When it comes to dating, love, what have you, there always seems to be a power struggle. I don’t say this as someone who has observed hundreds of couples in a sociological study or someone who has done hours of research on how relationships work, but as someone who has experienced it myself, and watched my friends experience it in the college hookup culture.
Flashback to a year ago. There was this guy. We can call him James. James and I were (and still are) best friends. But last year, there was clearly something there. We would hook up, and I developed strong feelings for him, which I assumed he never reciprocated. One of us was always playing hard to get, and the one who was chasing the other was the one who was losing the game we played. It was hurtful and confusing to me. Here was this person who I cared deeply about and wanted to be with, yet I could never find the way to express this to him with all the stigmas that college hookups put around honesty.
It never really occurred to me why I never told James how I felt until last week, when I read the Cosmopolitan article “What’s Wrong With College Dating.” In the article, it talks about how in college there is an unspoken competition to see who can “care less.” By never telling James how I felt, and he never admitting his feelings to me-until about 3 months ago when he told me via Skype while on a different continent at which point it was too late for us- I shut myself off from something that could have potentially been a great relationship. And why? Because I was scared. Because I was afraid to lose the game we were playing of who could hide their feelings better, who was best at acting like it mattered the least. I lied to myself and to him for months in an effort to win some competition where we both ultimately ended up losing.
Flash forward to last night, and a new guy. We’ll call him Mike. He and I have been friends for several months, but in the last few weeks it seems to have developed into something more. We have kissed, and are constantly flirting and being affectionate with one another. Over the past couple weeks, I had noticed it starting again-the competition to see who could care less. I didn’t want to make the same mistake I did last time, where I jaded myself thinking that it would somehow make me a stronger or better person to hide from my feelings, and not admit them to myself or to him.
So last night, I told him. I said, “Mike, what are we doing?” His response, “I don’t know. I don’t know what I want.” A year ago, I would have said something along the lines of “Ok, that’s cool, me neither, haha, it doesn’t really matter that much.” But last night I took a risk. I lay it all out on the table. I told him that I do care. That I see this going somewhere, and given the chance I think he and I could be great together.
Why should I let him know that I care? Because it’s time to stop running from feelings that scare us. It’s time to go up to that person we can’t get off our mind, and tell them just that. In a culture where we put so much stock in never letting ourselves feel, it’s time to break down the ideals that only leave us hurt, empty, and wondering. So many times I have “what if’d” what might have happened if I had just told James how I felt. But I didn’t because I was afraid to make a fool of myself by opening up and being honest in a college environment that has taught me that to feel is to lose the game, whatever that game may be. What does lying to each other really get us in the long run? A hookup that leaves us feeling empty and used, or a best friend who we silently love for years. It’s time we step up to the plate and stop being ashamed to admit to ourselves that what we feel for someone, or what they may feel for us, actually matters.
Mike and I didn’t end the conversation with some straight-from-the-movies kiss and his declaration of love that he had been previously too scared to admit. He still doesn’t know what he wants. And that’s okay. Because at least now he knows what I want. For the first time, I stopped running from my feelings, and the college culture idea that it’s a weakness to care. I let down my guard, and let the chips fall where they may. Maybe I’ll end up hurt. Maybe he and I will eventually be together. But regardless, I took a risk. I let myself care. And I let it be known that I care. And you know what? It feels pretty damn great.