i met her on our first week of freshman year, college. for whatever reason (i think she was in a class with one of my floormates), she ended up on our floor & hung out with a few us in the lounge for a while. i ran into her again the next day and we spent some more time together then... soon we were hanging out often and became close, as close as i'd been to any female outside my family.
she was pretty, smart, and friendly to the point of unintentionally coming off as flirty. that last bit was very important: girls like that always caught my eye when i was lonely and starved for attention. so of course i immediately became infatuated with her, and before too long i was convinced i was in love with her. maybe i was. probably i was.
she figured out my feelings pretty quickly. but she said she wasn't interested in me that way, and no amount of talking, moping, or anything else would convince her to give me a chance. i could never figure that out, and i resented it a bit. but she was one of my best friends, so we kept hanging out... no matter how depressed i got or what horrors i could imagine, i always clung to that hope that someday she would "realize how great we would be together". which naturally only made it all hurt more.
i'd been infatuated before, and i'd been rejected before. but in those cases either the girl never found out about my feelings (if i ever even spoke to her), or the girl would reject me & there'd be a hard break, where i would grow very melancholy for a day or a few, and in that time would get over it. at least enough to function. a lot of the time also i would distance myself enough from the girl that we wouldn't speak much anymore. it wasn't pleasant, but the rejection was easier to take if i didn't have to deal with the girl in question.
this time it didn't work like that. there was no hard break. i was too close to stop talking to her, & i still hoped she would give me a chance. so instead of one moment of rejection (which i had coping mechanisms for, as awkward as they were), it was a long period of continuous rejection that lasted a year. to this day i think that was really unhealthy for me, probably the last thing i needed now that i was in college trying to break out of my shell and explore the new freedom that comes with going away to school.
(i feel the need to point out that she was an extremely nice person who never meant to hurt me. i'm not even sure how much she did hurt me: i probably did most of it to myself. but the effect on me was the same.)
when i try to go to bed at night, often it's hard to shut my brain down enough to fall asleep; i just keep on thinking & can't get distracted enough to drift off. that has always been the way. but during this time my nocturnal thoughts would take a turn for the nasty. i would work up these elaborate un-fantasies, nightmare scenarios where she would say & do awful, malicious things to me for no reason... tell me she hates me, decide never to speak to me again, hell i hardly remember the terrible things i would imagine her doing, but i do remember lying in bed awake at three in the morning, four in the morning, fucking six in the morning, bringing myself to tears because i was so freaked out that she didn't love me, wouldn't even give me a chance at romance... i couldn't turn these thoughts away or shut out the voices. it was like having recurring nightmares, except i got even less rest because i didn't have the benefit of falling asleep first.
i was young and foolish. i did stupid things. and i grew jealous, intensely jealous, of other men she became involved with... so she hid them from me, which only made it worse when i later found out (not that there were that many, but there were a couple). one time she asked me what i'd do if she turned out to be a lesbian (a serious question; she was young & confused too). i told her i didn't know what i'd do... & i might even kill myself. jesus, what a guilt-trip to lay on the poor girl... what terrible pressure.
i even started smoking pot for her. not because she asked or pressured me to; she knew that i still had a straight-edge streak leftover from "rebelling" against the tie-dye-wearing, jimmy-buffett-listening yuppie pseudo-hippies from high school. no, i started because i peer-pressured myself into it, as if she would have a sudden change of heart if we had one more way to bond together. now, she had nothing to do with why i continued smoking, but i started in some lame attempt to impress her.
one night a few months after we met (i think we'd even been hanging out that night), i was drunkenly talking to her on the phone & i ended the call with "i love you". i immediately regretted it & wouldn't have said it sober. but i said it, so i panicked. i'd seen enough bad fiction to know that "i love you" is not something to say lightly, so i freaked out like now things would start going horribly wrong (like they'd been so right in the first place). turns out she hardly even noticed, because "i already knew you loved me" she said. that was the first (& so far only) time i ever told a woman i loved her (excluding family, & perhaps also exclusing anonymous love letters, which aren't the same at all), & it didn't do much for me other than add to my ever-growing stack of traumatic memories. nothing happened, nothing changed.
this went on for awhile. i was on a college campus surrounded by gorgeous young women... some of them were quite pleasant to look at or even stroke myself to, but i wasn't really interested in them because they could never live up to the fantasies that i'd built up in my mind about how perfect life would be if "she" would ever give me a chance.
a few months later, another phone call: somehow our conversation turned to my relationships with women. she took a position of encouraging me to pursue women i like rather than suffer silently (not the first time i'd had that conversation with someone, nor was it the last by a longshot). somehow she didn't realize that this whole conversation was about her (i was pretty certain it was a coded conversation... yes, she was a little flaky... just flaky enough to hurt me without meaning to), & it went so far that she somehow convinced me i should try to kiss her.
