I’ve been having a difficult time in putting myself out there. The problem is, I’m too much of a coward and very shy. I also don’t have “gaydar” so every time I meet someone I like, I’m only going to talk to her for a few minutes and then run away because I’m worried that if I hit on her she’ll be straight, and might be offended. I can’t talk to women that I’m attracted to. All I do is stare at them and smile and I’m worried that I’m creeping them out already. — Helpless
I’m bisexual, but I can’t come out because I have a boyfriend/homophobia at my high school. There is this girl that when I see her I go stupid grinning from ear to ear. The problem is I’m totally afraid to tell her how I feel. We always catch each other staring at each other. I have no clue how to deal with all of this. I’m screwed if the school finds out, but if it really was true that she was into me, I might just start running in circles screaming it to the world! So should I ask her if she is into me or leave it alone and wait till college to find the perfect girlfriend? — High School
So my friends and I hang out at a certain cafe downtown all the time, and there’s this girl there that I’ve been crushing on for almost a year now. Until recently, she has given me no reason to think she might be interested, however, a few months ago, we kinda started this eye-catching, staring thing. She’s got tattoos and short hair so it’s not an impossibility, however, I just don’t think we’ve spoken enough for me to actually ask her out or inquire further if she even could be interested. And really, the only reason I don’t just strike up a conversation with her is because every time I see her, my heart freakin’ stops. I just don’t know what to do to take the next step. I can’t just bring up gay issues and see how she responds because all the friends I hang out with at the cafe are evangelical Christians and I’m not out to them yet (which is why I’m cover dating a guy). The problem, though, is that I think she thinks I’m dating my cover boyfriend and maybe that’s why she’s not pursuing anything further. Do you have any advice as to what I should do? — Café Crush
Anna says: I changed the format up a little bit for this column, since all three of your questions had very similar problems. At the root of all of them is this: Fear. Two of you have “boyfriends” that you’re not really interested in – we’ll get to that in a minute. All of you mention staring as a means of expressing and gauging interest in someone else. All of you are dealing with circumstances of homophobia in one way or another. And, you all urgently want to know whether the women you flirt with and find attractive share that desire for women too, or more to the point, you specifically.
Let me start by addressing the latter: You can never just know whether someone is interested in you. There’s no magic formula, no amount of eye contact or accidentally-on-purpose arm brushing or the gift of a free vegan milkshake at the café. Those markers can be helpful, of course and they make us feel giddy and special and full of wondering, but they are also like whipping together the ingredients for a cake: You have to put it in the oven. If you don’t take the crucial next steps, then you’ll always be full of longing, or you’ll get salmonella poisoning, neither of which are very conducive to your love lives.
When it comes to love though, you have to ask yourself: Does my desire to pursue this girl outweigh the doubts and potential pitfalls of coming out in less than stellar circumstances? That’s the question you should be asking yourselves. Here’s another one, since I rarely get to ask y’all questions in this forum. If you decide to do nothing about these girls that make your hearts stop, how much will you regret it?
I’m going to give you a silly life example because it’s the first thing that comes to mind. One time I was on a road trip with my then-girlfriend in Vancouver, Canada. Kathleen Hanna (of Le Tigre, Bikini Kill, Julie Ruin fame) was eating dinner at a table really close to ours. Like really close. I breathed on her. I’ve been in love with Kathleen Hanna for years, and the odds of running into her again in this casual setting were very slim. So I rehearsed a hundred different conversation starters, compliments, and marriage proposals to share with her. But then, after I finished my meal, I simply got up and walked away. I didn’t even look at her as I headed to the door. I rationalized that nothing I could say wouldn’t be something she’d heard a million times before, that my praise would be cliché, or that I’d come off as creepy, so I blew my one shot at telling my idol how much she meant to me.
In the grand scheme of life regrets, of course, this barely registers on the scale, but I think about it once a year or so, and now, instead of kicking myself for not doing anything, I use it as leverage to weigh my desires against my fears. What would I have lost, telling Kathleen Hanna how awesome she is? Nothing. The only thing that held me back was my fear of looking foolish in front of someone I greatly admired. And that’s perhaps the foolish-est thing of all.
Think about those what-if situations in your own lives. Are there a lot of them? Do you spend a considerable portion of your time wishing and hoping but never acting? If so, put the cake in the oven. Do something, anything. Our greatest vulnerability in life is when we risk nothing.
Here’s another story, about homophobia. My high school was very conservative. I didn’t “know” any gay people. They were there, obviously, but hiding safely away from insulting, bullying eyes. When I was a senior though, two lesbian couples went public with their relationships. They got flack for this, of course, but by the end of the semester, the “scandal” gave way to one of “meh, no biggie.” A year later, a Gay Straight Alliance was created. I’m not saying that if you decide to come out to your homophobic friends that you’ll all instantly join hands and start singing “Born This Way” or anything, but being true to yourself, and by not idly accepting the culture of fear and bigotry, what you find just might surprise you.
Lastly, your cover relationships. Ask yourself whether you would hit on the girl who came into a café with the same boy every time. Would you hit on the girl whose relationship with a dude was well-known in your school? These relationships aren’t doing anyone any favors, least of all you. By staying in them for posterity’s sake, you’re handicapping yourselves before you’ve even left the gate. If you wanted to teach yourself how to swim, would you put a swimsuit and practice your breaststroke on the living room carpet? No, you would not. I understand that you feel these beards are a social necessity, but let me assure you they are not.
Be single. Life is complicated enough as it is. Why make it more so when you don’t have to? Plus, it’s not just you that’s involved. Your boyfriends have feelings too, and they deserve the same amount of respect you should be giving yourselves. Unless they are gay also and you have some elaborate scheme going, but still, that’s a flimsy reason, and one that won’t last. Practice having integrity in all you do, and the rest will fall into place eventually.
Hailing from the rough-and-tumble deserts of southern Arizona, where one doesn’t have to bother with such trivialities as “coats” or “daylight savings time,” Anna Pulley is a professional tweeter/blogger for Mother Jones and a freelance writer living in San Francisco. Find her at annapulley.com and on Twitter @annapulley. Send her your Hook Up questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.