Every day, I go to late meal. And every day, I pass the stairs where he first fell for me.
I’m not talking about the classic high school romantic comedy “look-into-my-eyes-during-a-slow-dance” kind of “fell for me.” That was at the Orange and Black Ball, where he wore a bowtie and cummerbund that matched my dress. We spent the evening dancing with friends until we wandered off on our own so he could sing “Wonderwall” in my ear as we swayed to the beat.
Nor am I talking about the “I-can-see-myself-spending-some-time-with-this-girl” kind of “fell for me.” That was a quiet Friday night that began with watching YouTube videos and comparing music libraries in my single. As the hours got later, we ended up lying side by side, talking about our high school lives, why we came to Princeton and what we thought of it so far. Before we knew it, we had fallen asleep.
I am not even talking about the bona fide “I-love-you-and-I-am-sort-of-happy-and-sort-of-terrified-about-it” kind of “fell for me.” That did not come until much later, away from the Orange Bubble, on a train somewhere between Penn Station and 161st Street.
I am talking about that one Saturday night freshman fall when, after meeting up at a pregame, we walked arm-in-arm through Frist on our way to the Street, where he proceeded to miss a step on the stairs down to the Gallery and literally fall to the ground.
That was the first time he actually fell for me.
Once he dusted himself off from the tumble, we ate some Frist pizza and guzzled some Gatorade. We decided to skip the Street and made it back to his room, where we proceeded to fall into bed together. We kissed. We hooked up. We kissed some more and we laughed about it. Eventually, he wrapped his arms around me, and we slept.
Afterward, we returned to normal. We would study in a group of friends, both refusing to acknowledge the events of that Saturday night. We would meet in dining halls, grab late meal and chat between classes — all platonically.
However, every Thursday and Saturday night, we would fall into the same pattern. See each other at the same pregame. Walk arm-in-arm through Frist. Spend some time at an eating club, split early, hook up, laugh, fall asleep. The next day, pretend nothing happened. Someone had to stop it.
One evening, he gave me an ultimatum: We either start a relationship or we focus on our friendship. No more middle ground. After hours of weighing the pros and cons of being in a relationship so close to the beginning of our college careers, we decided to take the plunge.
We were scared. We did not want to become too dependent on each other. What if we failed? We had to make sure that we maintained separate friendships. Princeton was hard enough already with the solid support system of friends that I had. What if I began to spend too much time with him, and then we broke up? Who would be there to pick up the pieces?
With these concerns in mind, we started by living separate lives. But time went on, and classes got harder. Activities got more demanding. And as freshman friends often do, my friends — my support system — got so caught up in life that we began to spend less and less time together as a group.
This would usually be the time when freshmen begin to feel isolated, but I did not — I had my boyfriend. Even if I didn’t see him a lot in the beginning, I had a built-in friend there to be with me when everyone else got consumed in work.
As other friends became busy, he and I spent more time together. We ate together more; we studied together more. As the hours got later and later in the night, we would sleep over more — soon he had a box of his things in my room, and I had a shelf for my things in his.
Before long, we were experts on each other in the way that two people who basically live together often are. I knew when he was in class and when I would run into him at late meal; he knew when I would be at JStreet working on the computers with the big screens. And not too long afterward, I would not only know where he was, but I would be there too.
It rarely felt clingy or forced; it was just the pattern we had fallen into. He was not only my boyfriend, but also my best friend. If I was having a rough day, he was the one I knew I could talk to. If he had to stay up late studying for a difficult exam, I was the one who would stay up with him to make sure he did not fall asleep. If we had a long week, we would spend Fridays watching movies or sitcoms while eating Wa sandwiches, and our Saturday nights dancing the night away at one of the eating clubs.
And with more time together, our feelings grew. We started celebrating anniversaries. We started going on real dates. We spent less time going out to the Street, and more time in his room with each other. As scared as we were to admit it at the time, we were falling into codependency. To complicate things even further, we were falling in love.
At that point, I was no longer scared of falling in love with him, because I had no reason to be afraid. It was the ideal freshman year relationship. Instead of having to worry about making friends, I had one really awesome one, and I could not imagine anything going wrong. We never fought. He became my favorite person to spend time with, which was convenient because we spent every spare minute together anyway. It was nice to have someone I loved in a place as mentally and emotionally draining as Princeton. Our chemistry was so good that we could complete each other’s sentences, knew when to pry and when to let things be, and we had fun no matter what we were doing.
And everything was okay as long as we were at Princeton together, falling in love.
Over the summer, though, things changed. When we were removed from the pressures of school and from constant contact with each other, we had to learn how to take care of ourselves. We had to learn how to spend time with our own friends. And inevitably, we not only learned how to be apart — we began to fall apart.
We stopped falling in love, and started falling out. And as is the case with most people who are falling: I was terrified.
I was afraid that I would be alone. I was afraid I was losing my best friend. I was afraid I would have no one to turn to when he let me go. I was so scared of losing him that I attempted to find a way to keep falling in love with him, simply because it was so familiar. I wanted to feel like I did the night we first danced, when I fell into his arms and let him move us to the beat. I wanted to feel like I did when he first scratched our initials in a heart in the front booth at PJ’s.
One day, I realized that despite my attempts, these desperate scrambles for the familiar were not me falling deeper in love with him. I was falling out of it. Before, when things had become too much, we would depend on each other. All of a sudden, we couldn’t do that anymore.
I did not handle the end very well. We took a break from the relationship. He wanted to get back together. Coming back together didn’t fix anything, so we broke up again. Then we hooked up. Then we hooked up again. We flirted with the idea of returning to our freshman year bliss. We yelled. We blamed each other. We left each other frustrated, hurt and confused. How could something so perfect and familiar fall apart? Seeing each other kept reminding us of our prior bliss. It was too much.
After a month of emotional highs and lows, we finally called it quits for good. No more falling into the all-too-familiar pattern of falling into each other’s arms when times got tough. It was time for us to fall out of love. We needed time to focus on ourselves as individuals, our schoolwork, our activities, our other friends and our futures. One day, he will be ready to fall for someone once again, and one day, I will be too. Until then, we will focus on forming the friendship — platonic, distant, genuine — that we never really had.
There’s a tendency on campus amid our “hookup culture” to be scared of falling into serious, committed, real relationships because of all the fears that come with commitment: What happens when it ends? What happens when you’re in it? Will you be better for it, or worse off?
These are legitimate fears, and maybe why Princeton students would rather hook up than risk getting hurt in a relationship. This is something we juggled too, but we decided to try a real relationship. It was scary sometimes, and not so scary at other times. I’ll admit — at the end, it was so terrifying that I wondered why we started it in the first place. Were we not happier when we were just hooking up?
But now, I realize that I am a better person for our relationship. We had memories and intimacy we couldn’t have had if we’d stayed in the middle ground between hookup and relationship. We met each other’s families. We visited each other’s homes. We took cute pictures and took fun trips to the city. Most importantly, with him, I was able to be vulnerable in a campus environment that so often necessitates hiding true emotion and feelings. He knew me better than any friend I’d ever had before. Falling in and out of love was scary, sure, but the experience of being so open with someone was completely worth it.
Best of all, one day, I’ll be able to tell the story of how I fell in love with my best friend. And how it all started when he fell for me one Saturday night at Frist.