I burst out of the closet when I was 22, having graduated from UC Berkeley earlier that year. Finally, I was openly gay, and could start living my life.
And that meant finally getting a boyfriend. I was eager to start dating.
Not having a lot of gay friends, I first turned to the Internet. I went to the campus Queer Resource Center’s website, and was surprised to find something on there called the “Out List.”
If you were a Cal student, alum, staff or faculty—and wanted people to know you were openly LGBT—you could just add your name. It was like a yellow pages for gay people on campus.
I proudly put my name down, and started scrolling through the list to find names I recognized. One name in particular really piqued my interest: Sam Thompson (not his real name).
This name registered, as a couple months earlier, I attended an a cappella concert on campus. Having been a choir boy, I had a lot of friends in the various singing groups—including my roommate. When my roommate’s group got up to sing, one really cute boy caught my eye. A month later, I went to another concert on campus. All the singers wore nametags—so I learned the cute boy’s name was Sam. And a quick look on the group’s website told me his last name.
I wondered in excitement. “Was my new crush gay?”
I had stayed in the closet for literally decades—because while I always knew I was gay, I thought I was only attracted to straight men. Maybe there was hope for me, now that I’d taken the plunge.
I tried not to get ahead of myself. “Sam Thompson is a common name, and there are over 30,000 students at Berkeley. It’s entirely possible that they are not the same person.”
A quick online check of the Cal student directory told me that there were two students named Sam Thompson that semester, so I said: “Okay, there’s a 50-50 chance. I like those odds.”
In the meantime, I found a gay dating website—PlanetOut—and created a profile, using a photo taken for the Berkeley voter guidebook.
Two days later, someone responded to my profile — it was none other than Sam Thompson.
His e-mail subject line said “a true story,” and he explained how back in October, he was thumbing through the Berkeley voter guidebook and noticed my profile, but thought I was straight.
I tried being coy and responded by thanking him, adding “You mention on your profile that you sing in a choir on campus. We have probably met then, because I used to as well.” And then I mentioned the group that my roommate was in.
We scheduled a date for later that evening.
It was almost too good to be true. The boy I had a crush on for months was attracted to me, and I was going out on my first date with him!
We met for dinner. Sam was really smart, and politically engaging. We had a lovely conversation.
Sure, he expressed some mild disappointment when I told him I had “just come out” (Sam had been out of the closet all through high school)—but he was happy to hang out after dinner.
We walked through Berkeley for a few hours, checked to see what movies were playing at the theater, and eventually went to my house. I made him tea, and we sat on my couch talking more.
When Sam yawned, I gave him an out by asking him if he wanted to leave—but he said not yet. After he finally said he was ready to go home, I offered to walk him back to his car, where I thanked him for the lovely evening. We hugged, then he gave me a nice kiss on the cheek.
I skipped home in excitement. I’d had my first date with a boy and had been kissed.
I called Sam the next day and left a message on his answering machine. I thanked him for such a lovely time and asked if he wanted to go on a hike that day. I sent him an e-mail the following day. I waited the entire weekend for a response but none came.
On Monday afternoon, Sam finally responded by e-mail. He never got the message about hiking, he said, because there had been a power failure in his apartment and all his voice-mails had been erased.
I called him up, and offered to make plans. When he said he was busy that week, I asked about the following weekend. “Sure, I can make tentative plans,” he said. But we never made them.
The next two weeks consisted me of sending e-mail after e-mail, making phone call after phone call, with absolutely no response. Sometimes, he would make up excuses like there was another power failure in his apartment. Or the phone got disconnected. Or he forgot his e-mail password.
It would have stung for Sam to tell me upfront he did not want to date me, but to put me through weeks of agony when I was so vulnerable and he was my first crush—it was very infuriating. I second-guessed everything I may have done wrong on that night, driving myself absolutely crazy.
About three weeks later, Sam sent a long response to my e-mail. "I’m sorry if you got the wrong idea from me about what I wanted from you. I’m really bad at communicating with people, and sometimes I handle it by not communicating at all. Not that I’ve been avoiding you, I was just nervous e-mailing you.”
Translation: I’ve been avoiding you.
He went on to say we should not date because I had just come out of the closet.
The next time he saw me, Sam gave me this awkward hug, but in general, he avoided socializing with me at future parties or events.
I still had a crush on him, although I tried moving on by going on dates with other guys. Berkeley is a small place—and I soon met a lot of other guys who likewise had a crush on Sam - the charming boy who avoids you after the first date, leaving you wanting more. One of them became my first boyfriend.
Sam was only 19, so you can chalk it up to immaturity. But in the past 15 years, I have gone on dates with hundreds of guys—many of whom were well in their 30s—who behaved the same way, leaving me hanging and making me wonder what the hell I did wrong. There's no closure. And when it’s a 22-year-old who just burst out of the closet and is eager to meet his Prince Charming, the silence can be particularly painful.
The lesson: just rip off the band-aid, boys, and tell him the plain truth. It’s better than just avoidance, which is downright cruel.