A Conversation with a Friend

“Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind,
And therefore is winged Cupid painted blind.”
― William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream

“Oh, and I want to recommend this book to you – ‘Come As You Are’ by Emily Nagoski. I am recommending this book to all my women friends”, I told her while handing her the book.

“What’s it about?”, she asked browsing through the pages.

“It addresses women’s challenges regarding sexuality and sexual desires. You know how in our society we don’t openly talk to girls and women about their sexuality? It’s more or less a concept talked about in hush-hush tones among friends or most of us only open up about it with our partners. On the other hand, men have plenty of content and platform for themselves to address their concerns and questions. On top of that, our culture puts women down for having any sort of sexual desires whereas celebrating men for the same.”, I responded waiting to see her reaction.

“Ooh, that’s interesting. It’s like having sex only for men to have an orgasm while it’s okay for women not to have one? You know my friend says we have two different vocabularies for women’s sexuality and men’s sexuality. Men having high sexual desire is expected while women are sluts?”, she sighed.

“Exactly. So the book addresses the impact of being raised in such a culture and environment. It starts by explaining our physical bodies. I must say I never thought of a human body that way.”

“Really? Like we read in biology?”, she asked, now really interested in the topic.

“Kind of but it does it in a way that’s easy to comprehend and not just textbook knowledge. After just reading the first chapter, I found myself thinking about the human body in a different way. The following chapters talk about how our central nervous system, brain, emotions, environments, culture, etc. play a role in our sexual development. I wish I had access to this book when I was a teenager. It’s that good.”, I told my friend.

“I’ll get a copy for myself. What has been your takeaway so far?”, she asked.

“Well, I am still only a few chapters in. But, I already realized that I had some misconceptions about myself. You know a few years back I wondered if I was asexual. Turns out, it’s quite the opposite. I am just very good at putting a stop to myself. Safety and trust are really important to me. If something is not right, I just won’t be in it.”

“So you’re a demisexual?”, she asked out of curiosity.

“Well I am demi, sapio, and also I am bi”. And just like that, I came out to a new friend.

“Okay, and?”

“That’s it? Is that your reaction?”, I asked, surprised by her lack of reaction.

“How else would I react? You’re attracted to both men and women, right?”, she asked.

“Yes. It’s just that I am always nervous before coming out. I never know how someone will take it.”

“Oh. Who else have you told?”, she asked, surprising me with her genuine curiosity.

“My mom, my sister, and my close friends. My last relationship was with a woman.” My friend didn’t know that I had spent weeks wondering if I should come out. And I hadn’t realized that I had been holding my breath until her reaction (or lack of one as it turns out).

“How did they react?” she asked.

“Well, my best friend(s) and sister pretty much had the same reaction as you did. Most of my friends did. One cried because I hadn’t come out earlier. My mom went into denial. Told me that I just wanted to be like the girls to whom I was attracted. It was only recently when I had a fracture and my girlfriend was taking care of me that I got some kind of acceptance from her. You know because she was the only one here.

Oh, and when I told my ex-boyfriend, he thought that I had been lying to him. We actually went on a break for a week. After we got back, things were just not the same. Can you imagine that he was worried that now he would have to worry about me cheating on him with both men and women?”, I laughed.

“That just means that he was already insecure. I am assuming he had a problem with your guy friends and after you came out, with your girl friends?”, she asked rolling her eyes.

“He did. To be fair, we were already in a long-distance relationship and had slowly been growing apart. I think that just made it more difficult to continue”.

“So how long have you known?”, my friend asked.

“Since I was born. You know it was the society that taught me that feeling anything for a woman was inappropriate? For me, it came naturally to love everyone and anyone. But I was told to hide it. I remember the exact moment that thought was shared with me. I was 10. My aunt asked me who I would like to spend my life with when I grow up. I answered it could be a man or a woman, and that I didn’t care as long as I loved that person. My cousins took me away and told me that people who said things like that are not normal. They told me never to say it again. So I just told myself that I wasn’t normal. That’s when I internalized homophobia for the first time. But I couldn’t help who I loved. So I told myself that if someday I met someone who I would like to take that leap with, I will come out.”

“The lies we’re told as kids! That’s why I don’t want to go back to my country.”, she sighed.

