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I met my first love as a freshman in college. It had all of the trappings of a classic love story—an awkward introduction, happy coincidences, and adorable outings together. we even ended up moving in together. The only difference between this and your average romance was that our relationship was never romantic.
It was my first week of university in a new city and a new state, with an unfathomable distance separating me from my family. I was standing awkwardly in the corner of my residence hall’s basement during the annual ice cream social when a residence assistant approached me. The first words out of her mouth were, “Are you a nerd? You look like a nerd.” Not off to a great start in the “keeping a low profile” department, but I admitted that, yes, I was a nerd. She nodded sagely and told me that there was someone here she wanted me to meet.
As ill-equipped and socially inept as I was feeling at the time, I allowed myself to be whisked away and introduced to a kind, blue-haired girl who—go figure!—was also a film student and was living in the same dorm. I didn’t think much of the encounter until the next day when we just happened to bump into each other on the way to orientation. From that moment on, however, we were virtually inseparable.
While our relationship remained purely platonic, it ended up teaching me more than I ever expected to learn about the value of non-romantic love and redefining my notion of a “soulmate.”
Friendship doesn’t get a fair shake these days. In our highly judgmental, social media-saturated culture, it’s easy to begin viewing friendship through the same cynical lens through which we view so much else. We easily lose ourselves in the sea of political unrest, prying eyes, and swiping fingers, but the truth is that in our current world, true friendship is more important than ever. It’s odd; as a young adult, I began to take the same pessimistic outlook about friendship as I did about marriage: it’s never going to last. They’re too into themselves. Something will inevitably get in the way. The fact that I had discounted this form of love so casually made my discovery of its power all the more surprising.
Perhaps it takes a period of personal upheaval to remind us the value of community; it certainly did for me. I spent most of my young life insulated in my family unit, my parents and sister having become not just my primary but my only social group. I didn’t feel the need for friends for the same reason I didn’t feel the need for a relationship: why go to the trouble when I have everything I need already? I conveniently forgot this aspect of my social life when I decided to move a thousand miles from Denver to New York City, the biggest, loudest, most in-your-face city of them all.
I wouldn’t have lasted a semester if I hadn’t made friends. Between the strange new setting, the mountains of homework, and the painful absence of my family, I needed another source of support. I found my group out of necessity. Just like they say that your true love comes when you need them, not necessarily when you expect them, so too did the people I came to love as dearly as any romantic partner.
Speaking of necessity, what’s all this business about everyone only having one soulmate?
This whole “one true love” thing bothers me, and not just because it completely discounts friendship; it implies that one person is inevitably more important to you than all others, which, as I am about to explain, is utter nonsense. A few months after making my first friend in college, I moved into her dorm room and bonded with her roommates the same way I had bonded with her. We were joined at the hip, each seeking something to prove to ourselves that we hadn’t made a mistake leaving home. They had become a surrogate family.
I remember lying in bed all day that Valentine’s Day and dying of abdominal pain and cursing the world until my friends came to me, bearing food, chocolate, and cards, saying, “Don’t worry, we’ll be your Valentines this year.” Thinking back, that was the moment I believe I consciously realized I loved them. They were all I needed, and despite having known them only a short while, I couldn’t imagine my life without them. The universe had brought us together to love each other despite the odds and the chaos, and if that doesn’t make them soulmates, I don’t know what would.
Romantic love was the farthest thing from my mind, and it didn’t matter; I had more love here than I knew what to do with from a group of bubbly girls on the seventeenth floor of a Manhattan apartment building, all clinging to each other in the face of a new and unfamiliar world. Growing up, I had always assumed that my first earth-shaking love story would be that of me and a romantic partner, but looking back I see that this was not the case. What opened my eyes to the true breadth of human emotion was platonic love. I can’t imagine my life without the friends I made that year. They brighten my world and make me want to be a better person.
My friendship with these people has every component of a classic love story, and I think that’s beautiful.
At the end of the day, love can take many forms. Perhaps it’s a romantic partner, perhaps not, but if I learned anything my first year of college, it’s that there’s no such thing as a “standard” love story. A love for the ages, a soulmate, is someone you meet when you need them and profoundly changes your life for the better. It’s someone who brightens your day, who is there for you when things get tough, and whose absence would be devastating. To assume that it has to look a certain way is selling yourself short; you never know who’s going to appear when you need them the most.
Don’t discount the power of a good friend. Life’s too short to live it alone.
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