I sat in one of the last rows of the bus on the way back from the theater. My Theatre and Society class had just gone to see a show in the City…I have no idea what it was. I was totally distracted. All night I had been hemming and hawing about one singular decision. Do I tell my best friend I am in love with him or not? I’d been thinking about it for a long time, but for some reason that night it felt urgent. I had to do it or I thought I might just explode.
I am not great, nor have I ever been great at not expressing my feelings to people. I wear my heart on my sleeve is a cute way to say it, but does not adequately describe the way I launch my emotions out of myself and into the world daily. When I don’t talk about how I feel it makes me physically ill. And on that day in 2011, during my freshman year of college, I was feeling awful.
I had known I was falling in love with my friend for months. We did everything together. He took care of me. He made me feel things I certainly hadn’t felt before. Let’s be honest, I had been at an all-girls school for seven years, he could’ve looked at me sideways and I would’ve probably been in love. I felt truly connected to him though. I thought he must be “the one.”
Sitting in the back of that bus I quietly and urgently discussed the situation with my other wonderful friend, Russell. Do I tell him? (Let’s call him Joe, shall we?) Do I let my stomach lining eat me alive? Russell patiently let me waver back and forth between my options. Everything felt like it was leading up to this moment in my eighteen-year-old mind. At dinner before the show Joe told me, “I think I have a crush on someone.”
Immediately I asked, “Who?? Tell me!” Careful not to be too overly excited.
“It’s someone you know.” He said.
“Come on, just tell me, I promise I won’t think you’re crazy,” I answered, being absolutely sure I knew the answer.
“No, I’m too embarrassed. I’m afraid she won’t like me back.” He uttered as he stared down, embarrassed at his plate of pasta, and then he changed the subject.
I felt like I had been sitting on a cliffhanger all night. Whatever show it was that we saw was going to be difficult to write a paper about since I had been so totally elsewhere sitting next to the boy I loved in the theatre. Feeling the heat of his body lightly grazing my arm. It was electric and too much to handle.
The bus slowed to a stop in front of the Center for the Arts on our campus and we made our way back to our less-than-charming freshman dorm. Before Joe could slip up the stairs to his room, which was coincidentally directly above mine I asked to speak to him. He followed me easily, as was a habit for us, to my room. He plopped himself down casually in my pink butterfly chair while I paced in front of him.
“Okay, I just have to say this to you because I think if I don’t I won’t be able to stand myself. Joe, I think I am falling in love with you.” I said it. I didn’t beat about the bush, I just came out and said what I was feeling and the pressure lifted off of me immediately. The guy I thought I knew so well smiled his perfect, crooked smile and replied,
“Oh Chelsea, I was worried something like this might happen. You’re my best friend in the world, but you and me together? Like in a relationship? That will never happen. By the way, I’m having some friends over later—you should come up too.”
I watched my world turn topsy-turvy in front of me. I muttered some response and defeatedly hugged him as he walked out and left me in a puddle behind him. I flopped down in the indent he’d left in my butterfly chair and cried. And then I cried some more. I cried for about an hour straight. Then I took a deep breath and splashed some water on my face and thought to myself—you’ve done it. You’ve told someone you love them and they said they didn’t love you back and you survived and you are okay and it will be okay even though it is very much not okay right now. I didn’t drown myself in any more tears. In fact, like a nut, I marched myself up to his room and took my very first shot of vodka, just one, because I don’t overdo it with alcohol and I watched the boy I loved flirt with every girl in the room. It stung horribly. I had been totally and completely rejected, but I was also proud. I did the hardest thing I had ever done emotionally and I had survived. Actually, I had more than survived. I had shown myself that it was better to put it out in the open so I could move on instead of always wondering, “what if?” Okay, so it wasn’t going to be him I spent my life with. Major bummer dude. On to the next. (And thank goodness, I mean have you seen my hot German husband? I’m grateful Joe said no…)
I look at my eighteen-year-old self that took such complete ownership of her feelings and boldly showed them off in the light of day. Now, when I notice myself clamming up and not wanting to speak openly and proudly about how I feel because I’m afraid of rejection, or feeling stupid, I remember this part of me that knows the other side of being vulnerable is finding my strength, and finding my people. Vulnerability is that strength.
It’s tough to take ownership when we screw up, and it’s also surprisingly hard to take ownership when we do something amazing. It’s sometimes hard to take a compliment, share our feelings, or say I’m sorry or admit when we’re wrong. We avoid ownership of our words, thoughts, and feelings because of fear of other peoples’ responses, but what if we didn’t? What if we stood proudly sharing our emotions, accepting our mistakes, and being gracious and grateful when we receive compliments? It’s hard, but not impossible and eighteen year old Chelsea knows the best secret there is to taking ownership and that’s being able to let go and move on afterward. Once you take ownership you can let it go. Let it roll off of you like water off a duck’s back or soak up the compliment like my Dad’s Christmas gravy (trust me, so worth soaking).
It’s a gift to share your heart and fears and screw-ups and then let go and if there is pain associated with the ownership it will be temporary and you will heal. I believe in you.
Happy weekend, friends! I love you and am sending you big vulnerable hugs. XOXOX, CAMDW