For as long as I can remember having attractions toward other human beings, I remember being attracted to both men and women. (Later, as I gradually understood the difference between gender and sex, this grew to a different range of attractions, but that’s a story for another day.) I have had many experiences with men and women, but a bigger chunk of the former have involved people with whom I had relationships with, while the latter has been more difficult to navigate. Why? Primarily because I am afraid to approach women.

My first crush was on a boy in kindergarten. My second was on a girl in first grade. My first kiss was with a girl. My second was with a boy and we both had braces, so it was pretty gnarly. The first flowers I ever got were from a senior girl when I was in ninth grade. The second bouquet (and third, fourth, fifth and sixth) were from my twelfth grade boyfriend who is basically the most romantic person ever and now has a female alter-ego who wears leopard print better than anybody I know.

My sexuality has never been an issue for me, but being open about it has.

I have almost always dated men. In school, I always flirted with males. In bars, I am usually approached by men or, if I’m feeling brave/stupid, the I approach them. Despite being attracted to women on just as regular basis as I am to men, it is rare, if at all, that I attempt anything romantic with a female.

At some point, I’ll delve deeper into why I have almost exclusively had relationships with guys, but for now, I just want to explain why I have been constantly over-thinking the things I say to all women–including ones I am not remotely attracted to, and especially the ones I know are straight.

I feel uncomfortable with 3 key things when it comes to women:

  • Determining if they’re attracted to women.
  • Flirting if I think they are.
  • Creeping them out if they’re not.

Sure, millions of women are attracted to other women, but I have zero gaydar. None. Zip. So when it comes to actually pursuing another women, I am at a loss. Is this because our entertainment industry almost exclusively shows heterosexual relationships, particularly when it comes to sexual intimacy? Perhaps. Or maybe I’m just really, really bad at reading people (the more likely possibility). Regardless, I have always felt awkward attempting to meet women romantically because I am afraid they will wind up being straight and will hate me.

It bums me out to recall past female crushes I never felt brave enough to tell my feelings to. The girl with shiny brown hair who sat next to me in ninth grade history; the gorgeous woman in my college writing class whose tattoos; the woman I hung out with at shows whose lips looked like petals. Not only did I keep silent about being attracted to them, I also wound up not pursuing a close friendship with them–and all of them are people with whom I got along wonderfully and would’ve loved to have been platonic friends with regardless.

Yes, of course people who constantly think everyone is hitting on them suck. Yes, people who believe anybody who’s attracted to their gender will be attracted to them are The Worst. Yes, if a woman didn’t want me to be her friend because she thought I was interested, it would be shitty. Regardless, nobody wants to be the “weird friend,” let’s be honest, and we have all heard our friend complain about at least one person with whom they had to stop being friends because they were afraid that person had romantic feelings for them.

And it’s weird, because I’ve also had countless straight female friends say to me, “If I were into girls, I would totally bang you” or “you’re like, the only girl I would want in a threesome with my boyfriend.” These sound complimentary to some people, but they usually just made me sort of sad, particularly when you consider my experiences hooking up with heterosexual females.

There was the girl in high school who said she was exclusively into women. We made out once on the couch after a party, then cuddled and passed out. Lo and behold, six months later, she went to prom with a dude. This would have been all fine and dandy except she suddenly renounced people who weren’t straight as being weird and creepy, which made me feel just lovely.

Then, there was the girl in college with whom I hooked up with several times. We got along wonderfully, in general, but on occasion, particularly when we would start drinking together, she would pounce on me. I was really intrigued by her and attracted to her, so over the course of a year, this happened several times. But on other occasions, she would inform me she was straight, then discuss every guy she was sleeping with and frequently ditch me to hook up with them. It’s my own fault for continuously putting myself through that, but it did definitely make me more cautious about being open with my feelings.

There was the friend I had in my teenage years who seemed really wonderful and accepting of people, but when I told her I had had same-sex sexual experiences, she nodded her head with an awkward and uncomfortable half smile, then stopped speaking to me.

I could go on, but you get the gist. I realize that not every straight woman is like that–seriously, I do–and I would never want to generalize all of any group as being, well, exclusively anything. However, it does make me more cautious and stressed out, so I wind up being terribly afraid to seem like I’m coming onto women. I avoid smiling too much, giggling too much, complimenting them, giving off body language signals. Once in a while, I’ll say something nice to a stranger, and I will often compliment people I am good friends with, but it is rare that I say anything that could be construed as flirty to another female for fear she’ll suddenly dislike me. I also feel this type of anxiety regarding my lesbian, bisexual or queer friends, but I have so few of those and most of them are very close friends that that fear is significantly lessened.

I’m not sure how to get over this (fairly stupid) fear, but if any of you have some tips, I would love to hear ’em. I realize my issue is a neurotic and rather self-centered one, but it’s one that has been flitting around my brain for such a long time that I just want to get it out of my head before it conditions me for life.