I’m afraid of being alone.
It’s not that I don’t have friends; on the contrary, I am blessed with many, spread around the world. And it’s not like I don’t have a ton of family members. I still talk to them on a routine basis, even though the closest is about a thousand miles away.
But I’m still afraid of being alone. You see, I have a secret: I’ve never had a romantic relationship. With anyone. I’m in my late 20s, and I’ve never even been on a real date. And the thought of continuing that way terrifies me.
It’s not that I don’t want a relationship. Yes, I’m perfectly comfortable being by myself. As I grew up, it was sometimes the safest place to be. Like many people, I got teased a lot in school, especially between 6th and 8th grades. In response, I retreated into my own world, built from the many science fiction and fantasy books I read and the Broadway musicals I listened to almost non-stop. While I would see people who I thought looked attractive, I had no interest in dating. (Years later, I learned that the school rumor mill frequently paired me with one of my few friends, convinced that the pair of us were in a lesbian relationship.)
High school changed things. For the first time, I had a crush on someone. She was in the marching band with me, and also participated in the spring musicals. I know that she knew who I was, but I doubt that she ever thought about me as anything other than a friendly face and a fellow band/theatre geek. Especially since she had a boyfriend.
If having a crush on a celebrity is a rite of passage, then 12th grade saw that item checked off. Of course, being me, I didn’t have a crush on anyone my friends would recognize. Nope, I had a huge crush on Amanda Tapping, who played Lt. Colonel Samantha Carter on the TV series “Stargate SG-1”. I distinctly remember the moment when, hanging out in the hotel room on a marching band trip, we found an episode of the show on TV. After watching a few minutes, my friends decided that it was a lot better than they expected. In the course of the conversation, I admitted to having a crush on one of the characters, but never specified which one. (If any of you are reading this and still remember that conversation, now you know.)
I suppose it’s not uncommon for teens to keep their crushes to themselves, especially if they worry that the people around them will disapprove. While there were a few out gay kids at school, I wasn’t one of them. Well, I never confirmed anything, anyway; I do know that rumors followed me around the school, many of which had to do with my sexual orientation and perceived gender variance. But for the first time in a long time, I had more than one or two friends who liked me for me, not because how I looked or based on who I was or wasn’t dating. In fact, several people informed me that I was “smart” to stay away from dating, for a variety of reasons.
The fact of the matter is, the idea of casual dating has never appealed to me. If I’m going out, whether to eat or to the theatre or the movies or wherever, I’d rather spend that time with friends than with a relative stranger. I think some of this comes from my teen years, when being around new people could be stressful in the extreme because I never knew how they’d perceive me. More than one person would be introduced to me and carry on conversations without realizing that I was (supposedly) female. As I frequently tried to present a masculine image, these encounters would be fraught with tension for me, as I dreaded the moment of being “found out”. (Years later, some of these moments have turned into hilarious stories, such as a college friend who knew me for almost two months before he one day realized that I was socially identifying at the time as female.) In contrast, spending time with friends meant that I could relax somewhat. While I’m a lot more comfortable meeting new people nowadays, I still prefer to spend time with the people I know best. If a friend invites a new person along, I don’t mind, but I don’t deliberately seek out the company of complete strangers on my own.
Going off to college turned out to be a transformative experience in more ways than I could have ever imagined. Not only did I get to start my Transition medically, but I also began to move away from the introverted shell I’d occupied since the onset of puberty. Being in a new environment with new people set me free to be more expressive about who I was and what I liked. For the first time, I felt comfortable admitting to people other than family that I liked girls. The news that I had a crush on an actress didn’t shock anyone; in fact, a couple of other people admitted to having crushes on her, too. After a rough patch during my sophomore and junior years at the beginning of my Transition, I finally found myself in a good place for the first time, if not ever, than at least in a long time.
I started senior year in quite possibly the sunniest state of mind I could ever remember. I had finally convinced my parents that I meant what I said when I said I was a man, and had started looking into both beginning testosterone and getting my name legally changed. The coming year would be an academic challenge, as AC (the college) requires an undergraduate thesis, but I had a great advisor and was working on a topic I found genuinely fascinating. Socially, I was sitting pretty: I sat on the executive boards of two student organizations, and had more friends than I could ever remember. I even had enough free time in my schedule that year to register for classes that just sounded like fun, rather than because I needed them for my major or minor. So I enrolled in Ballroom Dance I. And I met Her.
I’ve written about Her before, in passing. My senior year was Her freshman year; without Ballroom I, we’d likely never have met. I don’t remember quite how, but within the first week of class She became the person I always looked for when I got to class, the one I wanted to dance with the whole time, if at all possible. Disclaimer: I was a popular Lead during class because, as more than one Follow informed me, I had rhythm and didn’t step on their feet. Also, Coach, our professor, had the class set up so that we rotated partners almost every dance. But I still managed to dance with Her at least twice a lesson.
