We were sitting on the bed in the hotel with the rest of the students on our trip. We had left our regular lives for a week to travel to an “exotic” country to build houses with Habitat for Humanity. I looked over at the junior sitting next to me and thought about the week we had just spent together. We had flirted and laughed but for some reason tonight felt different. It was our last night and, for me, it had all been leading to this moment.
I was a bit hesitant to say anything because I knew he had a crush on my best friend. I had talked to her before we had left and she informed me she had no interest in him and to “go for it” if the opportunity presented itself. She also let me know what she wanted me to say if he asked about her. I mean, everyone knew that we’re pretty much attached at the hip, so I was pretty sure he’d bring her up. Then again, it has been a week and it seemed like all of his attention had been on me. Did he still like her?
A game of Mafia was being played around us by the rest of the group, but we were in our own little world. Talking about life and the impending drama that awaited us back home. Then, there was silence. He began to play with his hands, staring down at the pockets in his shorts.
“So I have wanted to ask you something for the past few days.” Oh my god, is he going to ask me out?
There was another pause as I looked inquisitively at his averted eyes.
“Do you know if Angela likes me?”
My heart sank in my chest. I’m such an idiot. He was still thinking about her.
I recited the sentiment that my best friend had told me to say if she were to come up, verbatim. An awkward silence hung in the air as I waited for some sort of response. Nothing. Wow he is taking this much worse than I had expected. I looked over at him and, although he was sitting directly next to me, he felt a million miles away.
“Are you ok? I feel like I just ripped your heart out of your chest.” Maybe not the most soothing words I could have come up with, but they would do.
There was more silence.
“I don’t know, I mean I didn’t know her that well but my older siblings have always told me how I should have at least one serious relationship before I leave high school and I thought that I could have that with her.”
Self-pity, jealousy, and disappointment filled my heart as I sat feeling like lesser than Angela, as always. I’ll just never be good enough.
Out of nowhere, he slid his hand closer to me and put his fingers through mine. What is happening?! I stared down at our now tightly held hands and tried to replay the last 10 minutes of our conversation to make sense of what was happening. Nope, I had no clue. He then began to tell me about how hard it was moving to a new school in a different country and told me about his family and missing home. I had suddenly become his therapist, his therapist that he seemingly (in my mind at least) rejected, just moments ago.
“You know it may be easier for us to talk outside away from the rest of the group.” Still a bit lost, I nodded and we headed to the hallway.
He continued to talk about his family and all of the challenges in his life as I sat patiently on the floor listening and trying to empathise. We were there for about 2 hours when curfew hit.
“Do you want to come back to my room in about an hour and hang out?” I was still so confused about what was happening but agreed to, and we decided I would come back down to his room in 30 minutes.
The next thing I knew I was in his room, it was pitch black, and his roommate was a mere 2 feet away from us, sleeping. He held me in his arms and kissed me. Acceptance. As much as I wanted to immerse myself in the experience, there was still a part of me that felt really uncomfortable about the whole situation. Not even 4 hours ago, he was asking about my best friend and telling me about the profound sadness that he felt when she rejected him, but now he seemed to be pretty enthralled with me.
“I feel kind of uncomfortable. You were just talking about my best friend. I feel like your second choice.”
“No not at all! I’m here with you now aren’t I?” He kissed me and the conversation was over.
The following day the whole group packed into a van and left for the airport to go back home. I was still thinking about the previous night and everything that had transpired with, let’s call him, Steve. I knew something about it felt off but I was finally chosen by someone, someone finally liked me.
On the airplane, Steve had switched seats with the person next to me so we could watch a movie on the flight. Maybe I am overthinking this. Maybe he does just like me. It could be that simple.
Over the next week we exchanged text messages and I went over to his house one day after school. The whole experience was just weird. He behaved differently than he had on the trip. He wasn’t as kind and attentive. Our conversations mostly consisted of him talking about himself and his life, making subtle insulting comments about me. He probably didn’t mean it that way.
We were making out on his bed when he suddenly pulled back and sat upright. A bit startled by this abrupt action, I slowly recoiled and sat in front of him.
“You know, I feel like I should tell you, I’m not going to ask you to prom.”
His comment was out of nowhere. I mean, yes he was a junior and I was only a sophomore, but I had never expected that he’d ask me. Where is this even coming from?
“I mean I wasn’t expecting you to ask me. But who are you going with? Are you seeing someone?”
“No, I’m not but I promised someone that I’d ask them and that we’d go as friends.” I nodded, but still felt a bit weird about his random introduction of this conversation topic. He then leaned in and kissed me. Like nothing had happened.
We had been laying on his bed for about 30 minutes, I was listening to him go off about someone in his family. I swear by this point I could have written a biography of each of his relatives.
“You know, I haven’t heard much about your family, why don’t you tell me something about them?”
See, he asked about your family, he obviously cares.
I began to tell him a bit about my mom, when he reached next to his bed and pulled out his laptop and started doing work. I guess he’s just really busy.
Over the next week we continued to text, even though he spent most of the time correcting my grammar and making fun of pretty much everything I said. He’s just opinionated. We had met up a couple more times, each time being basically just a booty call. Then, one morning I woke up to a text message from him.
“There’s something that’s been bugging me and it’s only fair to tell you. I just don’t really think we want the same things. I don’t really want anything serious. I think it’s better if we end this where it is now. I’m sorry for leading you on this far. Like, I still wanna be friends, but I understand if you don’t want to.”
I stared at my phone. Heartbreak.
“Yeah kind of a dick move… I just feel weird now. Steve, it’s fine we were just getting to know each other. To be completely honest I didn’t see it going anywhere, so don’t worry about it.”
“Alright, see you later.”
I sank into myself. How could you be so stupid?! I mean, I knew he wasn’t a good guy, but I still went after him. Dumb shit.
The following night I found out that he had gone on a double-date with a senior who he had been pursuing for months. I later learned that the only reason he had gone for me was just in case she said no. They ended up dating for the rest of the year before she graduated. He got to have his one serious relationship in high school. It just wasn’t with me.
I wanted to be wanted. I never felt like anyone cared about me or chose me, so it felt good to finally have someone’s attention, even if it was the wrong someone. During our whole “relationship”, I knew he didn’t care about me and that it wasn’t a positive relationship to be in, but my self-esteem was so low that I didn’t know how to say no. Unfortunately, after it had ended, my self-esteem plummeted even lower, leading me to fully believe that I would never be truly loved by anyone. That I was unloveable.
Now, of course, I recognise that was complete and utter bullshit. Just because one guy didn’t accept me does not mean that I won’t be accepted and loved by someone else. The best thing that came out of that shitty experience was learning that I deserved better and should not stoop down to try to meet the expectations of the “Steves” in the world.