Along with having to get a “real” job and start living a “real” life, graduating college also means The Great College Breakup. You might be one of the lucky ones – the one who found her someone a long time ago, and plans to be with him and only him forever. Then again, you might also be one of the ones who found her college someone, which has now led to your inevitable “Is this really going anywhere?” post-graduation discussion. It’s painful, it’s awkward, and it’s terrifying.
In short, it’s not a pretty thing to endure.
But you’ll do it. You guys will break up. And it’ll suck, a lot. You’ll have to regain your footing, rediscover yourself. You’ll spend months trying to remember who you were before you clung so tightly to this person for reassurance and sanity to finish out your education. It’s a mass erasing of your life’s chalkboard – an exciting chance to start all over, but incredibly overwhelming in a terrifying way.
You’ll question how to date, where you’re supposed to meet new love prospects, how the hell anyone actually gets together in the “real world.” You’ll question your decision to end things with your college love at least a million times, wondering if the safer choice was the better choice. You’ll more than likely give in to late night, halfway drunk texting about what you guys had and how it ended the way it did.
But, when you least expect it (because that’s how these things go), you’ll meet him – the first guy since your epic college ex who will make you feel… something. What it is you’re not sure, but it sets something off deep inside of you. Something you haven’t felt in a long time, or maybe have never felt before? This new man, this stranger, he’ll flirt. You’ll flirt back. He’ll get your number. You won’t believe it. He’ll ask you out. You’ll practically faint from excitement. The feeling this man is stirring inside of you wasn’t something you knew needed stirring. Not until now.
Because this is big-time. This is “real world” dating. You barely know this person. You didn’t meet him in class after working together in a group, or at an epic frat party, or even through friends of friends at one of the treasured collegiate dive bars in town. No. This man is a complete mystery to you – in fact, all dating is a complete mystery to you. You have no idea how it works, but you cannot wait to find out. You’re equal parts paralyzed with fear and almost uncontrollably excited. Anything can happen, you truly believe that. This isn’t child’s play courtship anymore – it’s the real deal.
You’ll begin dating him. He’ll pick you up, waiting outside his car to greet you like a true gentleman. He’ll tell you how pretty you look and how excited he is for tonight. He’ll suggest you guys go somewhere for a pre-dinner cocktail; it’ll sound like the most grown-up, romantic thing you’ve ever heard. He’ll bring you out to real dinners and carry-on real conversation over real cocktails. He won’t keep you out too late, and he will by no means show any sign that he ever expected to go home with you or vice versa. He’ll kiss you goodnight and your heart will double in size. You’ve felt these feelings before, but they were masked in cheap beer, late night studying, and a surface-level kind of romance. This is true dating. Real dating. Anything could happen.
You will fall, and you will fall hard. Doesn’t matter if it lasts a week, two months, or a year. A certain level of ambitious intensity comes hand-in-hand with your first real world dating experience that makes even the shortest amount of time feel like an eternity.
He will say all the right things in all the right moments. He’ll wait as long as you can hold out before you make love. He will lay there with you, in some of the most comfortable silences you’ve ever experienced, and quietly say things like “Do you think anyone else has ever felt this intense before?” and “I can imagine you home with me for Christmas, just being around my family.” Could this be it? Could he be your lobster? Could you have been lucky enough to have found your One so soon after the separation from your younger, college life?
No. This isn’t it, he’s not your lobster, and you still have a long way to go. But you had to start somewhere. You had to put yourself out there, as an adult, out of college and in the real world. You had to take a chance, believe a man, and give yourself to him in order to press “start” on the rest of what dating has in store for you. You had to trust him, learn him, smell him, breathe him, only to lose him. You let yourself believe this would last a great deal longer than it did, let him know how much you really liked him, and believed every word he said even if it sounded too good to be true. You had to do all of this to get the first, shitty letdown out of the way and make room for countless more.
And this experience, this letting yourself fall head-over-heels with an almost complete stranger whom you barely really knew, it will almost most definitely change who you are romantically going forward. You’ll question. You’ll doubt. You’ll put up guards you didn’t know you had. In the weakest of moments, you’ll tell them you’ve “done this before” and you “don’t want to get hurt again.” You’ll look at each new suitor with a weary eye, allowing yourself to imagine the exciting possibilities of where this could lead before you remember what you went through. You’ll remember his bullshit, his actions, his talented way of making you believe nothing could go wrong between the two of you, and you’ll wonder if this guy is the same.
You’ll be damaged. Not a lot, and nothing irreparable. But damaged, nonetheless. You’ll move forward with just the smallest bit of hardening around your heart, but with every hope and wish that the right “real world” guy will come along and soften it wholly.
And maybe he will. But maybe he won’t. You just have to keep trying to find out.