I started out my college dating career the way most girls do: with a boyfriend back home that I tried to breakup with before I left, but couldn’t quite go through with it. When I said goodbye to Danny* at the airport, he pushed a fishnet-gloved palm up against the glass (this was in the days when you could still walk people to the gate) and sobbed as I boarded a plane to NYC. I wasn’t crying, at least, not until I got to my dorm and realized that I was going to be crazy lonely. I called Danny and tried to sell him on keeping things going long distance. He agreed. It wasn’t until I met my (still to this day) best friend on the front steps of my dorm later that week and she also had a boyfriend back home she was trying to give the slip (also named Danny), that we mutually worked up the courage to dump our Dannys.
A free woman, my college dating career devolved into a series of mistakes wherein I consistently said YES to the wrong guys and NO to the right ones. I could roll the list out before you like double ply toilet paper: the guy with the infected tongue ring, the prematurely balding guy who invited me over to his dorm room to watch a James Bond movie (translation: try to get me to blow him), the guy in the wheelchair (who was really amazing until he left me for a girl who ended up moving in across the hall from me), the much older alcoholic who worked at a nightclub, the guy who told me I was “maladroit” when I fell off the hammock on his dorm balcony and then gave me a copy of Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil to read if we were “ever going to get along,” the guy who left me for a porn star while I was studying abroad, the boyfriend who told me he was going on a road trip to New Mexico and then I never heard from him again.
Should I go on? I feel like I don’t need to because you’re probably getting a solid picture of the poor choices I made.
And now for the guys that I rejected or maybe/ possibly could have had a shot with who I came up with reasons not to pursue: the guy with the well-groomed dreadlocks who brought me a VHS tape of a bootleg Tori Amos concert on our second date (too nice), the guy in my creative writing class who asked me to get coffee a couple of times (kind of awkward, wore bad shoes), the older guy who took me to see “Welcome to the Dollhouse” (short and trollish), the guy in my dorm who I had a crush on who showed me his photo portfolio (out of my league, didn’t seem interested), the only dude in my feminism and theater class who wasn’t gay and who asked me if I wanted to study with him (a little too in tune with the female plight … was he really straight?).
In my early 20′s, when I finally landed a nice, normal boyfriend who wanted to go on walks and eat salads and play guitar while I sang, I wondered, for the first time, why I dated such dicks in college. It was just a passing thought at that point. My level of self-awareness wasn’t super keen at age 23. When my nice boyfriend and I broke up and the guy that I left him for that I thought was nice dumped me seven months later, I found myself spending a great deal of time thinking about those guys from college, the ones who got away. I had this distinct thought that if I had made better dating choices in college, that it might have set me up for better dating success later on. A much keener insight at 26. Then my next thought was: I should find these guys. But this was pre-me being on Facebook, and all I could find was a scrap of paper in my journal with the well-groomed dreadlocks guy’s number. The number was out of service, because obviously, it was a dorm number, and that was that.
I had this sad feeling like, the guys that I had the most fun with, the most in common with, the most potential for an adult relationship with were the guys I didn’t date in college. And now they had disappeared into the ether or were married or whatever. At the time, the guy in my creative writing class seemed a little awkward, but I bet he turned into a super cool person. And I categorized the guy who took me to see “Welcome to the Dollhouse” as a little too short and trollish, but I didn’t care about those things anymore. Just think, we could have had a life together, watching indie movies. And the guy who showed me his photo portfolio was shy. He probably needed me to show some interest. Why had I convinced myself he was out of my league again?
So here’s the rub: it feels very adult to date the much older guy with his own apartment and enough money to buy his own cocaine, but it’s really of no benefit to you. It’s important to experiment with dating while in college, but the sad part is that you’re experimenting without having the insight to know that the guy who brought you a bootleg Tori Amos concert will treat you better and make you happier than the guy who threw you a copy of Beyond Good and Evil right after he insulted you. But let me have the insight for you: Barring those of you at a women’s college (unless you date women, in which case, you’re going to have a field day!), the most eligible batch of dudes you’ll meet, perhaps ever in your life, will be sitting right there in dining hall. And maybe they haven’t quite grown into their noses or their sardonic senses of humor yet, but they will. Sure, date the bad boy Philosophy major if you must, but keep an eye out for the kind of shy guy who wants to show you his photo portfolio because he may turn out to be a gem. I was sure happy when I ran into him on the subway 16 years later. I knew better than to let him get away again.
* Name has been changed.
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