A boy + social awkwardness + missed signals = college regret


“G” was a guy worth taking a risk on, and I balked. He was easy going, had a contagious laugh and smile, and intelligence with a goofy side. He was shorter than me but somehow in a way that didn’t make it completely weird. I never saw him get angry. He had enough confidence in himself to be attractive without coming across as conceited. And the bonus was he worked well with kids.

So yeah. There wasn’t much of a risk to liking this guy. This didn’t have “bad decision” stamped on it. I just didn’t know how to handle the situation.

I met him during my sophomore year of college while volunteering at an after-school program called Tuesday’s Child. (The name came from the nursery rhyme “Monday’s child is fair of face.” Tuesday’s child is full of grace.) These children were considered at-risk, meaning they have a higher chance of failing academically or dropping out of school so they need extra attention or intervention to succeed.

I missed all the social cues. I couldn’t distinguish general friendliness from flirting. And my self-esteem was so poor at this point that I just twisted everything around into a negative.

I didn’t want to be accused of reading into every little detail, fabricating interest that isn’t there, so I swung hard in the other direction. I took every opportunity to talk myself out of potential that actually existed.

I’m reminded of this scene from He’s Just Not That Into You (which came out 3 years after I graduated college). I didn’t want to be like Gigi who essentially began planning her wedding after a guy happened to look in her direction and maybe maintained eye contact for 5 seconds.

I didn’t know how to act around guys. How to be comfortable in sharing about myself. I didn’t know how to let my guard down enough to show a guy that I was interested, too.

The first big opportunity to see “G” outside of the known environment of where we volunteered was at an off-campus concert. Another guy I had met through PACT, the campus ministry program, was performing with his band, and I decided to check out the music and offer support. There were four bands performing that night, so they were short sets while still offering a chance to get a taste of each band.

I saw my friend in the band in the parking lot as I got there, so I said hello. Then I spotted “G” so I went over to talk to him. As I told “G” about the reason of being there, supporting someone who is playing, I got an unexpected question.

From the journal: He asked if (the friend) was my boyfriend. I have no control over my facial expressions — they’re reflexive. Apparently I gave him a confused/angry/disgusted face. He laughed a little saying “You act like it’d be a sin if he was your boyfriend.” Honestly it just threw me off.

I was not expecting “G” to be so direct, least of all expecting that question. My mind was focused on other things, so the abruptness threw me off. My body and facial expression reacted to being caught off guard and processing the question, not being repulsed by my friend.

How often do you expect a guy to ask you about someone being a boyfriend? Is it supposed to mean something more? I’d hate to jump to conclusions and think something’s there, yet if someone’s giving me a signal am I going to notice or just brush it off? Is he just being “flirty” and that’s how he normally is?

I went inside and enjoyed the first band that played. “G” came in later with some friends. In between bands, as members were removing instruments and reconfiguring the stage, I stepped outside for some fresh air. A moment later “G” joined me, and we had a chance to talk.

He plays guitar and is trying to write songs. I told him I write poetry. He asked me to recite one. Maybe I should try memorizing them more. If I can remember what others say and write, why not remember my own?

This was a big moment. If he was just trying to be polite, I realize now he could have said something like “oh that’s nice” and moved on to something else. But he was showing interest; he wanted to hear something. I honestly could only remember one poem in its entirety that I had written. And I didn’t think it was appropriate to share Vanishing with him. I was scared of how it would be received. That would have been a lot of personal pain to introduce to someone at that time. So in the few moments I had to make a decision, I pretended like I couldn’t remember any of them. He responded with some playful teasing about not knowing my own material but let it go from there.

Where’s my sinkhole?

There was a moment at Tuesday’s Child when I was supervising a boy playing outside and “G” was looking after another student. I remember trying to gather up the courage to ask “G” a question when the boy I was in charge of made a move like he was going to try to leave the property boundaries. So I called out to stop him, only I yelled “G!” I got the boy situated and then “G” turned to me with a big, goofy grin on his face and asked, “Freudian slip?” That was one of those moments when I really wanted a sinkhole to open under my feet. It didn’t happen. I’m not sure how I stammered out of that one, but maybe my embarrassment was endearing.

