At the beginning of my freshman year of college, I made a friend who gradually became my closest. Our friendship felt so genuine to me — so genuine, I thought, that nothing could ever get between our unbreakable bond. But before I knew it, without much of a preamble, my new friend confessed their romantic feelings for me. I was left distraught and confused on how I should react. I had no choice but to relay the news to them that they did not want to hear: that I loved this person as a friend, not as a partner. We eventually grew apart, and I miss the one-sided platonic relationship we once had.
After the messiest friend breakup I’ve had, I was left feeling lonely and confused as to who my real friends were. Without my closest friend, my second semester was almost as hard as the first one. Prior to this “breakup,” I didn’t realize how much I had isolated myself by putting all my effort into this one relationship, preventing me from building stronger relationships with others. This period of time was the beginning of my downward spiral, but somehow also the rise of my best self.
Looking back on it, I don’t recall if my other friends asked me if I was alright. Yes, there were the typical venting sessions, but those never made me feel any better — if anything they only solidified my anger regarding the situation. I found these reactions disheartening at the time, as I knew my friends would have been more caring if I had been going through a breakup with a previous significant other. I wish the opposite were true, as losing friends has always been a more isolating experience for me. Regardless of my friends’ reactions to the deterioration of this friendship, I moved on. Now, I know myself more than I ever have before. Without the continuous entertainment of a friend by my side, I have learned to enjoy my own company. I have become more introverted, especially compared to my high school self.
In high school, I was generally a very happy person. I felt the most content during my junior year, thanks to the strong, large social circle I had. When my senior year rolled around, I got into a relationship, and my friend group began to crumble. I now had a partner, but there was a new sense of loneliness that hadn’t been there the year before.
From these times to my confusing first year at the University of Michigan, I have realized that my friends and family are the most important people in my life. Romantic relationships are not everything: along with romance also comes anxiety, hardships or potential isolation from your platonic relationships. Friends always seem to stick around longer and come with far less stress and fewer complications.
Because it seems that friends are likely to stick around longer than romantic interests, I was so disappointed when my friend told me they had feelings for me. When I found out, I was unsure whether we would be able to stay friends. I thought we could work through it, but they had much more of a negative reaction than I had anticipated. The situation turned out to hurt me way more than I thought it could have.
In my depressive state, it was comforting to know that I was not alone. One in five college students have anxiety or depression, mostly due to our technology-filled world, increased drug use or alcohol abuse, and other factors such as homesickness or weak social connections. Even as many as one in three college freshmen suffer from one of these disorders. Entering college life with a relationship may elevate the freshman experience, but in most cases I’ve heard of (or experienced), an existing relationship from high school during a student’s first year is likely to achieve the exact opposite.
Sure, continuing your high school relationship during college might work. Entering a new relationship during your first semester might also work. These important decisions in your interest for a connection are totally up to you, but, at the beginning of college, a relationship was not something that I wanted or looked for — especially with my best friend. Now, I would be more open to one, but I’m glad I was given the opportunity to focus on self-love. I found it easier to get to know myself without the presence of a relationship. Friends gave me opportunities to create stress-free connections during my first year and provided me with the foundations of my social needs. As you go forth in your college experience, do not allow romantic feelings to ruin the beauty of your most valued platonic relationships.
Leah Larsen is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.