i had hope again (after all, it was her idea), so later that day i made my move & went in for the kiss, in the hallway right outside my room. it went horribly... as soon as she saw me moving in she turned her head, and i glanced off her cheek. it wasn't one of those hollywood moments where the woman resists until the kissing starts but gets caught up in the passion of the moment... she deflected my advance & i effectively bounced off her cheek. there was no kiss, only awkwardness (i would have to wait more than a year for my first kiss).
she felt terrible for her part in setting up that tragedy, but for me it was one of the most traumatic moments of my college years (the others being when i got carjacked, & when i got arrested for possession). my mood went into a deep tailspin... a few days later, realizing i was desperate for some kind of change, some symbolic gesture to represent that i had at least some control over my life, i got a haircut. that was a big deal: so far i'd had a full head of long hair, & this was the first time since high school that i got it cut short... i had the sides & back shaved off (as was the style at the time), got the rest trimmed to the top of my ears in a "bowl cut". thus began my haircut cycle of cutting the top short, then growing it out, then cutting it again.... i'm still in that cycle today.
the haircut worked: somehow it helped bring me out of that funk. but still there was no hard break; i didn't get over her. no, that happened in february, & my feelings for her lasted throughout that summer. i even took a greyhound out to BFE that summer to visit her in her tiny hometown of like 600 people.
sophomore year she moved off-campus, so i didn't see her quite as much. i finally got over her in late september, but only because an encounter with another woman managed to distract me: after a long night of hanging out & drinking with girl #2, we ended up laying down together & girl #2 even placed my hand on her breast (outside the shirt). turns out that after girl #2 sobered up she wasn't so interested in me anymore (or maybe i just scared her off), so that didn't really get me anywhere. but at least the spell was broken & i was finally able to move on.
we remained close friends, although the awkwardness always remained, despite the fact that my love, or infatuation, or whatever it was had dissipated. plus, i was now fully able to resent her for having refused me for so long, something i couldn't really let myself do while i still thought i was in love with her.
not too long after that she started dating, & the three of us would hang out... i became fairly good friends with her new boyfriend, although i was never 100% comfortable with him and could never figure out what he had that i didn't... eventually they got married (i drove down during the summer for the wedding, apparently one of her only friends who bothered to do so)... then she got pregnant... by this point we'd been drifting apart & after graduating i didn't keep close contact with either of them (i've similarly lost touch with many of my college friends). last i heard they had two kids, but that was a few years ago... i wonder what they're up to now.
for a long time afterward i dealt with the psychic fallout from all this, & to some degree i'm sure i'm still dealing with it now. of course there were good times, happy moments together that i wouldn't want to give up. but with all the intense pain, dragged out over a full year, plenty damage was done, self-inflicted or otherwise. eventually i found other women who would give me a chance, & while usually those ended within days or weeks, at least i got to kiss them (& more) before they rejected me... & some of those even turned into fulfilling relationships... after all, i have a girlfriend now who i care about deeply & i'm very happy with (except for the long-distance aspect).
but in all that time i've often wondered what went wrong, what went right, & most importantly whether i was even in love at all. i thought i was at the time. i had a closer personal bond with someone than i'd ever had before. but it was all so painful & disillusioning. is there such a thing as unrequited love? love is supposed to be a good thing--fraught with the pain that always accompanies human relationships, to be sure--so how could something as frustrating, tortuous, & one-sided as "unrequited love" be real love? if it's not real love, then wtf is it? just some grandiose form of infatuation?
even worse, if unrequited love is not real love--if the one time i truly thought i was in love, i was mistaken--then how could i ever know if i found the real thing?
these kinds of questions nagged at me for a long time, & since i was never really in a position to come up with solid answers they just drifted to the back of my mind. now that i'm actually in a committed long-term "couple" relationship, i find that i've never really dealt with these outstanding issues that have been fucking with my head for almost 10 years (i started college in the fall of 1994).
after spending most of the morning typing all this out, i'm leaning toward the conclusion that yes, i probably was in love. and because it was so agonizing, ever since i've been fighting myself not to let myself become that vulnerable again. sure, i've been infatuated with plenty women since then, & fell for some of them pretty hard. but as irrational as it is, maybe on some level i've avoided opening myself up the way i did back then, as if doing so & just letting it happen, just accepting that i'm falling in love again would cause my girlfriend to turn on me, to deny me in the way i was denied all those years back.
which is totally crazy. but these sorts of things tend to get crazy, don't they?
now i might be full of shit. but it makes sense, at least right now.