Written for Shondaland.com by SWS Creator, Kristen McCallum
I’d chosen a very busy Target parking lot to tell my boyfriend of a few years that I’d fallen for someone else. I was hoping he’d find some relief in my confession, that there would be closure — but I knew his pride would never allow it. Our relationship had alternated between turbulent and volatile for the past year, but when I finally broke the news, he was strangely unresponsive and, to be honest, I was completely unnerved. In the past, my honesty was often met with hostility, and I wasn’t expecting this time to be any different. But when all he did was stop mid-stride, turn around, and yell that I was making a mistake — I was grateful. He urged me to take some time to figure what I really wanted, and I nodded my head.
I had fallen in love with a woman and I was scared. Outside of not knowing what I was getting into, I was afraid of how deeply I felt for her in such a short time. I was trading in the standard "white picket fence" trope of heterosexuality for the U-Haul life that all the articles about lesbians constantly referenced.
"I had fallen in love with a woman and I was scared."
And at the time, "lesbian" was my primary identification — because it seemed like the only "correct" term for my attractions, and sometimes, finding community requires classification. But I was struggling there, too; struggling to find my place, to define my identity, to feel secure in myself. I began to feel the most judged in spaces held for lesbian-identifying women simply for having been with men for awhile. I wasn’t fitting in, and it was taking a toll.
My girlfriend at the time — the woman I’d left my ex for — was much younger, had been "out" much longer, and seemed to care a lot less about labels and community, which was unsettling for me. I didn’t even speak to her about it, I just assumed she wouldn’t understand — and resentment brewed between us. We’d moved away together to live a more private life and see how things worked outside of our comfort zones. But this move had set off a prolonged adjustment period, and I began to reconsider why I was settling for lackluster love and faux passion. Was I even sure I wanted to be with her? Was I sure I couldn’t just be with him?
"I began to reconsider why I was settling for lackluster love and faux passion."
As I started to rationalize my current relationship, my ex-boyfriend and a slew of his best wishes began popping up on my newsfeed. His friends were getting engaged and having babies — and suddenly, he was everywhere. Over the months, I’d admittedly visited his profile more than enough times to know he was still single, or single again, and despite my anxiety and guilt, I decided to reach out. Ten minutes later, he responded with his new phone number and an invitation to catch up in person. I’d already decided it was worth a trip home and promptly responded with a date.
I didn’t tell my girlfriend where and why I was going, but two weeks later, while sitting on the porch awaiting his arrival, I suddenly felt guilty — for lying by omission to her, for meeting with my ex, for ending things with him the way I had. I quickly began to type an email to my girlfriend, ready to explain that, for me, this meeting was about moving forward and not backwards, that it was about healing and closure. I couldn’t settle anymore — not for my ex or for her — and as I was trying to figure out how to end the message, I saw him walking toward me. As we smiled nervously, I was overcome with gratitude that he’d come. He apologized for the "hard years" between us, and expressed how difficult it had been to put his ego aside when it ended. His vulnerability was so disarming that I started blurting things out — about how hard it’d been since I’d moved and how left out I felt in my community. Eventually, I got around to apologizing, too — for leaving, for the lack of tact I’d used in our breakup. In response, he looked at me with tears in his eyes and said, "You don’t owe me any apologies, I can’t imagine how hard it’s been for you. I think what you’re doing is brave." I broke down.
"Sometimes the only way to get through things is to go through them, not around."
For the first time between us, my truth had been met with support and not hostility. There was power in this — power in this truth that I’d been so secretly proud of but too afraid to stand in — and I was shocked that his affirmation could shift things for me. On those steps, I realized that sometimes the only way to get through things is to go through them, not around. We don’t always recognize how our decisions will affect others, but there will always be value in living your truth — and sometimes, the people you expect to support you the least will support you the most.
We sat in silence for a few moments, and I suddenly remembered the email to my girlfriend was still sitting in my drafts. With a new confidence, I hit delete, and decided she deserved the same courtesy I was giving my ex: We needed to talk in person.
These days, my ex and I don’t speak as much as we used to. We’re both navigating our relationships and livelihoods on separate paths that only occasionally cross. Our partners, who have changed frequently, are usually supportive of our friendship, because sometimes history is a good thing to hold on to. We laugh about our taste in women and the possibility of meeting each other’s children someday. We acknowledge how far we’ve come, how proud we are of each other. We remember the value of authenticity and the joy to be had from forgiveness. And we stand in our truth, proud and unafraid of the long road ahead.
Kristen McCallum is a writer living in Brooklyn, NY and the creator/host of The SafeWordSociety Podcast, a QTPOC visibility platform for thought leaders and community influencers to celebrate their journeys. She was recently named one of GO Magazine's 100 Women We Love: Class of 2017 for her visibility work and dedication to honoring the narratives of her community.