Bate and switch: better to atone late than never

Pretty much since puberty onward, I have thought of myself as bisexual. In eighth grade, I remember tentatively telling my best friend that I thought I had a crush on the girl who sat next to me in band. I would stare at her all the time — she was gorgeous — and that was the only way to explain my obsession to myself.

I was 16 when I first declared my love to the female object of my affection. I played it off like it was easy, like I was totally comfortable with it, because she was suave, bold and sophisticated. She smoked and talked about art after school. She hung out with college students.

I got drunk for the first time trying to be cool for her, attempting to smoke a cigarette. We even kissed once, the first kiss I actually enjoyed. That was the night she met her boyfriend for the next three years.

There wasn’t really anyone after her who extended beyond a drunken kiss or a passing curiosity. I continued to identify as bisexual though, just inexperienced. But one night last year I was retelling my history of attraction in a bar. My friend mumbled something I couldn’t hear, then refused to tell me what she had said. When we were sober, I asked her again. She fiddled with her phone for a moment, then handed me a picture of a Word document.

We were seated next to each other

on a crowded bus at the time, and I could feel her watching me read. She said she liked me, that she hadn’t known that I was into girls before, that she hadn’t known she was either. At a loss with how to proceed, I told her I liked her too, but that I didn’t want to jeopardize our friendship by doing anything about it. That lasted for about a week.

We hooked up intermittently throughout the semester and never talked about it. She would try to start the conversation sometimes, commenting on her friends’ reception of the new romantic development in her life. I would change the subject.

I don’t know why acknowledging our discontinuous and fairly tame affair was so difficult for me. I even went as far as to question whether I was really even bisexual. My male partners seemed much more into women than I ever was. But I was genuinely attracted to her at times. So I brooded. I stopped responding to her

messages. I started finding reasons not to see her. I felt bad about it, but I couldn’t stop. Something just felt off.

Eventually, I broke down and went to dinner with her. She said she wasn’t used to not seeing me. In response, I perspired excessively and drank another glass of water. I couldn’t be present — she just reminded me of how shamefully absent I’d been, how I had taken advantage of her affection for me, how much of a hypocrite I was. I had been the one confidently touting my bisexuality, and now that she felt comfortable in hers, I suddenly felt insecure.

She asked me to hang out a few times after that, but I couldn’t make myself go. Finally, she sent me a message marveling at our history together, and I didn’t respond. She didn’t text me after that.

I still dread seeing her around, something I haven’t felt with former flames. I fled a party once because I thought she would be there. My friends

said I was being immature. I agreed but couldn’t stop myself from feeling this way. I usually pride myself on being friendly with old lovers, but for whatever reason, she’s a different story. She should hate me. I hate myself for being so awful to her, and I can’t see her because that would remind me of how awful I was to her.

I never explained any of this to her — I wanted to, I wanted to write her a long letter eloquently extricating myself from her affections, but I didn’t. It was easier to be busy, to let silence do the talking, because then I didn’t have to feel the immediate shame of having hurt her.

I never loved her, not even close, but she was sweet to me. She listened to me and asked thoughtful questions. She called me out on my bullsh-t. I want to credit her with that, even if that credit doesn’t amount to reciprocated affection. I’m not sorry I pulled away, I had to, but I am sorry for a lot of other things. I wasn’t as confident in my sexual orientation as I thought I was and more than anything, I’m sorry I took that out on you.

Rica Maestas is a senior majoring in cognitive science and narrative studies. Her column, “Cuffing Season,” runs on Wednesdays.