The summer before my freshman year of college, I binge-watched The X-Files. That’s the only thing I did all summer. I watched a handful of episodes a day and it was the only thing that got me through one of the most boring, listless, and miserable summers of my entire life. High School had ended and college had yet to begin. I was trapped in the divide between the past and the future, with nothing happening in the present. It is not a time I like to revisit and it has served as a warning to me not to stay still for too long. A person can lose themselves in the silence.
I hate to use the word “naive”, but it is an accurate summary of my High School self. It does not define who I was then, but it is accurate nonetheless. In High School I was the shy kid, the weird mute girl, and the shrinking violet. Most of my peers didn’t take much notice of me and my friends tended to come from my fellow socially anxious classmates, castmates, and instrumental students. My friends were the outcasts, the loners, and the kids who never really fit in. I never had much time for anyone else and they never bothered with me either. It was a safe way of living. I knew who were my friends, I kept my distance from the kids in my friend group I didn’t like, and I had surface-level friendships (if anything) with everybody else. I’ve used the same strategy in college. Keeping this level of distance has served as a way of protecting myself from getting in too deep and getting hurt. I have a handful of friends who I trust, a good amount friends who I enjoy spending time with, and many friends who I can only take in the tiniest of doses. I am an expert at avoiding drama.
But the game leveled up in college. I went into college a little wary after watching The X-Files. On top of that, the game gets a little harder when you haven’t known everyone since elementary and middle school. When you don’t know their history, their friends, and their upbringing. Everything becomes a lot more confusing. College has often felt like playing an intense game of “don’t step on the mine”. I fell into a crowd that included bronies, furries, players, abusers, and manipulative assholes amongst the men. Lots of pretentious, snooty, calculating, fake girls amongst the women. Some low-key creepy guys and a lot of high-key ones. A lot of mean condescending girls with something to prove. Caught amidst this chaotic nightmare were also a handful or more of some of the most accepting, compassionate, kind, intelligent, humble, interesting, and fun individuals that I have ever met.
The trick to navigating this mess came in trying to sort each individual into the right box. Was this guy a harmless creep, total nightmare, or genuinely nice guy? Was this girl a pretentious bitch, only sometimes a little vexing, or an awesome friend? I made a lot of right calls, but I made a couple wrong ones too. I went into college thinking everyone was harmless, maybe just a little weird and socially awkward. I came out of college a changed person. I can no longer trust as easily as I used to. Just the other day I found out that someone I had sorted into the “little odd, but a good friend nonetheless” category for the past three years is actually a dangerous borderline felon. Sometimes it’s trial and error, I guess.
There is something an old teacher of mine said last semester that has recently become very relevant to me. A kid in my class made the claim that every single relationship in life is transactional. Each party has something they want from the other. Nobody just has a genuine honest relationship for the sake of it. My teacher was appalled by how the kid refused to trust that anyone had good intentions. That he had the belief that “everyone is out for themselves and what they can get”. My teacher argued that that entire theory was too cynical. It is what my teacher said next that has stuck with me. He said, “Personally, I prefer to trust everyone until they prove me wrong. I don’t want to live a life not trusting anyone, not letting anybody in, and not opening myself up to people. Yeah, they could betray your trust. But I’d rather be a trusting person than a cynical closed-off one. Everybody deserves a chance. That’s how you make lasting friendships, develop deep bonds with people, and make genuine connections. You have to trust, no matter how many times you’ve been hurt. If you want people to trust you, you have to offer them the same respect. I strive to be someone who is open-minded, optimistic, and friendly to all”. I’m paraphrasing, but I’m not far off from what he said.
Trusting people is hard. It opens yourself up to the possibility of unimaginable pain and heartbreak. I’m not saying to go follow the creepy guy with the knife into a dark alleyway. Trust your instincts and being cautious in questionable cases is encouraged. But when your instincts give the all clear, when you’ve found somebody you genuinely get along with, and when the only thing holding you back is the anxious “what if” thoughts in the back of your head….give the person a chance. If you want them to trust you, you have to be willing to trust them in return. You never know who you might miss out on due to a fear of the unknown and of lowering those walls.