I just finished watching “To All the Boys: Always and Forever.” I’ve been waiting for inspiration to write; I needed a memory far enough back in my past that the blowback from myself would be minimal. (I’ve often thought that other people’s opinions stop me from writing- most of the time it’s to keep myself from exploding.) The movie is about Laura and Peter’s senior year of high school, which inevitably made me think of my own. It was so messy and difficult- like many people’s, probably, with the uniqueness of coming out all over again.
I was out at HSPVA, but my mom didn’t want me to come out at Clements. I had the chance to start over, and she wanted that for both of us. Even at HSPVA, I constantly worried that coming out at school would lead to people finding out at church…. but I didn’t have to worry about that. Everyone in my life figured it out before I had the chance to tell them.
I remember fondly the night I came out to my friend Dianne Maurice, who said “if this conversation hadn’t happened, I would have sat you down and told you.” She didn’t have to worry. I’d thought and felt attraction to women my whole life, but didn’t have the words to express what I was feeling until I turned 13. But that didn’t mean I didn’t have my share of boyfriends as well, just that it was what I thought I was supposed to do, and dating Ryan was a mountaintop experience for someone so young. How many middle school couples make it to a year and two months? I’m guessing it had something to do with us as friends being two halves of the same person, and middle school romance is sweet and lingering without the constant peer pressure and internal drive to sleep together. As a result, that friendship has grown more tender over time, because we didn’t have a horrible break-up, either….. although it was strange. I came out to him by telling him all the attraction I was feeling to people that were not him, to which he had the best response ever, which was that I was free to think but not to act.
He eventually found someone else, which was wonderful and terrible all at once. Part of me was relieved for him to find someone whose heart wasn’t tearing them apart. The other parts of me felt his absence like a missing limb, and I didn’t date anyone else until the summer before I was a senior. It was a terrible decision, because six weeks later, I met someone I thought was THE ONE, and had to go through the heartbreak of breaking someone else’s heart, always harder than someone breaking yours. It wasn’t a cheating situation- THE ONE didn’t even know I was alive until Christmas.
But I was her friend from the first day of school, because once my dad left the church, I felt free to be whomever I was going to be that year…. which was wearing pride rings to advertise.
I will never in my entire life forget our first phone call. Dr. Steed, my senior English teacher, told us to get the phone number of someone in our class because the work was going to be difficult. I knocked over two desks to get to her and slipped her my number, because it was easier than asking for hers.
The moment I walked into the house after school, literally 30 seconds in, my phone rang. I said, “hello?” She said, “do you wear those pride rings because you’re gay, or because you’re an idiot?” I said “I’m gay. Do you have a problem with that?” She said, “no. I’m a Melissa Etheridge fan.” It was not a euphemism.
She was dating a hockey player at another school named Mark, a beard she kept up a little too well because it was excruciating watching her basically make out with him on New Year’s Eve. By then, we were together on the down low, even to her closest friends….. because I was out, but she wasn’t. Who would have thought the goalie for the women’s soccer team at my high school was a lesbian? That just doesn’t make sense. 😛
Prom night was also a mess, because we’d sort of gone to Homecoming together- I went with one of her friends so we could be near each other. But by Prom, school was ending and she thought she was ready to be truly seen with me. I bought the perfect dress, and she backed out. She ended up coming over after she was finished at the dance, because I couldn’t just go and watch her. I thought that was crazy. People have asked me many times why I didn’t just break up with her and go out with someone who didn’t have a problem with being out. Listen, it’s not like the lesbian dating pool at my high school was huge. In terms of out lesbian, I was the entire club. It was scary walking in the parade all by myself.
But it wasn’t a lost cause. I made it safe for people in younger classes to come out. By the time my younger sister got to high school, people were putting rainbow flags on their backpacks, and Lindsay asked who started it. They said, “I think it was this kid named Leslie.”
For those who don’t know me in person, the school year was 1995-1996. In that time and place, homosexuality was still considered a mental illness by most of the people around me. It wasn’t that they were hateful, just woefully uneducated. Back then, when I was out and about with my girlfriend, we watched our backs constantly, knowing where and when PDA was appropriate.
Thinking something was wrong with us included her parents. We didn’t tell them- they searched her room and found one of my love letters. We were forbidden to see each other, and like with all teenagers, it didn’t work. We were just even more secretive than we were before….. to the tune of making out in her car near some woods and being caught by the cops, who luckily didn’t do anything except tell us to move along.
In the end, she wasn’t THE ONE, a fact that I ignored for at least ten years. She decided to go back to Canada for college, but before she left, she wanted to get married. Why that didn’t set off alarm bells, I’ll never know…. because how did she think it would work? She couldn’t hide me forever. No way was I going to be her roommate at 30…. even 18 was stretching it. But “roommate” was how it was done in those days, so the fact that same-sex couples can get married and is now so accepted is something I never thought I would see in my lifetime.
