Last March, I held a boy’s hand.

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I held his hand in broad daylight and we walked straight through the busiest part of campus. My heart beat faster than I think it ever has before and my palms were sweating — which was terribly embarrassing. As he looked at me, I whispered to him that I had never held a boy’s hand in public before. He smiled and asked me if I wanted to stop. And for a split second, I did. I ignominiously fumbled for my iPhone, pretending that it had been vibrating for the last few minutes. I wanted to take the easy way out and let go. But I didn’t. And here we are.

I’ve been holding my father’s hand since I was a baby. My father’s hand was the hand I held onto when I’ve felt the most lost in this world, and it’s the hand I wish I could hold onto now as I write this. I haven’t been able to hold my father’s hand in quite some time because it seems like something 21 year-olds don’t do. But I held Max’s hand that day. And I’m proud that I did. I wouldn’t change anything, because it made me smile. Yet I felt like I owed it to my father to hold his hand this time and tell him who I really am. And I did. And he smiled back at me.

That day in March, I apologized to Max, butterflies still stirring like nervous kindergartners in my stomach long after we’d parted ways in front of the Ross School of Business, and he laughed at me. I was so worried that I had offended him in some way, that my journey toward self-acceptance was somehow derailed by this one incident. He told me not to worry, that we didn’t have to do anything I didn’t want to do. I sat in my room recalling the incident and laughed nervously. Had I really used my gruff, masculine voice when I left him at the Business School? Was that actually my defense mechanism? My gravelly man-voice reserved for frat parties? How fucking pathetic. I was smiling through tears, because somehow, this boy, in one day, and in one head-turning (I expect it was because he and I are so good-looking and they’re jealous) moment, had finally helped me feel good about who I’d become.

It’s true that these little moments make time slow down. We walked from his apartment to the Business School, and I wrestled with the fact that I was holding his hand in public. I wondered, and this was a question my friends asked me later on, if I was upset about the fact that we were holding hands, or upset about the fact that it bothered me in the first place? That’s what made me so angry with myself – it shouldn’t have bothered me at all; and after about half-an-hour of a slight meltdown where I paced around my room waiting for Max to respond to my apology, I realized how important that day was for me. I took a step toward accepting myself both internally and externally. I smiled the entire time we walked together, despite my head spinning out of control. I was also proud of myself for being at least a little awkward about it, because it meant I had room to grow; still have room to grow. Max is OK with that. I’m OK with that.

But Max didn’t know that as comfortable as I was when I was around him, and how happy he’d made me, I still had one more hurdle to cross before I could truly accept where I was in my life. I had to tell my parents about him.

I didn’t know how it was going to go. I didn’t know if they were going to cry or just shrug it off and say, “So?” like I’d imagined for so long. The fact of the matter is, as long as I’d known this about myself, I’d never truly been able to accept it and to take that next step of sharing all of myself with my parents. But I needed to do that that day. I needed to tell them who I am. I needed to pick one of the scenarios I’d invented in my head over and over and go with it. Jay, one of my close friends, told me that if I just spoke from the heart, the words would come out right. I think too much, but maybe he’s right. Maybe I should just go for it and see what happens, I thought.

I couldn’t shake this feeling, though, that they’d be disappointed. My mom used to ask me fairly often if I was dating anybody. I’d get overly-exasperated every time she did and I’d answer, “No, mom, not right now … ” When we were in New York, she made some comment about how I was her last hope of having grandchildren of her three sons any time soon — as if our other brother can’t find a girl before my mother turns 60. All I wanted her to know is that it doesn’t matter how I do it, I’m going to be a father. I needed her to know that. And I needed her to know how much it hurt when she said things like that, because I know that it’s never going to be exactly how she pictured it.

Any of my best friends will attest that I have nothing to hide. When I meet a boy, and I like him, and he likes me, I tell them. They can tell when I’m happy and when something good is happening in my life. They ask me if I like him, and I say yes. They ask if he makes me smile, and I smile back at them. They ask me if he’s cute, and I laugh at how awkward they are, but really because they care so much. And all they wanted to do was meet Max.

So there I was, 1:00 a.m. on a Monday night, and I’d just had this epiphany. I’m happy with who I am and who I’ve become. I love myself, and I love the people who love me. It’s time for me to deal with it and to move forward with this adventure. And maybe next time, my palms won’t sweat so much.

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