It all started when I was 18. I’d just started my freshman year of college and was elated to be meeting new people. High school was hell, new friends were exactly what I needed, and a boyfriend was the last thing on my mind.
When the day came to choose classes, I chose “Hinduism and Buddhism 101.” It was an easy A, I’d heard. Oh, and I guess I also figured it was time to get in touch with my Indian roots.
That’s where I met Marc.*
Marc was the class clown. He was also a suck-up, the kind everyone rolls their eyes at, and he’d never miss a chance at shooting his hand up to answer a question. Our professor, an eccentric but lovable woman in her fifties, loved him for his eagerness. Well, that made one of us.
I didn’t like Marc at first. He was like the annoying little brother I never had; playful and immature, loud-mouthed and obnoxious, and cute, but in a Leonardo-DiCaprio-in-Titanic kind of way, from the blond bowl haircut to the pretty blue eyes. They were all the reasons I hated him, and they were all the reasons I’d grow to love him.
Marc also lived in my dorm. I’d bump into him while wearing just a bathrobe and brushing my teeth, and even then, he’d think I was beautiful. We were silly together. One time, we were both so drunk I challenged him to unhook my bra with his eyes closed in a room full of people. (He succeeded, and we all took a shot to celebrate).
Six months into our friendship, I began to “like like” Marc. His friend group and mine would frequent campus parties together, and we’d end most nights boozed up and holding hands, and his friends and my friends would make fun of how stupidly giddy we’d become in each other’s presence.
It was at a bar in downtown Atlanta, holding me by the waist and pushing hair out of my face, that he called me his girlfriend. We’d never talked labels, and I remember even my tipsy mind was confused by his choice of words. I was confused and I was dumbfounded. Marc was the first guy that made me feel I was worthy of being loved just the way I was.
I didn’t know what to do with the feeling. So I ran.
Marc’s frat brother, Nate,* sat next to me in English Lit. A week after Marc’s drunken confession, I started flirting with Nate. It was easy enough. He’d call me “beautiful,” I’d bat my eyelashes. He’d offer his help with papers on Odysseus, I’d accept his offers and hang with him in his dorm room. By the following semester, Nate and I were publicly a “thing,” and Marc had a girl of his own.
I wanted to tell Marc everything I was thinking: how I didn’t like Nate, how all I wanted was to be with him, and only him, how I was afraid I’d scare him away because when I love something, I love it so strongly that I forget to love myself.
But it was too late for me, I’d figured. And if it wasn’t too late, my feelings for him couldn’t drown out my relentless fear of being rejected.
I dropped Nate; being with him only made me feel emptier. I didn’t know it then, but at 18, I’d develop a lifelong habit of keeping my feelings a secret from the one person I’d always want to be honest with most. Again and again, I’d hold back, too scared to take a chance on something that could have been wonderful. Again and again, I’d miss out on love by an inch or two.
I don’t think I ever got over Marc. Occasionally, I still wander over to his Facebook to check up on him. Nothing’s changed much; he’s been dating the same leggy blonde for the past five years or so.
Marc and I met eight years ago, but every guy I’ve been with since him just seems like a lesser version of him. Because all the noise that surrounds me – the noise I so desperately try my best to suppress – tells me he’s still the one for me.
I can’t help but wonder if things would’ve been different if I’d just spoken my truth. Maybe he’d have taken me to his big sister’s wedding instead of the new girl. Maybe I’d have gotten to meet his parents, who’d eventually realize my fears don’t define me and I’m one of a kind. Maybe he and I would be crazy in love, and I never would’ve let all the guys I’ve hooked up with in the past decade treat me as awfully and embarrassingly as they did.
Maybe, maybe, maybe. What a bitch the past ends up being: You can’t change it, but you can only hope that when you meet someone who makes you believe again, it’ll have made you courageous enough to be honest with him. Honest with yourself.
Being honest with yourself, I’ve heard, is the most freeing feeling in the world.
*Name has been changed.