Recently, I found myself reading my old journals from middle school. Much of what I wrote in those days was about my crushes, and honestly not much has changed more than a decade later. Days after I had dusted off my old paper confidants, I was still thinking about my past crushes, wondering if I had ever been the subject of someone else's diary entries. I thought about my crush curiosity and decided to pitch an idea to my editor as an "experiment" for "work." In short, I would ask my Instagram followers to reveal their crushes on me, try not to faint from the vulnerability of doing so, and see what would happen. I felt compelled to do so because Instagram really is one of the best dating apps, after all, and my DMs are indeed open. My editor said yes, and so, before I could spiral into a pit of dreadful self-doubt, I found my favorite selfie, wrote a caption, and posted it.
After posting the photo, I promptly hid my phone from myself for hours. I continued working as if I hadn’t put myself out there so far from my usual comfort zone, while somewhere in the digital universe, the photo of me racked up a surprising amount of activity. It turns out that brave people were, in fact willing to admit that they had had a crush on me at some point.
Some of the comments included, "The answer is YES," and "I did, short time circa spring 2015." My best friend fessed up and said,
Not even DMing because I have no shame. I had a giant crush on you many moons ago. You’re a tall blonde that’s made of LEGS and you have hair like a lion. Omg. I still would have a crush on you if you weren’t like my f*cking sister lmfao.
My best friend and I have long joked about how before we headed down the path towards our best friendship, both of us had crushes on each other, so this comment didn't totally throw me off. But it did make me feel pretty great. Another friend from college that I wasn't expecting to have had a crush on me said, "This is slightly awkward, but yes!" I appreciated her willingness to share that it was an awkward experience, while still sharing that she had a crush on me.
It was interesting to see a balance of enthusiastic responses, shy responses, and some in between. I appreciated all of them for their honesty, as I am not sure I would be so willing if the situation were reversed. I had had a crush on a couple of the people that commented and I shared that in response to their comments. If I hadn't had a crush on someone, I was still super affirmative and appreciative that they had shared either in the comments or in my DMs. A lot of the people that commented were folks that I knew in college, and I would've had a crush on them if I had had even the slightest idea that they were into me. Now, though, we remain digital friends as our lives have directed us down different paths since graduation.
Before the experiment, I was mostly afraid of no one commenting and looking vain or self-centered, but it ended up being a really fun chance to connect with people in my life over something as jovial as a crush.
After the traffic on the post died down a few days later, I noticed that there was an interesting trend regarding the results of my experiment. Pretty much everyone who commented on the photo had one thing in common: they weren't cis straight men. Most of the people shooting their shot with me were women I had gone to college with. The irony here is that I was not out as queer in college in part because I felt like I wasn’t “good with girls” and that they weren’t “into me.” I went to school in Indiana, a conservative red state where Vice President Mike Pence, a supporter of gay conversion therapy, served as governor from 2013 to 2017. Even though I went to college in the mid-2010s, there was still a claustrophobic presence of homophobia embedded into Indiana culture. It was the kind that suggested that even though gay marriage had been made legal in 2014, it was generally better if I wasn't gay — so in the closet I stayed.
Since I have graduated college, and subsequently moved from Indiana to New York, I haven’t so much as gone on a date with a straight dude in years. And in such a broad landscape that allows me to be out and often think nothing of it, there are times I forget what being out and queer means to my life. This crush experiment revealed to me just how much I've grown, though. It's an incredible privilege to live in a city where being gay is generally accepted in many spaces and where there are more than a handful of other queer people to get to know, or potentially date.
As I scrolled through the handful of people that admitted to having a crush on me, I felt a pang of sadness for the person that I wasn’t ready to be in high school or college and the circumstances that fostered that insecurity. I also felt incredibly grateful to the path that has led me to feel comfortable being myself in early adulthood. And, when I think about the reasons for my hesitations surrounding coming out, aside from the obvious ones, I think I wanted to cling to the belief that women weren't into me because the idea that they were was even more profoundly intimidating. Believing that other queer people weren't interested in me and that I, therefore, didn't need to come out was the safety blanket of my proverbial closet. When I stopped believing that, I would realize just how much I was missing if I wasn't honest about my sexuality to myself and to the world.
Instead of the person that wasn’t out in college and intimidated by the thought of even trying to understand how to date women, or literally even attempt at flirting with them, here I was two years later asking any and all of my Instagram followers if they'd ever had a crush on me.
Amid the people from my past was a woman I met last summer at a party in Queens. She sent an emoji of the girl raising her hand in the air to my DMs, and I almost fainted. This was someone I had thought was amazing and wanted to ask on a date, but wasn't sure if she was in a relationship or if she liked me. I hadn't made a move at the party, but I wasn't going to miss another chance. I sent a raised hand emoji back. She said, “In a big way,” and I said, “Ditto." Then, just because I could, I sent, “Let’s go on a date."