One of the worst dates I’ve ever been on was absolutely my fault. Let’s go back in time to 2014.
I’m twenty-one-years-old, very online, and I’m an editor of my college’s daily newspaper, so I basically think I’m Paris fucking Geller and have an admittedly similar intense, cutthroat vibe, plus a whole bunch of emotional walls. I think I’m gay. I know I’m gay. I don’t know anything. Apparently, I’ve decided it’s the perfect time to sign up for OKCupid and try to date women publicly-ish for the first time.
Technically, I’ve been with other women on-and-off before. But those situations were long-distance and short-lived and classified from those I’m closest to. It’s exhausting to date in the shadows, but I don’t yet know any other way.
Right before making the OKCupid profile, I do tell people. Just a few. I have to be jungle-juiced-up drunk to do it, except for one time when I tell a friend over Skype, the screen and miles between us enough of a scrim to give me courage. But nothing beats the liquid courage of booze, and when I finally come out to my best friend slash roommate slash favorite-person-to-watch-TV-in-bed-with, it’s only after I down one and a half bottles of Andre plucked from the bottom shelf of a CVS. It’s not liquid courage — I know — it’s an elixir to forget, because I don’t want to remember how anyone reacts when I tell them I’m gay, because I’m afraid. I don’t even simply say “I’m gay” or “I’m queer” when I come out. I ramble a run-on sentence about how I’m maybe possibly sometimes attracted to women but only certain women like only two so far (lie!) so there’s definitely a chance I don’t have enough data and am not fully ready to commit to a label yet because oh god that sounds permanent and…
Clearly, I am not ready to be on dating apps. But I want to give it the old college try, as they say. And there’s that Paris Geller-y competitive streak inside me that believes I can win dating apps and therefore not have to worry so much at being gay because I will have become the Best At Being Gay. Online, I don’t have to be me exactly. I can be TVGoddessKay which, yes, is the actual username I select. It’s not a complete persona. I don’t feel like I’m tricking anyone. But I do feel more confident, more direct, more out.
After mostly just in-app conversations about television (refer back to username), I finally agree to a date with a girl. I have reservations. She’s in the same sorority as a very close friend who I’m definitely not out to. But she’s a sophomore and my friend and I are seniors, and from my lite sleuthing, I’ve deduced that they’re not even Facebook friends. I tell the girl on OKCupid that “I’m not super out,” which is an understatement. Again, I’m clearly not ready to be on a dating app. Yet, here I am! Horny and stressed and wanting to prove to myself, to everyone, that I’m capable of going on a real, public date with another human woman! I can do this, right?
She lets me pick the place, and I go with the most expensive coffee shop on campus because none of my friends are likely to be there. It’s tiny and more of a to-go situation, but there are a couple tables outside that we can probably snag. Or we can walk, I reason. The location still poses a couple of risks. It’s located in a small, covered alley that connects two campus streets, and everyone who works with me at the paper uses it as a cut-through to get to the newsroom. But that seems like an easier dodge than my non-paper friends. Maybe they’ll just think I’m interviewing a source for a story. I’ve thought all of this out with the painstaking attention to detail of a heist movie strategy scene.
The date begins. She’s funny and chatty right away, and I feel oddly relaxed. It’s Michigan Spring, which means still fucking cold, and I realize my plan to sit or walk outside is probably a little absurd, but we’re both appropriately bundled, and maybe I’ve seen too many rom-coms, but a chilly first date where we can see each other’s breath actually sounds kinda romantic. We do snag one of the tables outside, and I grip my coffee a little too hard. In a plot twist, we discover we actually met at a conference when we were both children many years ago. See! Rom-com shit!
Another plot twist: someone I know walks up to the coffee shop. It isn’t someone I work with at the paper. It isn’t one of my million roommates. It’s the mother of one of my friends. She waves, and I freeze. And when she asks if she can sit at our table while her husband waits in line for coffee, the words “I’m on a date” or “this is my date” slip out of my mind like I’ve been drained. They’re impossible words.
So I say yes, and I introduce the other girl as my friend. I let this straight woman crash my first Real Date with another girl — a girl I was having fun with but now can’t make eye contact with. We’re making small talk with a random white lady, and it’s all my fault. She’s probably only there for five minutes total, but by the end, I’m sweating and unsure if I want to laugh or cry. I choose the former and attempt to joke with my date about my own gay shame. A defense mechanism.
My embarrassment swells, and the date ends. I don’t know what to do with my hands or my shame. So I walk to my friend’s house to let her know her mother just crashed my gay date, because she’s the only person I can think to tell, and I feel like I have to tell someone. My friend thinks it’s hilarious, and that relieves me. She asks if she can call her mom and reveal the truth, and I give her the go-ahead. She goads her mother, calling her heteronormative for assuming I was just meeting with a friend, and she’s laying it on thick on purpose — that’s their dynamic. My friend and I laugh and laugh and in the moment? This is exactly what I need tbh. I need to make it her mother’s mistake. I need someone else to blame. It eases the embarrassment, and it makes me feel less like I’ve failed at gay dating.
None of that’s fair of course. Definitely not to my date, who did not deserve to be pulled into my own closet. But not to my friend’s mother either. I made a choice in that moment, and even if I couldn’t imagine any other possibilities, it was still selfish.
It makes a funny story. And that girl did for some reason agree to go on a second date, so it couldn’t have been all bad, right?! No, I know, it was pretty bad. It’s a funny story; it’s a sad story. Embarrassment for me often encompasses a little of both.
Well, That’s Mortifying is a mini series about Autostraddle writers’ most embarrassing moments (think Seventeen‘s “Traumarama” column, but the submissions are all from queer adults). You can read our next embarrassing story on October 16.
Nickels arcade will get you every time
its got a stepford vibe, like ‘this was built for secretly millionaire but think of themselves as middle class parents of michigan students.’
I really relate to the ‘oh, you’re part of this interaction now’ as I have a bad habit of that too (though luckily not like this) and I am VERY excited for this being a series!
this was EXQUISITELY mortifying!!! thank you for sharing!!!!!
I’m so excited to read the rest of this series.
Love this essay and looking forward to the series!
Haven’t we all being there at a certain point in our lives? Or maybe we still are… Things are never black or white, and even if it is true that the situation can be embarrassing and maybe there is better ways to deal with it, we also say that everyone should come out in their own time and way.
It is a funny anecdote, I’m pretty sure you will laugh about it for many years to come. ;)
I also worked in Student Publications when I was at UMich so I know exactly which coffee shop this is haha. Was Cafe Ambrosia closed by the time you went there? We used to hang out in the basement, I remember it being pretty gay.
yes i loved cafe ambrosia!
Kayla, did you edit The Michigan Daily!?!?!?!?!?!?!
If so THANK YOU FOR YOUR EPIC PUBLIC SERVICE!!!
hahaha yes i was the editor of the Arts section!
Honestly, replace Nickels Arcade with Kerrytown and I have had this happen. Except it was my conservative aunt who lived in Dixboro who crashed on her way to the farmer’s market.