Behind the Curve

Jennifer Willis

ISSUE NO. 1 • To Have a heart

Being a commuting student, I often feel that I have a completely different college experience from most of my peers. I wrote this piece for other students who may feel like they’re on the outside, and for the person who was there for me through it all. I see and appreciate you both.

I’ve totally missed the whole Tinder and Bumble and general online dating thing. Not that I’m complaining, but it would’ve been interesting to experience that. Whenever I go out to random places with my girlfriends, one of them will pull out their phones and jokingly go “Let’s see what’s going on out here.” I was hanging at a friend’s place in Plainsboro, New Jersey, when someone started swiping left. She wasn’t actually looking for a hookup; it’s become more like a party game among girls recently, I feel. Nonetheless, I was instantly hooked, like always.

“Let me see!” I’ll beg, and they’ll usually hand off their phone to me, disillusioned with the whole thing and wanting nothing to do with it anymore. I always take way too long, scrutinizing his bio and photos before deciding if this man is a good match for my friend, and swiping either left or right. I realize I take it way too seriously, and it makes me feel like I’m missing out on an entire way of thinking about dating. That you’re in control, and you have the freedom to choose any person you might want. Anytime I swipe left too quickly, I almost feel bad for the man I just digitally threw to the wayside. But then there’s another one there to scrutinize again, and the one from before is forgotten. It’s so fun.

My boyfriend and I started dating in December of 2013. I’m not sure how many dating apps existed by then, but we were under 18 anyway, both juniors in high school. Having been together so long, we kind of have an unconventional relationship for people our age, especially in today’s dating app world. I think we even have an unconventional relationship for college students in general. We’re seniors now, and we go to school in different states. He’s in Washington, DC, and I’m in New York City, so it’s not terrible, but it’s not easy either. Oh, and we’re engaged. We’re going to get married right after we graduate in May this year. And to me, that’s a miracle.

College, specifically commuting to college, was hard for me. I was depressed enough in high school for a cocktail of reasons, but undergrad was an entirely different ballgame. All high schoolers go home at the end of the day, no matter who they are. But not all college students do. And feeling completely disconnected from my campus took a huge toll on me emotionally.

I watched from a distance as my boyfriend, now fiancé, got adjusted to living on his own-- something I wrote about looking forward to doing in all of my college applications. The first time I ever visited him was for a long weekend in our freshman year, and my mom had demanded I take an 11am bus back to New York on Sunday so I wouldn’t be out in the city too late. It was freezing out, and no one was throwing any parties because all the fraternities and sororities were off campus that weekend, doing some kind of Greek retreat. I don’t know. The point is, I was dying to go out and just get trashed because I never had, and I couldn’t at home. That should’ve made me upset, but he didn’t let it. He invited all of his new college friends to his tiny room, and we had a movie night, which I still remember fondly but not too well because there was one of our good friends involved, Honey Jack.

He was there for me in ways I never expected. He showed me that college wasn’t rainbows and butterflies and fun parties like I expected. He’s in ROTC at his school so he worked harder than I had ever seen him do previously in high school. He felt his own disconnect, being a soldier on a very liberal college campus, and we found solace in each other despite being so far away. Don’t get me wrong- being long-distance was still really tough. We kind of had a role reversal: he was originally more clingy than I was, but once we got to college and I was bored at home and he was busy all the time...oh, how quickly the tables turned. It’s pretty funny in hindsight. If you told seventeen-year-old me that all this would happen, she’d cry laughing. Sometimes I still do.

I have not had, and will never have, the typical college experience, at least not the one that white people get to have. You know the one. It’s what they all advertise- some kind of weird individualism or whatever. For some reason, I thought being stuck in a plain brick room with a nightmare of a person was going to turn me into an adult. Try being stuck with your family, unexpectedly, for another 4 years, and see how quickly you turn into an adult.

But seriously, I was really looking forward to going to college the way I’d dreamt it up to be: a time and place where I’d find myself and lifelong friends. I didn’t get that, and it drove me into an emotional quarantine. As a senior on the verge of graduating, I’m still working on reconciling that. But what I don’t have to reconcile was that I spent college falling even more in love, growing and working on a relationship from miles and miles away. His warmth and support that he gifted me and continues to gift me is something that I appreciate immensely and have no words to really express my gratitude for. I’m trying it with this essay, but it feels so inadequate. The whole experience was so difficult. It really hurt me to watch the person I love get to have something I wanted so badly and to figure how to balance those feelings of jealousy and bitterness with the love and appreciation I have for him. He’s seen me at my absolute lowest. And after all this, he wants to marry me; he wants to continue providing for me forever, and call me old-fashioned but that is the greatest blessing I couldn’t have even asked for.

Sometimes I think about getting a Tinder just for fun, just to see what it’s like. I really feel that this thing that my generation collectively does is shaping our entire consciousness. Whether for better or worse, it doesn’t matter- it’s still huge. I don’t think I ever could get in on it though. I’m left to peruse my friends’ accounts, bringing them unnecessarily enthusiastic scrutiny and judgement, which they’ve seemed to either already have perfected themselves or just thrown to the wind. In this regard, I’m behind the curve. So yeah, I don’t know what it’s like to have Tinder. But it’s because I’ve been with someone for the past five years, someone who I really love, so that’s not exactly the worst problem to have. Disconnections aren’t always bad. While it’s fun and strange and totally earth-shattering to just have a catalog of men and women at your fingertips, it’s not something I feel too badly about missing out on. Actually, I’m glad I got a bit of a break. Lord knows I’ll need to save my energy for the new disconnection in my final semester of undergrad: planning my wedding.