I was a little bit in love with a friend of mine in college, and my inability to acknowledge that at the time tore apart my friendship with her. I was tortured by my confusing feelings toward this girl, who I’ll call Ashley*, and the first two years of my college experience suffered because of it.
Ashley and I were already good friends before we happened to attend the same university, so it wasn’t like I met her and immediately fell. I now see that I had had feelings for her for a long time. When we got to school, I was far too concerned with trying to make the same friends as she did. I was so freaked out when she would do things without me because I was afraid it meant we were creating separate lives there. I didn’t notice that my preoccupation with her was preventing me from creating much of a life for myself at all.
When I wasn’t following her around, I was sitting in my dorm, wondering what she was doing and if it had been long enough since I last texted her that it wouldn’t be annoying if I texted her again. Sure, I made friends, and I tried to do things and enjoy doing them without her, but she was always on my mind. I was always nervous thinking that she was out there making memories that I was not a part of. It affected my ability to be outgoing and excited about meeting new people.
The beginning of college can be hard and scary and confusing for anyone. It is incredibly difficult to comprehend in the moment that who you spend time with during those first few weeks or even that entire first year need not define your entire college experience. Parts of it can if you want it to—some of my best friends to this day are those I met during the first two days of my first year—but it makes me cringe now to think how worried I was that who I would wander to parties with and who Ashley would sit with in the dining hall could define the structure of my social life for the next four years or affect my closeness with her.
What ultimately affected that closeness was my obsessive, unidentifiable crush on her. We fought a lot because I blamed her for neglecting me. I got so angry when she didn’t tell me every single thing going on in her life or when she wouldn’t let me comfort her if she was sad. I was awful to her boyfriend, and I hated when she’d go out and not invite me. Meanwhile, she was out having fun, dating, making friends, and I was sitting around fuming in anger and feeling sorry for myself, praying she would text me just so I could ignore it.
At the time I was also not mature enough to handle my anger very well. I was incredibly passive aggressive—something I am still working on—and as a freshman new to drinking, my anger at Ashley would often pour out at the end of a drunken night. She was so confused and upset and didn’t understand why I could possibly be so mad. I thought it was completely justified. I thought she was the bad guy who had abandoned me and treated me like I no longer mattered. I now see that it would have been impossible for her to treat me the way I wanted her to.
To this day it pains me when I think of the way I acted, especially because Ashley, herself, was going through something terrible in her home life, something I knew about and still I was relentless. I wanted to be there for her, and when she didn’t want to talk about it, I just got angrier. I regret that my behavior ruined so much of my college experience, but I regret so much more that it affected hers.
I spent a lot of time rationalizing my feelings to myself. I read articles that said when girls lose a best friend it is more emotionally taxing than losing a boyfriend. So, I reasoned, the intensity with which I feared the possibility of losing her was completely normal. I would listen to heartbreak music and relate to every word and think, wow love songs can totally apply to friendship too. As I have written many times in this blog, denial is damn powerful.
So much of my first two years of college were spent crying and depressed, and I couldn’t understand why. I acknowledged the possibility of my being gay a few times but quickly shoved the thoughts away whenever they’d creep in. I also didn’t tell anyone anything because I was ashamed that I wasn’t having the time of my life like I was supposed to be. So I did my best to pretend that I was.
As I said, the beginning of college is hard for anyone. Freshman year is such a confusing and insecure time where so many people cling to friends they’d never normally make just so they have someone to sit with at breakfast. I think I would have had some social anxiety at the start regardless of sexuality because by the time I graduated, though I was still in the closet, I had grown into the confident, outgoing, and more or less FOMO-free version of myself that still exists today.
But all the typical anxiety that comes with starting college combined with my sexual confusion was almost too much for me to handle. It was an extra wall I had up, an extra façade I had to maintain that distanced me from feeling like I was fitting in. I wish I had just talked to someone about it. I think even discussing it with one person could have helped a lot to release some stress from the pent-up thoughts eating away at me. No one should have to deal with all of that on her own.
It’s complicated, though, because I also loved college. Throughout all of this time I also had some great friends and a lot of fun. Strangely enough, I have found, it is possible for all of that to simultaneously happen. My freshman and sophomore years were the hardest because I allowed my feelings for Ashley to control me. By junior year I was over her and had a great last half of school. I feel lucky that Ashley’s and my love for one another allowed us to overcome it all. With a lot of talking, we got through that hard stuff, and we remain good friends to this day.
My last two years were the best because I was not only over Ashley romantically, but I wasn’t enamored with anyone else, so I just had fun with my friends. I studied abroad and had the most amazing and transformative time. I felt settled back on campus and found my niche in the girls club hockey team. I loved my classes and professors, and I just had an all around good time. It took me a little too long to recognize that it doesn’t matter how many people are at your party as long as they are people you can count on.
So those last two years were the best, but I was still in the closet so they still weren’t as good as they could have been. I was still holding in feelings and forcing myself to hook up with boys and pretending that whatever had happened between Ashley and me was not strange.
I think a lot of my anger at Ashley wasn’t really about her at all. She was just the unlucky recipient of eighteen years of bottled up feelings refusing to lie dormant any longer. They were begging to be released and I was pushing them back down, and that tug-of-war manifested itself in these emotional eruptions.
I think my college experience would have been completely different if I’d been out. For one, I would have understood how I felt about Ashley so I would have been able to pull back. Beyond that, I am a huge joiner. I like to be deeply entrenched in whatever community I care about. If I had been out, I would have been in all the right clubs. I could have met a strong group of gay friends. I would have been a better friend and an overall more confident person. I could have fallen in love with someone who could have fallen in love with me. I could have taken the courses I was passionate about—gender studies courses that I veered away from after writing too many papers on feminism in high school (I think I was afraid of what too strong an interest could imply).
While I have done my best to work on releasing all of this regret, I still wish I could go back and do college right. I wish I could go back and treat both Ashley and myself with respect. I’m not sure those regrets will ever entirely fade away. The only thing that comforts me now is to think that at least there is an explanation. At least I don’t have to sit back and think that I acted so poorly toward Ashley because I am not a good person or that I struggled to find my place because I didn’t belong.
I struggled and acted poorly because I was suffering from holding an integral piece of myself back, because I was born into a society that has made it far too difficult for me to be okay with being myself. Thinking about it this way is the only thing that has allowed me to begin to forgive myself.
In her speech for the Human Rights Campaign, Ellen Page said, “I suffered for years because I was scared to be out. My spirit suffered, my mental health suffered, and my relationships suffered.” Page, and those like her, are my other source of comfort. Hearing the stories of others, hearing that I am not alone in what I went through while trapped inside that closet prison, has made it exponentially easier to feel better about it all.
I wish I was born into a world where I didn’t have to begin inside a closet at all, where I could have grown up being asked whether I wanted to date boys or girls so I understood that whichever I chose was the same amount of normal. Maybe I would not have been so tortured and maybe other people would not have gotten caught up in the mess. I am lucky though because at least I am still young. While I did make these mistakes, I am happy that I have the rest of my life to live right.