After initially arriving at Emerson, I felt prepared to meet new people, say goodbye to my family, find my way around the city, and start my path towards my journalism career. I felt confident. Nothing could get in my way.
Things were seemingly perfect. Then, I glanced around and noticed that I was surrounded by people I found attractive. It dawned on me that I was no longer in high school and bound to my family’s overbearing rules and expectations. I realized that I had the power to actually do what I wanted with boys now. My earlier confidence dwindled.
I’m the youngest of three daughters and my sisters didn’t exactly leave a good impression on my parents when it came to trusting us with relationships. So, they made sure to do their best to steer me away from anything male-related. I could only have friends that were girls, go to girls’ parties, and talk about girls—maybe they wanted me to be a lesbian, who knows?
They embedded it into my head that my sole focus was to be school: “Education is the most important, second to God of course!” And I listened. I avoided boys. I never approached one. I didn’t care that they wouldn’t approach me. I shrugged away any crushes that happened to develop against my supposed “godly innocent will.”
Yet as time went on, I found myself becoming intimidated by boys, frightened by their opinions of me, and embarrassed by my absence of boyfriends. I talked to Ryan Jackson, a close friend of mine in the same situation. I wanted to get down to the truth of how he truly feels about his lack of any dating history and the expectations to date and “experiment” in college.
For his first two years of high school, Ryan convinced himself that he didn’t want to date because his education needed to be prioritized, and seeing his friends “get in and out of relationships within two months really helped to support that decision.” Then, he watched his other classmates happily in love in their year-long partnerships and he realized that it was something he did want.
Ryan then realized the actual reason he wasn’t dating: he “hadn’t yet come out as gay” at his all-boys Catholic school in Danvers, Massachusetts. He now explains the idea of dating as a “constant wave of yes, no, yes, no,” his confidence quickly diffusing into anxiety when it’s time to confront any romantic emotions he might have.
For many of us who can relate to this predicament, we carry that persistent regret. We regularly think back to all the times we could have had something with someone we shared a connection with.
I asked if he’d change his past given the chance and his “yes” came without a hint of hesitation. Ryan described to me the feeling that he “needs” to date and I recognized the deeper issue within all of this—the issue that even I am guilty of. The straining pressure of dating has many of us feeling like we absolutely need to know or have done everything before arriving on campus. It’s something that rests heavy on our chests. We feel confused. “Are they flirting with me or not?” “Do I actually like them or are they just cute?” “Should I just excuse this trait about them that I hate just because I’m receiving attention?” “Am I really ready to have sex?”
We don’t have all the answers, but I’ve realized that it’s alright. We should never let the idea of “experience” force us into a shell of fear. It’s fine being oblivious about whether someone is flirting or not or whether they’re trying to kiss you because as we grow, we learn. I no longer blame my parents or myself for the absence of my dating history and I’m no longer ashamed about it. I’m the literal human persona of the 1999 classic “Never Been Kissed,” but I’ve grown to become comfortable with that fact. I can now accept that when it comes to dating, I’ll be confused and a little awkward at first, but I’m okay with it and I hope the same for Ryan and anyone else that relates.
Photographs by Lily Walsh