Looking back, I’m still surprised at how quickly our friendship formed. It didn’t take long for us to realize we had a lot in common. We both travelled internationally from a young age (She’s from Switzerland and has family here in the States), enjoyed Ballroom, loved to read, and shared a love of both Harry Potter and the TV series “Castle”. I was elated when She took my suggestion to start attending Swing Dancing on Friday nights (one of the groups I helped run), and when She attended events run by Queers ‘n’ Allies (QnA), AC’s equivalent of a gay-straight alliance (the other group I helped run). Barely a month after we met, I realized that I had a massive crush on Her.
It took me almost three months to tell Her how I felt, although I’m reasonably certain She figured it out sooner than that. While I originally planned to tell Her face-to-face, I never seemed to find the right time or place. In the end, I wrote Her a letter and sent it via intercampus mail. A day later, I got a text: “We should talk”. As you can probably guess, She requested that we just remain friends.
The next four years turned into a form of low-level torture. While my brain got the message about “just friends”, my heart did not. Every chance to see Her had to be taken; a missed opportunity or an unanswered text brought a mild depression. At the same time, I valued Her friendship too much to simply stop seeing her. Even after I graduated that spring and moved on to grad school, I visited AC regularly, both to see Her and my other friends and to attend events like the Wind Symphony concerts and things for QnA. In February of 2011, QnA held their first ever “Prom REDUX”. I’d never attended a school dance before, but now felt comfortable doing so. Even better, She agreed to be my “date”. And while it’s been some time since we were even on the same continent, I still value Her friendship.
As you might guess, being in love with someone for four years, even when the other person doesn’t reciprocate, doesn’t exactly put one in a frame of mind to meet potential partners. Add in my dislike of casual dating, Transition, grad school, student teaching, and work, and the fact that I was still figuring out how to navigate the world as a man, and I think it’s pretty understandable that I didn’t really pay attention to new people in my life beyond friendships or work relationships. Even once I finally felt comfortable saying I no longer loved Her, I was content to continue as I had been.
Every time I contemplated trying to start a relationship with someone, my mind started spinning scenarios, some good, mostly bad. At a young age, I didn’t want to date because I wasn’t happy with my body. Now, I didn’t want to date because I was worried that someone else would find my physique lacking in some way. I followed the news, and I heard the stories of trans individuals who were attacked for “deceiving” their so-called friends or potential romantic partners. Then there were the voices in my head, the ones that sounded remarkably like my junior high tormentors: They whispered that no one could love a freak like me, someone who not only loved science fiction and fantasy (weird) but also Broadway musicals (weird and gay), someone who still looked and acted like a kid. And, while I found plenty of people physically attractive, there weren’t any feelings that I felt confident enough to act on. Anyway, I didn’t feel any “sparks” like I had with Her, so I didn’t feel that maybe I had missed out on something.
For a brief period of time, I tried online dating. However, I found it to be a rather unenjoyable experience. Making connections based on a bunch of questions and a couple of photographs just never sat well with me. When I accepted my current job in Alaska, I deleted the account completely.
During my first year on the tundra, I didn’t give much thought to romance. The move, returning to teaching, adapting to my new home, and forging new friendships took all of my energy. My trips back to the Lower 48, at Christmas and summer, were more for a chance to relax and recharge than anything else.
Making the entire trip from the East Coast to Nunap in one day doesn’t really work. Instead, I typically spend the night in Anchorage with a friend, Michael. We’ll go out to dinner and catch up, and he graciously shuttles me back and forth to the airport. This time, he asked if I minded one of his friends joining us for dinner. I said, “Not a problem.” By the time we got to the restaurant, I was starting to feel loopy from the jet lag. I figured that at the worst, I’d just concentrate on eating and blame said jet lag for my minimal socializing.
But when we got in the restaurant and Michael introduced his friend, D, I immediately perked up. Something about her dark hair, dark eyes, and bright smile captured my attention in a way that I haven’t experienced in over six years. I enjoyed the conversation over dinner much more than I had expected. Topics ranged all over the map, including issues of trans rights (Michael and D met at a support group for transgender individuals and their loved ones). Already, my thoughts had turned to ways to keep in touch with D once the meal ended, because I couldn’t help but feel that my life wouldn’t be complete without her in it.
Barely two weeks after returning to Nunap, I found myself headed back to Anchorage for an education conference. When I learned that we’d be arriving in the city 12 hours earlier than originally planned, I immediately contacted D in the hopes of meeting up with her. Happily, she agreed. We started talking when I climbed into her car, and didn’t stop until almost five hours later back in my hotel room. Once again, the discussion covered a variety of topics, although this time we skewed a little more to “getting to know you” questions. I felt disappointed when I hugged her good-bye, as I didn’t know when I’d get to see her again. But we’ve been messaging back and forth all week. Every day, I learn something new about her, something that makes me like her just a little bit more. When I’m not talking with her, she’s still on my mind. I’m not sure yet that this qualifies as a crush, but it’s definitely headed that way. Maybe that fear of being along can soon become a thing of the past. I guess only time will tell.