An unrelated journal entry: I like “G”. I think he likes me. Not just like friends. Maybe something could progress. He seems a bit more eager to talk to me than others although maybe he just feels sorry for how pathetically quiet I am. Ah there’s that Love-Nothing thing creeping up. I need to develop a more positive outlook on myself.

The Love-Nothing was the result of a conversation I had with my brother. He was trying to help me see how proper humility means recognizing your weaknesses while not losing sight of your dignity and value. But I seemed to get stuck on the weaknesses part.


Calling and hanging up

Several weeks later I thought of inviting “G” to join me in Charlotte for one of the open mic nights. He had shown interest in hearing my writing, so this would be an opportunity to do that.

Apparently I don’t do simple things like suggest getting coffee or asking about meeting for a campus event. It’s go big or go home, right?

The problem was I didn’t have his phone number, and I couldn’t gather the courage to ask in person when I saw him at the after-school program. I could have searched the school’s email directory, but I didn’t think of that. That would have been far less creepy. Instead, I knew his last name and I knew he lived locally, probably living with his parents, so I searched the phone book and found only one listing. I actually dialed the number, but I got the answering machine. I didn’t leave a message. And that one attempt is where I gave up.

Adult Lindsay is thoroughly impressed that I even dialed the number. That took a lot of guts! And I’m sure I had no idea what to say if someone had actually answered, which is even more impressive. To a certain point, I was willing to look ridiculous. Unfortunately, it just happened to be in a way that didn’t move things forward.

Passive doesn’t make a plan

Near the beginning of junior year I spotted “G” in the cafeteria. He was sitting alone, likely studying. I hadn’t seen him for quite a while, so I was excited to spot him. I grabbed my things and said goodbye to small group of friends I was sitting with and went to talk to him. I learned he had a 12:30 finance class and was doing some last minute studying for a test. I also had a 12:30 class, so I was hoping that would mean I’d see him regularly on campus. We didn’t exchange numbers or make additional plans to catch up. It was a simple encounter, and my dreams of future attempts to “randomly” catch him in the cafeteria was such a passive move. But that’s what I had at my disposal. Sadly, I didn’t see him again. He may have still been involved with Tuesday’s Child, but I had stopped volunteering with that program because other responsibilities came up.

It sucks to be so scared of the outcome that you don’t even try. So scared of failure and rejection that you give up before anything actually happens.

It may not have developed into anything romantically, but it could have been an amazing friendship.

Moving forward

I can’t change the past, but I can learn from it. So while it makes me cringe to think about these moments, there are lessons I hope to draw from these reflections.

  • SHARING: I see the value of sharing with trusted friends who can help put situations into proper perspective. My assessment can’t always be trusted; I need an objective opinion. Sharing with friends, those you feel comfortable around, will help with sharing to a larger group of people. Maybe friends see something as worth pursuing and they can encourage you to go for it. … I didn’t do this, though. I kept a lot of things to myself, remaining hypercritical of what I considered worth revealing.
  • MENTAL HEALTH: The importance of a healthy mental outlook. An imbalanced opinion of yourself and what you have to offer has a tremendous impact on relationships.
  • TAKING RISKS: Sometimes you have to act like a fool, be ridiculous and take risks. It means you’re trying something new and it usually leads to growth. By putting yourself out there, you give yourself a chance. At least you usually walk away with a definitive answer instead of getting stuck in the endless loop of what ifs. However, there is a difference between being absolutely reckless and taking a small step to push the boundaries of your comfort zone.
  • BE MORE IN THE MOMENT: Stop constantly looking for an answer or explanation and just let things unfold! It doesn’t have to make sense, but over-analyzing everything usually causes more harm than good. Life isn’t going to fit into some neat little package. It’s impossible to have every little thing figured out before proceeding; there’s too much that remains outside your control.

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