My freshman year of college thrust onto me more challenges than I thought I could handle — but it also introduced me to the man I will forever call my soulmate, whom we will call D. Someday I’ll tell my kids all about how life played a cruel, tasteless joke on two unsuspecting friends, but that we got life back by simply being happy anyway. Happy for each other, and eventually, happy with our own lives.
It certainly wasn’t easy, but no story worth telling ever is.
The day I met D I was wearing a god-awful, Heinz-mustard-yellow cardigan, a bright purple scarf, and skinny jeans that were at least two sizes too small. My hair was pulled back into a tight ponytail, my skin was clear of makeup, and my eyebrows were… well, they had seen better days. Beautiful, I was not.
But that didn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. Looks weren’t what drew us together—it was that instantaneous connection that felt like we had found the one person who would understand us better than we understood ourselves. Like when you finally crawl into your own bed after travelling from hotel to shitty hotel for weeks on end and everything feels right in the world.
D and I had that I-know-what-you’re-going-to-say-before-you-even-think-it connection.
We were that cliche. The “I want to spend my life with this person even though I’ve only known them for five minutes” cliche. We had that almost desperate desire to sit down and spill our souls out to each other—but couldn’t. Not that day, anyway.
We were starting an a cappella group together, and other harmonious hopefuls began to trickle in before we could say much more. We gave each other a look that said, “This isn’t over. You. Me. Coffee. Soon.” and it was understood that we were now friends.
Our friendship looked something like this: crappy Chinese food every other night, grab a coffee on the way back to the dorms, and then spilling our souls to each other until the sun came up. Oh, and swing dancing. He was an incredible swing dancer. He helped this broken, self-conscious wallflower feel like she was everything but.
This is where a very healthy and beneficial friendship made a one-eighty. We started relying on each other as more than friends, but we weren’t dating. It was like we had a romantic partner for all the emotional support we needed, but none of the responsibilities—a quasi-relationship.
The worst part was, we never could really be in a relationship – nature made sure of that. You see, D was gay.
So, we just kept using each other.
I was his go-to, his confidante, his partner in crime… we did everything together. We were a couple in every way, just without the title.
It was fine for a time, but it really started to wear me down. Here I was giving almost everything I had to someone who could never do the same in return – even if he wanted to. He might have treated me sort of like a girlfriend, but that intimacy that couples require was severely lacking with us. It tore me apart.
I wondered should I keep up this pretense that I’m okay solely to hold onto the most important person in my life? Or do I distance myself because I know that in the long-run it will be better for the both of us?
Turns out, I didn’t have to make that decision. He did it for me.
The night of the ball is when everything fell apart. And no, this isn’t a bad Another Cinderella Story rip-off; this is just an unfortunately similar situation where I realized that I’m not Cinderella, he’s not Prince Charming, and life isn’t a goddamn fairy tale—it’s a tragedy.
We coordinated outfits. We took pictures. We got nice and tipsy. We walked over together. We danced a few times. And then everything fell apart.
He told me he was going to go to the bathroom and he’d be right back. No big deal, right? Ten minutes pass and I’m thinking, “He must have run into some friends. He’s a popular guy, of course he did. Let me go find him.”
He was dancing with another girl.
I ran to an empty hay bale (it was a dance put on by forestry majors in Montana, what do you expect?) and cried. And cried, and cried.
An acquaintance of sorts, I don’t remember who, came up and asked me if I was okay. I told him everything. How I had looked forward to this night for two months but it had been ruined because he chose to spend his time with someone else for a little while. Another girl, nonetheless.
Then he asked, “Oh, are you guys dating?”
I replied, “Uh, well, no. He’s kind of… into men.”
The bemused expression on his face really hit the point home. Why was I so worked up about someone who wasn’t my boyfriend and wouldn’t, couldn’t ever be?
The answer was simple: because I still thought of him as mine. I figured that even though he could never love me that way I loved him, he was still my person. My boyfriend without being my boyfriend. My platonic (not-so-platonic on my end) soulmate. My best friend, and my date for the evening.
I tried rationalizing my reaction to the situation by thinking that because he was my friend and that he came to the ball with me that my feelings were justified. Which, in some ways, was true. But it went so much deeper than that.
After crying on this almost-a-stranger’s shoulder, my “date” came over to talk. I sort of told him what I was feeling and he sort of told me to get over it. We enjoyed the rest of the night as well as two people with unresolved issues can, and it is forever one of my least favorite days.
A few days later, when neither of us could take the tension anymore, we had “the talk.”
It went a little something like this: I told him that I was hurt that he had chosen to spend so much time with other people when we had planned to spend the evening as a “couple” so to speak. He let me know in no uncertain terms that I was treating him like a boyfriend when that’s not what he was, nor would ever be for me.
I later learned that this was intentional, that he could see our toxic “relationship” bringing us both down – but at the time I was devastated. He had never mentioned any of this to me earlier, so this was entirely out of the blue. I knew it in my heart to be true, but hearing the words spoken still felt like daggers to the heart.
It’s weird how when the truth is spoken it seems so much more real, right?
There was never a big blow out, which I was thankful for at the time – we just sort of… drifted apart. Weekly coffee dates became monthly, classes were making us “too busy” to hang out, and other friends started popping up in pictures on social media.
I wish there would have been a blowout. A yelling match where we had just gotten everything out all at once. Perhaps the we could have salvaged the beautiful thing that we had going—or perhaps not. Maybe the fact that we were so in love with each other but knew we could never be together the way we wanted would have broken us anyway – just differently.
The one thing that sticks with me to this day is the hurt that I feel after essentially being ghosted by someone so incredibly important to me. The fault lies with me too, of course, but acknowledging that does nothing to ease the pain I feel.
It feels as though we just weren’t important enough to each other to care anymore. Instead of addressing the issue that was on the brink of tearing us apart, we took the easy way out and just let the wound heal on its own, without any sort of treatment. The problem with doing that is all the scar tissue left behind afterward.
Sure, it doesn’t hurt all the time and most of it can even be healed or removed—but there’s always that little bit there to remind you of what happened. We’ll never be what we once were – and I think that’s okay – but it’s certainly bittersweet to think about.
The idea that we will never have that bond again is definitely a hard pill to swallow, but if there’s anything time and experience have taught me, it’s this: “different” doesn’t mean “bad” or “worse.” It means that you will have new feelings, and a new perspective, and sometime that will make you happier in the long run. The important thing is to embrace that change, not shy away from it.
This new thing that we have going, this healthy friendship—this could be the thing to make our hearts the happiest they’ve ever been.
Fate, destiny, whatever you want to call it—it made my first love in such a way that we could not nor will ever be together in that way; but in doing so it gave me a friendship that has shaped me so much. Without all the experiences – good and bad – I would be half the woman I am today, so I’m thankful for the laughter and the tears.
Regardless of his sexual orientation, of which I knew about from the beginning, I still chose to pursue the attraction I felt. It didn’t matter to me at the time because he gave me what I needed: security, a vision of what love was and is supposed to look like, and a partner—an equal. I needed and wanted everything he had to offer at the time, and if given the chance, I would do it all again.
You can’t always get what you want, but the thing is—sometimes that’s great, because then you get what you need.