I was in my sophomore year of college, and I’d never had a boyfriend. Not because I wasn’t interested but because I’d been too busy with my own life to consider being a part of someone else’s. Then one summer evening I received an email from a fellow student named Terry. I didn’t know if Terry was a man or woman, but he/she seemed to share a lot of my interests and said a mutual friend had given him/her my email address. After a few getting-to-know-you missives, Terry requested a picture, so I sent mine off and received what turned out to be “his” in return. Score — he was cute. Boys rarely talked to me, especially cute ones, and I felt a spark of hope that he might be interested. We emailed each other for the next two months before the fall semester started, and we agreed to meet up when we got back to school.
I recognized him waiting for me at our prearranged spot on campus, and my mother took both of us out to dinner. He turned out to be a polite, well-groomed, intelligent young man. Terry and I started spending more time together over the next few weeks, although I was sure it was just friendly. I certainly had a crush, but I was playing it so aloof that I hardly recognized it.
One night I asked him to tell me his biggest, darkest secret (how original, right?), hoping I could suss out whether he was interested in me or not. I got more than I bargained for. Turned out he had suffered from severe depression and a tendency toward self-mutilation for a good portion of his adult life but assured me he had gotten help and was fine now. I had suffered my own bouts of depression and struggled with an eating disorder, so I wasn’t about to pass judgment. That night he asked me if I wanted to start dating, and I said, “Yes.”
I fell in love in a matter of weeks. At least I thought that’s what love felt like. A squirming feeling in the pit of my stomach whenever we were together and even when we weren’t, never wanting to be apart, feeling like I could tell him anything. When the girl I was rooming with moved out, I thought it would be the perfect opportunity for Terry to take her room. A month after we started dating, we were talking about getting married after graduation.
The day he moved in, his parents and my mother came to visit us, and we all went out to dinner together. The way Terry’s parents acted and the way he interacted with them — well, it was a little scary. It seemed as if he had never really made the break with them. The day our parents left and it was just him and me, I felt a terrible sinking sensation in my stomach. I was starting to think I had made a mistake.
Over the next month I realized how different Terry and I were. When we were living on opposite sides of the campus and seeing each other after class and on the weekends, it was easy to overlook how emotionally fragile he was. Sometimes the tiniest thing that went wrong would set him off, and he would cry and say, “One day you’re going to get tired of this and find someone better.” I assured him I would not, but even as I said the words, I wondered if he was right.
We clashed over politics, bathroom-cleaning duties, even what shows to watch on television. I had always needed a lot of alone time to maintain my sanity, but Terry wanted to be around me all of the time, and he was brought to tears whenever I told him I needed space. I’m an emotionally reserved person who doesn’t show much affection, and Terry needed constant affirmation.
One evening we went out to dinner with a friend of mine who had been wanting to meet Terry for some time. On the train ride to the restaurant, my friend (who happens to be gay) and I kidded with Terry about his refined grooming practices and called him “metrosexual.” I didn’t know this had offended Terry until 1 a.m. that night when he came to my room with scratches all over his chest where he had cut himself with a pair of scissors. He cried and said I had called him gay, that I wasn’t affectionate enough, and that he thought it would be better if he simply ran away. It took me two hours to convince him that I had said no such thing, that I was still in love with him, and that he would accomplish nothing by leaving school.
After another month of trying to be the girlfriend that he wanted, I was emotionally and physically exhausted. I broke up with him. Or at least I tried. I had bought a nonrefundable plane ticket to visit him and his family over Thanksgiving but told him that I wouldn’t be going and that I thought we needed to end the relationship. I knew he would take it hard, but I wasn’t prepared to come home and find him crying in despair on the floor of his bedroom, again with multiple cuts across his chest, the scissors lying on the floor next to him. He wept violently and threw himself about the floor, screaming, “You have to come home with me! You have to!” He curled up like a child, weeping, and I grabbed the scissors and called my mother and then his parents. His father got him to calm down and accept my decision, although I had to spend the next few hours consoling him.
In truth, he simply couldn’t believe that the relationship was over, that we were far too different. He told me that he had changed and begged me for a second chance, and I agreed to give him one. He gave me a beautiful necklace.