The Hook Up: On the importance of vulnerability

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So, I kind of like this girl. (Don’t we all?) We go to different schools, so we see each other about once a week through a mutual orchestra. I wouldn’t say we’re close, but we’re definitely friends.

There have been instances where either of us goes out of her way to engage the other in conversation, even if it’s a one-or-two-sentence exchange, and she almost always smiles quite widely when we talk. We’ve chatted through Facebook on several instances, during one of which we talked about bucket lists. When I mentioned attending Pride in more than one country, it prompted no reaction. She’s also the only more well-known girl in the orchestra (she has a high position, and she’s amazing) whose name has never been mentioned in conjunction with a guy, even in jest.

Thus the trouble is that I can’t tell if she’s gay. I’ve heard that the best method of finding out someone’s identity is to ask, but in this case it’s a bit more sensitive. I somehow mustered an illusion of bravery and messaged her best friend on Facebook, even though we’d never talked before, and when I asked her about the sexuality of this girl (henceforth known as The Girl), she told me that The Girl has never really discussed relationship stuff with her and that she truly has no idea. But I also learned from the friend that The Girl’s family background is that of a traditional, conservative Asian household. As the child of Asian immigrant parents myself, I understand that such an environment can be stifling for the coming out process, especially the self coming-out stage.

I’ve considered asking a friend in the organization who’s merely an acquaintance of The Girl to simply walk up to her and ask, but I’m terrified of scaring her. Having gone through a period of immense self-hatred due to the conflicting identities of being both Asian and gay, I know firsthand the feeling of abject horror when anything even remotely queer is mentioned, and it immediately prompted me to push the entire situation away. Even worse, if she is not-straight but is in extreme denial (like I was until finally it was impossible to deny), having such a question shoved in her face could be catastrophic.

As such, I’m at quite a loss. Is there a way for me to find out if The Girl is gay or interested in girls? Even if a relationship is not in the cards, I would love to be a source of support if there is internal strife going on in The Girl’s head. Queer girls can be hard to come by in high school, let alone Asian queer girls, and the identity can be a scary one to claim. If there’s any way to help her out, I would love to do so. And if she’s not gay at all, then I can put this whole thing behind me and utterly dedicate myself to building a good friendship without worrying about the conundrum at hand. Thanks!—Gayer Than Tchaikovsky

 

Dear GTT, I feel like you’ve got it backwards. From what you’ve described, it seems like you’ve put far more effort into trying to sneakily discern this girl’s sexual proclivities than you have in actually trying to get to know her. Messaging her friends on Facebook? Considering asking someone else to blindside her with gay accusations (accugations)? Think about how you’d feel if someone did that to you, especially if you were brought up with strict, conservative parents and might in fact be shamefully or deeply closeted. Is that really how you wanna ask this girl out?

Let me answer that for you: No, you do not. So let’s drop the Nancy Drew sleuthing and focus instead on being a friend to this well-known and highly accomplished musician, getting to know her, and earning her trust. If she does turn out to be not straight, then she’ll reveal that to you on her own terms when she’s ready, not because some rando came up to her at orchestra practice and tried to call her out—which is, for the record, horrifying-sounding, even to me, and I’ve been out for years!

You’ve become fixated on learning this one tiny aspect of your crush’s existence that you’ve neglected to care about all the other things that make her a whole person, the ones that make her real and messy and glorious and a little scary. So my dear Gay Tchaikovsky, set aside your lust and romantic dreams for a minute and start figuring out how you wanna go about learning who The Girl is. What is she like? What does she want for herself? What’s in her house of secret dreams?

How do you go about earning her trust? You can start by coming out to her. You may have already kinda done that with your Pride bucket list thing, but I can’t totally tell. If you haven’t explicitly told her, “Yep, I’m gay!” then you should try to work that into one of your upcoming conversations. But not only that, tell her how hard and scary and ultimately rewarding it was for you to do so. Be vulnerable. Not because you want to divulge information from her, but because it’s how we bond as humans. As Brene Brown said in her excellent TED Talk on vulnerability, “In order to have connection, we have to allow ourselves to be seen, really seen.”