“And it’s only getting worse. I miss my mom and I really want to just go back home and live with her. But every day I am reminded of a thousand reasons why not to.

Isn’t it ridiculous to see how we as humans are expected to only feel love for someone that society thinks is right? Some people don’t allow you to feel that way for a person of another religion, some prohibit castes and until recently, it was race. They say homosexuality is not natural but choose to ignore how it’s present in almost all animals. “Selective takeaway from knowledge” is what I call it. Distort the facts as it fits your narration. Use the fear of religion to tame other humans. They say God is love but that God will hate you if you don’t meet their standards. I sometimes wonder what it would be like in a world that didn’t want to control our lives so much in the fear of losing control.

You know I have this belief that if we remove this archaic thought process and controlling behavior from our cultures and societies, we’ll grow up being truthful about who we are and who we love. We’ll just accept ourselves and be happy instead of pretending to be someone we’re not. Love is beautiful and that’s all it is. It doesn’t need a seal of approval from someone who doesn’t even understand their own God. “, I voiced my disappointment with the world we live in.

“Anyway, I just wanted to let you know because I really want to be myself with you and not pretend to be someone I am not. Else I’ll need to hide so many parts of me from you and I just don’t want to do that anymore.”, I continued, smiling.

“Thank you for sharing. I am glad you told me and I can understand that not everyone might make you feel safe enough to open up. What was it about me that made you feel comfortable?”, she asked.

“It was just a feeling. Honestly, I thought I could open up to you after I met you the second time. I just wasn’t sure when to.”

“Well, I am happy that my aura makes people feel safe.”, she joked. “Can I ask you something? Who do you see yourself with in the long run? I know for some people it can be one sex over the other.”

“Honestly, my answer hasn’t changed since I was a kid. I can see myself with either. I don’t fall for people easily. There has to be an emotional depth in the connection. So by the time I am there, I know that I can see myself with them.”

“Was anything different when you dated a girl vs when you were with a guy?”, she asked.

“No, not really. There was definitely more communication and emotions involved with the girl but I think that might have been because we had a lot going on against us. I think because I could be more open about my hidden parts with my girlfriend, I felt more like myself. But overall, both relationships were equally good and I loved them both.”, I told her while going over all my interactions with my exes in my head.

“When was the first time you ever fell for a girl? Did it freak you out?”

“Oh, I didn’t even realize that that’s what was happening until way later. I must have been eleven or something. She and I did an act together in a play at school. We were playing the lead as husband and wife. And I hated her. I hated everything about her without any reason. She was new to the school and was pretty bright. Maybe I was jealous? I don’t know.

However, after the play concluded, I found myself missing her. One day, while walking down the stairs with my friends, her topic came up. I don’t remember the topic but I remember making a joke about her. And just then I turned back and saw her standing on top of the stairs, staring at me. I don’t know if she heard me or not. But I still remember the way her eyes were looking at mine.

That day I realized that I didn’t hate her. I felt guilty for making fun of her and, if anything, wanted to be her friend. I spent the remaining year just getting to know her more. We used to speak for hours on the phone. I used to feel so shy around her and would love to spend time with her. She also influenced me a lot. She got me into sweatshirts, Hollywood and Enrique. It’s been 18 years, and I still love all three. Something about her also inspired me to dream bigger. To step out of my shell. And I started to yearn for freedom.

After some time, she left. We tried to keep in touch but lost contact. I went into a shock or a depression. I don’t know what it was but everything changed after she left. I changed. From someone who was known to always smile, I changed into a person who rarely smiled. It took another few years to realize that that was my first love. And recently discovered how that entire experience had a huge role to play in my psyche. She is now married to a guy and lives here in this country.”, I narrated my childhood love story.

“Did she ever say anything to you?”, my friend asked.

“No. I never got to know if it was just me who felt that way. She grew up dating guys so I assumed it either meant nothing to her or she doesn’t know? All I know is I loved her.”, I said.

“I am sorry. That must suck. Has it happened a lot of times? Falling for someone but not knowing what they felt?”, my friend asked. Turns out, she is quite a curious personality.

