An Honor Just to be Nominated
Imagine purposely slamming a door on your own hand. Why would a person ever do something like this? She knows how it’s going to end. This is what falling in love has always been like for me–invigorating, corporal, self-inflicted disaster almost every time. It’s my favorite thing. Infatuation and heartbreak are my modes. English is actually my second language–doe eyes is my first. Once, an entirely captivating woman sat across from me in bed and said, “Don’t fall in love with me, Sean.” She knows my name! I thought. At this point you’re probably thinking, This woman is an idiot, I’m going to stop reading. Please don’t.
At 25, I’ve officially crossed into the territory where more of my friends are married than not, and many are starting to have children of their own. I can’t even commit to more than a two-week long affair with a particular variety of Fernet–or rather, it can’t commit to me. As a rule, I don’t like to spend much time considering feelings of lack, but I’ve begun to notice that an absence of partnership gnaws at me more mornings and evenings than I’d like to admit. Recently I confided in my childhood best friend about this insecurity (she has both a husband and a baby on the way) and she reframed the grimness for me in the way only best friends can. “You are a city woman,” she said, “and you do city woman things.”
Huh, tell me more about this city woman. Apparently every city woman has to define her own city-womanness for herself. I should’ve known.
So I’ve been thinking about it. Like almost everyone with whom I grew up and went to college, I emerge from a religious context—Catholicism specifically. Somehow 12 years of parochial school and 4 years at a formerly-Baptist university never posed an existential threat to the expression of my elemental homosexuality, but in adulthood I have begun to observe in myself a profound desire to have the things I never thought I could. For a little queer kid in the 90’s, marriage and children were completely foreign concepts. At best I’ll be an aunt, I thought, At worst I’ll have to marry some man and have his children–obviously (hopefully) there will be affairs. This framework might seem tragic or feel uncomfortable and that is because it is both. I don't know when it happened, but at some point, probably after falling into a deep, unrequited love with another best friend, I decided to give up on that plan and just be the person I was—whoever that was, of course.
So now I want so badly to be married, to refinish kitchens, and pack lunches for little kids in Montessori school—I’m sorry, I think my ovaries just forgot I was a city woman and took over typing. The point is, for the first time, I can see my personal life in the context of a larger scheme, and it has finally sunk in that love and stability and moral expectation are projects I can undertake. At the same time, my inner 12 year old–that little gay girl who came of age watching Ellen get the tar beat out of her by homophobic moms on Oprah—that kid can’t believe her life right now.
When my sophisticated straight friends give me kindhearted feedback like, “Good luck, she only dates boys” or “She’s definitely cool, but long term?” I can’t help but laugh. I literally don’t understand the words you’re saying to me right now. I have spent the majority of my life thinking that I would end up either entirely alone or in a loveless marriage—rejection isn’t nearly as scary as either of those things. Through my late teens and early 20s I thought that true partnership was something I would only ever read about, and I had a girlfriend at the time. I’ll never forget a small moment between the two of us when we dreamily planned our future together between whispers of, “I love you.” I described the house we’d live in on Belmont Boulevard when finally she interjected, “Well, obviously we’ll be neighbors. You know I could never…”
I think we take for granted the changing landscape of family and commitment in this cultural moment. Another gay friend of mine recently related to me a conversation in which the subject of marriage equality arose. “When was the Supreme Court decision?” someone asked. “2015,” my friend replied. “No,” another straight friend chimed in, “Surely it was way before that.” It wasn’t. I know it wasn’t because I remember listening to oral arguments in April and watching the news with the woman I loved the day the decision came down in June. I remember the moment we hugged and reverently acknowledged that our relationship had changed. We had no plans to get married, but we could have plans someday. That was two years ago. A life I had been conducting as though it would only ever be seen as counterfeit was finally presented as a genuine option. I still don’t quite know what to do with that.
Now none of this means that relationships shouldn’t be conducted with an aim toward commitment, and I’m certainly not interested in making excuses for reckless emotional behavior. This stuff is too important. How we treat others and how we are treated really matters, but sometimes this city woman needs to be reminded that it is an honor just to be nominated. Comparison really has never done any good in this realm, and far too often I lose sight of this fact. There is no finish line and nobody escapes heartache. We don’t get to fall in love and skip right to forever. As millennials before me have said countless times, “It’s a process.” So when I hear, “Do you really want to spend time pining after that girl? You could be missing out on something better.” I think, what better?
I know the acceptance of another person cannot constitute a victory in my life because this is the victory. “Don’t fall in love with me, Sean” is the victory. It is an honor that another woman would even consider my affection a live threat. I could, of course, fall in love with her. She could fall in love with me. Neither of those things happened, but the outcome isn’t important. We are lucky that we could sit at a restaurant and look each other in the eyes in broad daylight on a first date–I am acutely aware that this wasn't always the case. We are lucky when our hand-holding elicits only cowardly scoffs as opposed to clenched fists. We are lucky if another person wants to spend time with us at all, and furthermore, we are lucky if in that time, ever so briefly, we feel understood. All of this requires risk, and vulnerability is not optional, but insofar as there exists a quotient of mutual respect, it is always worth it. I absolutely desire the stability of commitment and marriage and domestic life, but I never expected it. So as long as there is a doorframe in sight (and there always is) this city woman thinks to herself, Oh, this is going to hurt. I can’t wait.
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