Ah, freshman year. It’s the time to schedule all of your classes for the afternoon, enjoy the riches of a meal plan and to make some admittedly awful decisions. If you think that your 18-year-old-self made some questionable choices, imagine hooking up with a guy you’ve stolen from one of your friends and then volunteering to live with both of them. This is the story of my journey into one of life’s morally-gray areas and how a yearlong lease served as the swift kick I needed to send me back to decency.
High school was mostly a dormant time in the romance department. With grades and my future taking the front seat in reality, all of my deep, unrequited crushes never left the pages of sappy, poetry-filled journals. Once the summer before college arrived, though, I realized that dating was just an easy game I could play and manipulate in my favor.
I attracted guys that looked like the ones I fawned over in Alternative Press. They were older, tattooed and in bands supported by part-time jobs and the delusion that they would make it big. Long story short: They were the types to send my parents straight into cardiac arrest and cause my own heart to break over and over due to their erratic ways.
Once I hit the man-Mecca of my college career – or in other words – Temple University, I was done careening into these tainted paramours at a reckless speed. I wanted to slow down, and John* was like stopping for a breath of fresh air compared to the cigarette smoke-filled basements I was used to. I thought I had finally found simplicity amidst all of the previous complexity in my love life. I had never been so wrong.
It was pretty simple at first. Our relationship consisted of loitering at the dining halls, holding hands at frat parties and spending hours tucked away in my dorm room. He made me feel comfortable. I could always count on the fact that he would call when he said he would and be where he said he would be. These small, mundane actions felt like luxuries. John fit in my life perfectly like a worn sweater, a relief to the old high heels that had constantly kept me on my toes. It was boring and predictable, but for once, nothing about it hurt.
However, I realized he wasn’t actually mine after witnessing several Four Loko-fueled confrontations between him and his previous flame. Allie* was fiery, intimidatingly intelligent and her unabashed public displays of emotion scared the shit out of me. For these reasons, I indulged in one of my oldest, dirtiest habits without even knowing it.
I agreed to keep our relationship under wraps since it felt different from all of the other affairs I’d been involved in over the years. I wasn’t prepared for the fire that would inevitably rain down on me when she found out, and with finalized plans for the three of us to live together next year, I was already tied to a stake as the flames started to surround me.
The end of that semester consisted solely of screaming matches, tears and text apologies of varying sincerity as we all quietly retreated to our corners to think about what we had done. The relationship ended as abruptly as it started and even though it was wrong, I felt like my happiness had been yanked right out of my hands. I became a recluse, being sustained only by repetitive plays of Paramore albums and feeling sorry for myself. Making this mistake was enough to leave me embarrassed, but being bound to it for another year left me completely defeated.
The summer passed and we all faced one another again. Our bedrooms were placed a few feet apart, dead center in our Bermuda Triangle of love. The initial heat of the situation had cooled and re-emerged as painful silences and passive aggressive comments. Surprisingly, I could work through the residual feelings with John by the time that fall hit. With Allie, though, the passing of seasons couldn’t act as a simple cure. I defiled the sanctity of girl code. I was still being judged and might as well have been toting around a scarlet letter on my chest.
I had to earn my stripes back. The only way I could do this was to put any previous pride aside and admit that most of the blame belonged to me. I volunteered to become the secret in a relationship that existed between two other people. I thought I was being more mature by seeking out someone who didn’t make me jump through hoops, but at the end of the day, it wasn’t any more virtuous than any of my other fickle romances. In fact, it was probably worse.
I could genuinely enjoy spending time with John and Allie by the time we went our separate ways, but they weren’t as lucky. The crack I drilled between the two of them proved to be irreparable and I’m sure that every time they’ve run into each other post-lease has been by chance.
As a senior, I wish that I could say that I have moved on from every stupid decision I made as a freshman. Sure, those one-night hookups and belligerent drunk episodes felt Earth-shattering at the time, but now I look back with a reminiscent smile. On the other hand, almost losing my best friends to prove that I could function in a normal relationship still leaves a terrible taste in my mouth.
I wish I would have backed down when I realized the cost of my choice far outweighed the benefit. While I’ll always enjoy the incomparable high of so much freedom at my fingertips, I’ve learned the consequences of living “young, wild and free.”
*Names were changed to protect privacy.