“Far more than I would like. Growing up, I would fall for a girl and pretend to continue to be her “close friend”. That’s all I thought I could get and that’s all I thought I deserved. So every time when they would go about dating guys, I would feel broken. It would be so hard to pretend to smile while I was hurting. I would tell myself that I was not normal and cry alone. For whatever reason, they all had a habit of choosing the most broken guys too. When things would not work with that guy or when that guy could not provide them with emotional security, I would be their emotional dumping ground and I would tell myself to be content with being that person. And after some time, they would all move on and I would be left with nothing but pain from that entire experience.

I didn’t have anyone to share that pain with. No one knew why I was getting more serious and sad as the years passed. Everyone pointed out how I laughed and smiled less but I never felt safe enough to open up. And whenever I would fall for a guy, I would tell myself that I was normal. I would have a sort of dance in my head. Heartbreaks with a guy were acceptable in society but not if it was a girl. It wasn’t real love if it was not with a man.”

“I am sorry. That must have been very lonely.” my friend empathized.

“It was. I kept telling myself that no one really knew me or cared to know me.”. My friend’s curiosity and her show of empathy touched my heart. I knew I had made the right decision to come out.

“Is it okay if I ask you what changed?”, my friend asked.

I exhaled, “I think it was me just wanting to be free to feel. To feel accepted and validated for my feelings. I fell for someone again. This time I confessed, hoping that if not my feelings at least my pain would be validated. But I didn’t get that validation that I was seeking. I was instead expected to just move on as if nothing had happened. Like falling in love meant nothing. However, when this time my pain was invalidated by her and another friend who had witnessed everything, it broke something in me. The more they ignored my feelings, the more invalidated and hurt I felt. I waited for them to validate it with their actions or their words. But neither of them stopped to check and see how I was doing.

This other friend had known for a while how much I was hurting. He had seen me struggle. But he chose to continue and ignore it. Either he wanted me to pretend that I was not hurt or he didn’t know what to do with it or my pain made him uncomfortable. But, whatever might have been the case, I felt invalidated. I was hurting, bad. And it’s not like I wanted him to talk to me about it but I also didn’t want him to pretend like nothing happened. He would continue having these conversations with me about her and later about her and her boyfriend as if he didn’t know what happened. I asked him multiple times to stop. To stop bringing her topic up because damn I missed her and it pained me to know that she didn’t even want me in her life. But he didn’t. Or he would forget. Or he didn’t care. I don’t know. Initially, I tried to pretend too because that’s the only way I knew to feel accepted.

But one day when he came over and again pretended like nothing happened, I decided that was it. I was done pretending and I was done feeling invalidated. The next day, I stopped contact with him. I thought that would also be a good way for them to continue being friends without the awkwardness. A couple of weeks back he tried to start the communication again. I tried too but soon realized that I was done pretending like nothing happened. I was in love, I was hurt, they weren’t there and it sucked. He couldn’t understand or empathize. I am not angry with him but just don’t want to put myself in that situation anymore.

Well, that plus all the interactions that I have had with others who have gone through similar experiences plus my therapists helped me see the baggage that I had been carrying since that first childhood love. Finally, I have been watching a lot of lesbian movies and tv shows. Elena Undone and I can’t think straight have been some of the best to help me cope.

I guess exposure to content and discussions that make me feel like what I experience is normal has helped me validate myself. I realized I was done just carrying that baggage and invalidating myself just to feel accepted.”

“And you don’t have to carry it anymore. How do you feel about all this now?”, my friend asked.

“Normal. Proud of myself. I just fall in love I guess. It doesn’t matter to me who you are or what you are as long as I feel that connection with you. I love a person for who they are and nothing else matters to me. And my love is valid and the pain of heartbreak is valid too. I would not tell a friend who is hurting that their feelings don’t mean anything so no one can tell me that either.

I don’t have to fear being “caught” for having feelings for someone I shouldn’t. I don’t have to pretend to be okay. And most importantly, I can set boundaries. If someone can’t give me what I need, I don’t have to hide what I feel and keep myself in a situation where I am not valued for what I bring to the table. Or continue pretending to be okay with just having an emotional affair with someone anymore because they can’t be honest with themselves and can’t see the pain that they’ve caused.”

“You don’t. And thank you again for sharing your story. What can I do to make you feel better?”, my friend asked consoling me.

“Let’s have some tea!”

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