Spend some real time with her. Tell her stories. Talk about music, talk about school, talk about what it’s like to be Asian and gay. How does she respond to your openness and vulnerability? It’s in these in-between spaces that you start to learn about a person. Does she change the subject and shut down? Does she nod intently but remain silent? Does she divulge her own fears and potential disappointments? This is how we learn about people—slowly, in scattered fragments—and how we reveal ourselves to others.

Invest in a relationship with her, even if it might not turn into anything sexy or romantic, even though there’s no guarantees she’ll reciprocate. You can’t force anyone to come out to you, but you can be open and honest and receptive and then let the cards fall where they may.

Good luck, lady. I hope it turns out to be music to your ears.

FullSizeRenderillustration by Natasha Miren

I met a girl two weeks ago through a mutual friend. We went out to this club and didn’t really talk or connect, but then she started coming up to me and dancing with me and getting all close. I thought it might just be the alcohol. However, we traded numbers and the next day she texted me to go out as a group. We went and talked and connected more. We all went out two nights later and I walked her home and we kissed. The same thing happened the next night, we kissed and stood together talking for two hours.

Our relationship started getting stronger. I know she likes me, but the problem is I don’t know what to do from here. I’m traveling tomorrow for a week and would have loved to have “the girlfriend” talk before but I think it might be too early since I’ve only known her for two weeks. What do you think, keeping in mind she’s not the emotional/feely type?

I’m also confused to what I should do. Should I play it cool or actually talk and initiate conversations with her more via text or phone calls. Our text conversations have decreased the past couple of days. I think I’ve shown her that I like her indirectly and I’m quite sure she likes me too, so I don’t wanna be too pushy. Should I talk to her before I travel or just let it be until I come back?—Fear and Loving

 

Dear FAL, If you want her to be your girlfriend, ask her to be your girlfriend! If she’s not ready to make it “official,” then she’s not ready, but we do ourselves zero favors by withholding our genuine emotions from those we care about.

As I said to GTT above, the only way we can ever truly connect to another person is to be vulnerable with them. Lean into the discomfort and uncertainty and fear—it’s the only way to grow and be (as research increasingly has shown). When we shut down those things that are scary, when we “play it cool” or act indifferent or try to numb the fear, we effectively numb our positive emotions as well, our joy and gratitude and opportunities.

To put it another way (and to lazily plagiarize myself): New relationships are scary, I totally feel you (in a platonic way). We fret and agonize over whether the feelz we are feelzings are reciprocated. We daydream and send tentative text messages and practice disabling our OkCupid accounts. Until one day it is miraculously revealed—“Why yes! I do like you like you like me. Let’s glitter the town and then clean it up immediately because every day is Earth Day go green!”

Or if you’d prefer a sports analogy, as Wayne Gretzky once said: “You miss 100 percent of the shots you never take.”

I know it’s hard to put yourself out there when you’re not sure how your feelings will be received. I’m guilty of making my girlfriend say “I love you” first because I was worried about scaring her off, but the risk is almost always worth the pay-off.

If your gal thinks you’re moving too fast, then try not to get too discouraged. Some of us take longer to warm up. Others approach relationships like firecrackers—short fuse and then you’re hurtling through the sky. Different strokes and all that. You can always assess and adjust accordingly once you figure out where she is on the getting-to-know-you spectrum.

There’s no one right way to conduct a relationship, after all. We’re all just making it up as we go, which is why I’m not going to weigh in on how much texting/talking/initiating you should engage in. That’s between the two of you. But I will say that analyzing how much communication to have should occupy a VERY small amount of your day to day activities. Ask yourself, “Do I want to text her?” If the answer is yes, then text her. No agony involved, just genuine desire and opposable thumbs. Stop short if she’s not responding, but otherwise, have at it. Life’s too short to spend anxiously counting text messages.

Good luck, FAL.

Anna is a freelance writer in Oakland. Get overly personal emails and haiku from her at tinyletter.com/annapulley. Or Twitter @annapulley. Send her your Hook Up questions at askthehookup@gmail.com