September 4, 2013

KUSSMAN: The Boyfriend Search

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After helping me move into my apartment and get ready for senior year, my Dad’s parting words to me before leaving Ithaca were: “I think you should find a boyfriend.”

He might as well have taken a butcher knife from the kitchen and stabbed me seven times in the back.

We had spent all weekend setting up my exciting new apartment, but suddenly, more apparent than anything, were the things that were missing:  I had no one to introduce my parents to while they were in Ithaca, no one to text late at night and while many girls would sleep at their boyfriend’s houses during O-week, I would spend the next four nights completely alone, nursing a phobia of serial killers until my housemates moved in.

My dad must have sensed that he had said the wrong thing because he quickly tried to justify his advice by telling me that he thought having a boyfriend would be good for my self-esteem.

I felt like the rug had been pulled out from under me.  All my life, my parents have told me to relax, play the field and try not to get tied down.  “Don’t look outside yourself for happiness,” has been my Mom’s mantra.

But now, on the dawn of my senior year of college, my dad was hinting — no, literally declaring — that he thought a boyfriend would make me happy.  Had all the self-fulfillment stuff been bullshit?

Enough was enough. I was going to start looking for someone to date.

I went out during O-week with a fire in me, determined to meet as many boys as possible.  I party-hopped like a crazy person, played drinking games I hated and forced myself into conversation with any boy who talked to me.  I entered annexes like a hawk and if there were no cute boys in sight, I immediately got anxious and wanted to leave to go to the next one.  I even danced my heart out at Pixel.

Every boy I met, I sized up instantly. Was he cute enough?  Would he find me funny?  When I was shaking his hand, I was really trying to imagine him scrambling eggs in the kitchen of my new apartment.

At the end of the week, all I had to show for my efforts were several awkward encounters with freshmen and severe anxiety.  Maybe a boyfriend would make me happy, but the search was making me miserable.

Now, a week or so removed from the cloud of alcohol and questionable decisions that was O-week, I am able to realize just how flawed my approach was. By trying to sort guys into “boyfriend” or “not boyfriend” boxes the moment I met them, I was essentially buying into two faulty ideas: One, that I know what I’m looking for and what will make me happy (no one really knows), and two, that these things are quantifiable and apparent in an individual right away (they are not).

The truth — and what I’d forgotten all throughout O-week — is that attraction is not always instant.  It can sneak up on you gradually. When I first met my boyfriend from freshman year, he was drunk and eating a Pop-Tart in our friend’s kitchen at 2 AM.  Not only did I find him ghastly pale and thin and had no interest in talking to him whatsoever, but I was on a date with someone else at the time.  I left that evening without a clue that just one year later, I would be in love with Pop-Tart boy in a way that consumed my entire being.  Had I known back then, I would have been deeply troubled by the idea.

I’m not saying that we should force ourselves to get to know people we aren’t interested in.  What I’m saying is that just because you don’t think someone is boyfriend or girlfriend material when you first meet them, it doesn’t mean you won’t be madly in love with them three weeks from now.  Sometimes it takes awhile to realize how funny someone is.  Sometimes the people we are initially repulsed by are the ones we fall the hardest for.  And the people we are immediately attracted to may turn out to be the biggest creeps, or just plain boring.  When it comes to first impressions, we have cause to be uneasy.

I can’t say with absolute certainty that I didn’t meet the love of my life during O-week.  Maybe I did, but I won’t know it until we run into each other again three months from now … Who knows?  In the meantime, my strategic boyfriend search is over until further notice.  Instead, I’ve resigned myself to always putting my best foot forward, and allowing myself to be pleasantly surprised.

Liz Kussman is a senior in the College of Human Ecology. She may be reached at lkussman@cornellsun.com. Up to Date appears alternate Thursdays this semester.

Original Author: Elizabeth Kussman