"Just a phase"... what being with a woman taught me about love
By Lola Bennett / 10 October 2021
It was less than a year after my father died that I met my first love. Thrown, unwillingly, into the depths of grief and grieving, I ran half the way across the globe to ‘find myself’ in South East Asia along with the million or so others on their gap year.
Travelling with the money my dad hadn’t spent on his cocaine habit was strange, but I acknowledged that this was a way he could support me from afar, at least until the money ran out. I never expected to go on a journey that changed my view of myself and the world entirely.
Frequenting free whisky bars in Laos and island hopping in Thailand, I followed the same basic trail of boozing and cruising as many others. I can’t remember when she first approached me, but I’d met the girls she was travelling with at a Jungle Party the night before. There was something about her, even then. A sense of familiarity and knowing. Even though I projectile vomited all over my hostel room and the poor bottom-bunker that first night, we kissed in a drunken haze. I’d kissed girl friends throughout my teens, as a laugh or dare or in a game of spin the bottle, but this didn’t have the same context I could brush off easily. We all began to travel the same route and this became a regular evening pattern - drink, kiss, drink, kiss. In the morning I’d tell a convincing tale of how blurry the night before was; that I hadn’t been in control of my actions. I wanted to keep her close, but I couldn’t understand why. We became inseparable to the point where we’d sleep in the same single hostel bed every night and use the other for our overflowing rucksacks.
One night, my best friend at the time was in the shared hostel room and heard us rolling around in bed together. She immediately walked out, in shock and told me in the morning that she’d be moving on to the next location. My own internalised homophobia led me to feel mortified that I had let it get that far, it felt wrong on my part and my friend’s departure only served to prove my fears. I decided I needed to break away, I’d fancied boys all my life, I couldn't have people thinking I was a lesbian! This shame enabled me to push her attempts to get close further away. She solemnly told me she’d wait for me, as she took me to the airport in Bangkok and we said our final goodbyes.
Illustration by anonymous
It wasn’t until a trip away to Berlin the following summer that I began to realise my true feelings for her.
Surrounded by the blinding nightclub lights and freedom to identify as anything you wanted, I felt a gradual impulse to talk about her. It must have been glaringly obvious, so much so that my close friend assured “It’s okay to fancy her, you know. I will never judge you.” That statement alone gave me the confidence to confess, as if the judgements of the outside world were no longer my responsibility. That I wouldn’t be punished, that I needn’t be ashamed. I ran back to our hostel to call her, to tell her she didn’t have to wait, to tell her I was ready.
Although she’d had a previous long term girlfriend, she had never discussed her sexuality with her parents. I saw this as an essential stepping stone in our relationship, I couldn’t bear to be introduced at Friday night dinner as simply her ‘friend’. Nervous, hysterical and elated, she called me to tell me she was sitting them down to tell them. Her parents were instantly accepting and almost unbothered - it seemed to be her fears that had created an illusion of their disappointment. Interestingly, telling my “liberal” mother was a much stranger encounter. In shock, she booked an emergency trip to the cinema to dull the awkwardness. I told the same "justifiable" script, I didn't identify as a lesbian, I just loved her, I was “pansexual” (I had to google the definition). This seemed to let off some relief and became a retelling for family friends. I was told my grandmother better end her days not knowing in case it caused her to have “a heart attack”.
Feminist enlightenment ensued and I made a point to open the conversation with my sisters, spend less time dedicated to the Prince Charming's of their classrooms, allowing bisexuality to be plausible with no ‘coming out’ or dramatic reaction. It is these small changes in language that help to minimise the heterosexual bias we all face. It made me upset that my mother had been excited about the future with my ex-boyfriend, plotting early wedding plans, but with my girlfriend, there was silence on the subject. It wasn’t “just a phase”, it was real and as worthy as my previous relationships.
Illustration by anonymous
During our time as a couple, multiple male friends asked us for a threesome.
It felt like we were living their latest fucked up fantasy on PornHub. Dancing in a club together would only warrant unnecessary attention. It made my blood boil. Gradually we got used to it, our new normal. It even felt like a novelty as Instagrammers would turn their photos onto flash, proving across their feeds that they were all accepting. Of course, I shouldn’t be so cynical, we were lucky to be in this period of transition that was withheld from previous generations. Still, there is work to do, it never felt like our same-sex relationship was treated with the same merit as a heterosexual relationship.
We were both born with a thirst for adventure, a drive to run away from all responsibility. We travelled at any and every opportunity, using the remains of our student loan to fund ridiculous, far-flung holidays. On dates in Italy, we’d know not to kiss in public. We planned a trip to Jamaica, then realising that it may be dangerous to travel as a couple. Staying in a beach hut in India, we acted like best friends when asking for a double room. The fact that girls can be overly affectionate with each other worked in our favour. Again, a sense of wrongdoing, as if our love was their business.
It is only in hindsight looking back on our relationship that I see my fragility, that my self-worth was so determined by what others thought of me. I wish I could’ve listened to my body and follow it instinctually. I truly believe if the world was more accepting, I would have come to terms with my feelings for her sooner. Being in a relationship with a woman taught me a lot about our society, and that even those who deem themselves liberal and open can hold outdated beliefs and behave in an unintentionally homophobic manner. It taught me that love should hold no borders, gender and sexuality should not be so rigidly defined. Even though I am celebrating my third anniversary with my boyfriend this month, I would still identify as pansexual.
For now, I will always be open to the possibility of love in whatever form that comes.
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