a great boyfriend, and I have faith that all boys can be. But ladies, you are responsible for yourselves. Love yourselves first, or nobody else will.