Like most high school kids, I let the relationship go on too long because I didn’t know how to let go. We were long distance, and I looked into immigrating to Canada, but before I could really start the process, I learned something truly disturbing.
Since I was the internet guru, I looked up all the places gays and lesbians gathered in her city. Well, she went, and she met someone. That wasn’t the problem. If she’d come home that night and said she’d met someone else, it would have been all right. But she didn’t. She dated this person for months, to the point of moving in with her before she was forced to admit what she was doing. I didn’t even find out from her. I found out because her girlfriend e-mailed me, saying that my girlfriend had never told her she was seeing someone when she left Texas and that I should just back out because my girlfriend was hers now. I can still feel that pain as if it was yesterday- not that I live there, it’s just present when I think about that time in my life.
Despite that asshole move on both their parts, every trip my ex-girlfriend made to Texas was filled with fun and flirty dates where it felt like we were our old selves, and then a line would get crossed and we’d have an old fight over again or I would get torched with jealousy.
Eventually, she settled down, got married, and started having kids. It was only then, a decade later, that she said she was sorry we couldn’t have been partners as adults, because she thought we would have been good at it. Her words were sweet, and I knew that’s how she meant them. A compliment didn’t line up to the way I took it. I was burning with rage. She said something to the effect that she’d thought about getting back together, but she knew she’d treated me so badly that how dare she have the right to ask me to try again? I think all the anger I’d stuffed down so that she’d still want to be my friend surfaced in that moment- not only at the way she’d treated the end of our relationship, but that she took away my choice as to whether I’d have forgiven her or not.
As it was, I was so hurt that I didn’t date anyone from the fall of my freshman year of college until I was a junior. I had major trust issues, and it took me three years to work them out enough to be able to open my heart to someone else.
Apparently, it’s a pattern, because I haven’t dated anyone since I broke up with my most recent ex (five years ago, almost six). Probably it’s been twice as long because it hurt twice as much, especially since I did a lot of things I’m not proud of in addition to being hurt by her.
I think it might have been different if a couple of years later, my mom hadn’t died. Though I was screaming for a companion in those days, I didn’t want anyone but her- and not because I was stuck in the place of “she’s THE ONE and there shall be no one else.” It was that I didn’t know anyone as well as I knew her, and the thought of having no history with someone and dragging them into the shitshow of my grief was not appealing in the slightest. I got through by trusting friends, but it wasn’t the same as having someone to hold me at night while I cried.
As I started to come alive again, I realized that going through my grief on my own was a good thing, because I didn’t realize how jealous I was of other people my age who still had their parents. I don’t know how we would have managed that, but my guess is “good, most of the time, but the bad would have been egregious.”
I sometimes think it would have been nice to have a mother-in-law as backup, but she wasn’t completely on board with her daughter marrying a woman, either, so I waffle on that point. What I do know is that waiting so long has been helpful, because I feel much freer than I did three years ago. There’s no lingering emotion from that relationship that would help push a new person away. What I do know, though, is that my next relationship will be completely different, both in my approach and the fact that no one can compare to her- a new person would be in her own class, with her own unique gifts rather than trying to think “she’s better.”
The last piece of the puzzle is that I haven’t met anyone who has swept off my feet with awe and lust. Of course, that is not how all relationships begin, but in order to want to be romantic with someone, you have to feel something. I did have a conversation with someone about dating, but it was one of those things where my interest was piqued, but I didn’t make any declarations of love or anything. It was just “maybe dating each other would be fun and we should try it.” We didn’t, and life quickly moved on because I was never pining.
I really don’t have time for it. My attention is taken up with other things, other people with whom I am not romantic but are such good friends that intimacy happens regardless. A person does not have to be in love with you to see your soul if you make it visible to them. I am lucky to have friends that walk in my inner landscape, and it is surprising how much I value it over finding a partner. It’s not that I’ve given up, it’s that I’m perfectly happy to stand back and let them come to me. I don’t have a mad drive that says I’m going to die alone, no matter how many people say that to me because they’re worried. Trust me, that’s a them problem. I will never die alone because I have friends, constantly undervalued in our society because the fairy tale says I need to find one person that completes me and live happily ever after.
For me, the fairy tale is having friends that truly care what I think and feel, the best lesson I’ve learned in the years that have passed since my first high school romance. I don’t have one person that completes me, I have several who oversee different aspects. I don’t want to live in a world where that is seen as deficiency, but celebrated in its abundance. I know love as deep as an ocean because of them. Our shared history has provided ups and downs that stick in my mind, learning and growing every bit as much as I did when I was partnered- perhaps more as each of them show me who I am. They love me as fallible as I am, which is everything I could hope for in a romance, anyway.
To all the girls, all I can say is “thank you.” They are such small words, but the depth behind them is huge. Your love is #relationshipgoals enough for me, and I hope I am half the friend that you have been to me. It has certainly been and will continue to be my honor……
Always and forever.