This originally appeared on the Good Women Project. Republished here with permission.
“They’re never going to like me.” I wrote this the summer before my freshman year of college. I wrote it definitively in the strong strokes of a ballpoint pen, after a summer of chasing the dream of dating.
He had been interested for a while, it seemed. In between the haze of July and the fear of starting college in the fall, we’d had coffee once or twice. We’d kissed on a bench looking out over the ocean—right there, he had put his hands on my cheekbones and kissed me. We weren’t dating, but I was sure it would become something. That it had to become something.
He disappeared. Texts went unanswered; the Facebook message thread faded, and then was deleted. The summer dissolved, and I started school with the words, “They’re never going to like me.”
And that voice was followed by this chaotic hurricane of reasons: I must not be pretty enough, skinny enough, sweet enough, funny enough. I’m too young, not young enough, too intense, too lighthearted, too poetic, and not poetic enough…I contradicted myself two or three times over while I made that list. I inked a wall around my heart.
I wanted to believe someone would fall in love with me, but the hurt lingered. Every so often that vision flashed across my mind: kissing him in front of the ocean. As I watched, he disappeared. As time slipped from fall to winter to spring, and it was harder to remember how it had happened, and I repeated the strange logic: He didn’t want me, therefore…they’re never going to like me.
Not just that boy. Every last one of them. Every single guy you meet, I told myself, will do the same thing. Don’t get your hopes up. Don’t expect them to like you. Don’t believe it, Hilary. I harbored a secret hope that someone would prove me wrong. I wanted a guy to appear and say, “You’re beautiful” or “I want to be with you” or (the most treasured in my journal pages), “I choose you.” But I buried the hope under that line, “They’re never going to like me” and I promised myself I was being realistic, that if I let the hope out of its cage it would just hurt more in the end.
And then I gave up makeup. I threw out eyeshadow and blush and mascara, and suddenly my face looked back at me bare and pale and new every morning. Suddenly I was not smudging black liner beneath my eyelids and trying to look older, or looking forlornly at my pink makeup case wondering where on earth I’d even begin. I began to smile more, to watch where my eyes crinkle in laughter and how every passing feeling etches itself in my skin.
And then I met Anne of Green Gables. I read her books with a fierce pleasure, laughed at how dramatically she ran through life, how she and I rush over fences and through storms and how we create chaos and perhaps a bit of joy, too. And—still without even noticing it—I scrubbed away the skepticism. I washed off the makeup and the cynical, disbelieving heart. I repeated, over, and over, Anne’s own words: “I can’t help flying up on the wings of anticipation. It’s as glorious as soaring through a sunset…almost pays for the thud.”
And so I began to hope again. I began to undo the words hidden in my journal, and all the words about unworthiness, and all the words about what would never happen. Every guy became the story of one or two guys. Because the one guy I kissed in front of the ocean is not every guy. The one guy I hoped for the summer before college, who disappeared with a piece of my heart he didn’t know he had—is one guy. And I am me, one girl, with a big smile and a hopelessly hopeful heart.
And so I’m beginning to undo the words about what could never happen and believe the new words: “I will someday stumble into love.”
Because one guy is not every guy.
Hilary Sherratt blogs at Sittin’ There On Capitol, Hil and you can shoot her an email at hilary.sherratt[at]gmail.com.