Dear Reader: I write to better understand my experiences of life; I share with the hope that my words will touch something inside you, and together we will remember that we all walk through life with love and loss, joy and sorrow, hope and despair, faith and uncertainty.
NOTE: I will never write about upsetting details without a warning.
I’ve been in three long-term, committed relationships. The first was with David, my son’s dad. We were young; the relationship was volatile and did not last long. Tense co-parenting was something we did together for far longer than being a couple.
My third relationship was with a woman, Mari. Our love was incredibly strong, strong enough to compel us to keep trying even though we had fundamental differences and struggles from the very start. It was a difficult relationship.
I used to tell people that it took finding Mr. Right in order to be strong enough to admit to myself that I was meant to find Ms. Right. We’d been together for five years when I got a huge crush on a woman, and in my haste to knock down my closet door I left Todd bewildered and heart-broken. In my headlong pursuit of discovering this newly revealed aspect of myself, I did not look back or slow down to show him compassion. It is one of my deepest regrets in life; he deserved better from me.
I left Todd because I came out of the closet. But even though I quickly identified with the label “lesbian,” I never stopped being attracted to men. It has always been different, how I feel towards men and how I feel towards women. But the potential is there for attraction and love with either.
Any time I found myself attracted to a man, contemplating whether or not to pursue a relationship, I would compare him to Todd. I thought, if I end up with another man, that man needs to be better than Todd. Otherwise, what was the point?
I’ve engaged in a ceaseless internal argument about correctly labeling my sexual orientation. I’ve never cared for “bisexual” because I think it implies that I would be equally happy with either a male or female partner, which over-simplifies my complex and evolving feelings about sexual attraction and partnership. I also think that we are all bisexual in that given the right circumstances, virtually anyone would consider playing for the other team. So in that sense the word “bisexual” becomes meaningless.
Am I a lesbian? The term acknowledges the strong connection I feel with women; how meaningful it is for me to connect with another person on so many levels. But that label does not recognize my potential to become romantically involved with a man.
I’ve decided to stop the inner argument. Labels are meant to be general guidelines to help our brains easily categorize so that we don’t become overwhelmed with details. To identify my own preferences to myself, I don’t need a label. I like this person for these reasons, that person for those reasons. If other people insist that I label myself, that’s their business; and if they feel the need assign me a label, that’s their problem.
In all these years I’ve never stopped dreaming about Todd. Every month or so, since we broke up almost twenty years ago, I dream of him. The dreams differ in content, but the theme is always the same: we get back together. For a long time, after waking from a dream of reconciling with Todd I would be angry. I had moved on, moved far away from my life with him; why was I being tormented with dreams of him? There was no chance of us reconciling in real life. And even if there was I wouldn’t do it, because I’d be afraid that ultimately I’d leave him again.
Recently I’ve come to realize that dreams of him are less about Todd, and more about my longing to be taken care of. He eased my anxiety; he dismantled my troubles.
During our breakup, Todd told me that the thought of me living a lesbian life sounded lonely. At the time I thought he was being ignorant; sometimes now I wonder if he was being prophetic. My years since leaving Todd have been singularly lonely, including those when Mari and I were together. And it has been during these years that I have shouldered my biggest challenges. I can’t count how many nights I desperately wished someone was there to take me in their arms and tell me everything would be ok, even if it might not be true, even if the next day I would have to once again shoulder my burdens alone.
During the most difficult and lonely years of my life, Todd comes to me in my dreams and shelters me from life’s pain. He envelopes me in warmth, love and protection; he is my refuge.
Did I actually leave Todd for women? Or did I leave him because it was too comfortable, too easy to let him take care of me; that I knew I wouldn’t strive for my highest potential within his sheltering embrace? He was so good at taking care of me, taking care of us, there was no need for me to step forward, to reach.
Very soon after our breakup I started volunteering for a nonprofit with a cause close to my heart. It led to my first job in the nonprofit sector, which then turned into a career and some of my most fulfilling years in the workforce. I had a position of both authority and visibility, which gave me opportunities to express parts of my personality that I hadn’t been aware of before.
Having lost my camping and vacationing planner, I had to step into that role for myself and my son. Taking the lead was often stressful, but it was also so empowering to learn that I could do all the research and planning, then take myself and Chris on backpacking trips or to vacation spots. Later with Mari I continued to take the lead in planning activities. These are roles I likely never would have played had I stayed with Todd.
My life is vastly different than anything I could have imagined for myself. It has been far more solitary than I ever expected or wanted; but it has also been far more empowering and adventurous than I could have hoped. If today is my last day, I can die satisfied that I pushed relentlessly at the boundaries of my potential; I took risk after risk, finding the courage and determination to find out how much I could accomplish. The cost, my PTSD, was unexpected and far higher than I could have imagined. But there was nothing that could have stopped me – I needed to see how far I could reach. Great personal achievement has not yielded accolades and a life of giddy self-satisfaction. But it has brought me to a place I may not have reached otherwise, a place where I can clearly see how needlessly hard on myself I am, see my limiting self-perceptions, my fears and vulnerabilities.
I don’t believe I could have lived without seeking answers to my questions.
The answer is, there is no answer. I love women and I love men. I am courageous and I am vulnerable. I love my independence and I long for partnership. I want to take charge and I want to be nurtured. It is the searching, not the answers, that have been most important.
Todd provided a safe and nurturing relationship that gave me the strength to question. It was his love and belief in me that helped me believe in myself. Really, it was within my relationship with Todd that my journey of self-discovery began. So Todd deserves more than to be a footnote in my life, or the relationship that I only share with a few people. He helped build my foundation of courage from which I’ve sought to fully express and challenge myself. With every goal I make in life, every success, every knock down, every moment of illumination and growth, he is there.
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