As a society, we have a lot to celebrate about the increasing acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community.
It seems like just about every day, we hear of another inspirational coming-out story.
But, less attention is given to those on the other side of the closet, the straight people who date the ones who are still “hiding.”
I am one of these people.
Three years ago during my freshman year of college, I fell in love for the first time with a blonde-haired, green-eyed sophomore named Everett*.
We locked eyes at an off-campus party.
The love at first sight cliché felt electrically original.
Our relationship quickly progressed from a DFMO to flirty texting, study sessions in the library and movie nights in his dorm room.
When he casually referred to me as his girlfriend one day, I was sure I’d never heard a more beautiful word.
My friends teased that they wanted invitations to our wedding.
Somehow, though, things weren’t quite right.
He took me out to dinner for Valentine’s Day, but then he insisted we continue our date in the library.
He continually pointed out girls around campus he’d hooked up with before he met me.
When I tried to take off his shirt and have him stay the night after we were out at a party, he tucked me in and told me he needed to go.
Depression clogged my pores, but I was too in love to tell.
I kept sinking further into the quicksand that I called the beach.
He broke up with me on April 14, five months and five days after our first kiss.
I only asked one question after he finished his “It’s not you, it’s me” speech.
“You’re not gay, are you?”
“I wish,” he answered with a little laugh. “That would make things so much easier.”
Of course he wasn’t gay. It was just another case of lopsided love.
Three weeks after our breakup, I received a text from my friend telling me that Everett had just come out in a campus-wide speech.
Part of me wanted to laugh because this explained so much.
Part of me wanted to scream.
Why the hell would he date me if he was gay?
Was I just a prop to shield his identity?
“Didn’t I deserve to hear it from you first?” I asked when he came over to talk later that night. “I asked you when we broke up.”
“I’m sorry,” he said.
He stood awkwardly in the middle of the room as I sat cross-legged on my bed.
“I wasn’t ready.”
I was feeling too much to process how I felt.
“Did you know the whole time we were dating?”
He shook his head.
“I was trying to tell myself it was just a phase. I didn’t want to be gay. I wanted to be the successful, straight guy with the pretty girlfriend.”
I moved over on my comforter so he could sit beside me.
“If I could pick one woman in the whole world to marry, it would be you,” he continued, taking my hands in his. “I love you so much.”
I tried not to react to the phrase I’d dreamed of hearing.
“But, I couldn’t give you that extra something, and I realized I’d never be able to for any other girl.”
He looked pained, but he also looked more at peace than I’d ever seen him.
I wanted to tell him how proud I was of him.
I wanted to tell him that if anyone dared to bully him, I’d wrestle that person to the ground.
I wanted to tell him I loved him, too.
Instead, I transitioned my gaze to my crusty nail beds.
“Did you cheat on me?”
“No,” he said quickly. “I’d hooked up with guys before, and I did right after, but nothing happened when we were dating. I wouldn’t do that to you.”
“Okay,” I said, thinking I believed him, but not sure if that was just because I wanted to.
He pulled me into a hug, and my head nestled in his torso.
I considered holding my breath so I wouldn’t smell his cologne.
I breathed in anyway.
“I hope I’ll be at your wedding someday,” Everett said, finally releasing his grip.
A giggle slipped out amid the solemnity. They say exes shouldn’t attend your wedding.
Do the rules change if he’s a different sexual orientation?
We jaggedly transitioned into best friends.
Society deemed it acceptable for him to be my best friend in a way that would not have been true if he were a straight ex-boyfriend.
We posed for Instagram photos together (#dysfunctional was our most common caption), talked about guys we thought were hot and watched Netflix on his twin bed.
He kissed my chestnut hair, and I kissed his hairless chest.
Maybe it should have felt weird, but it all felt right to me.
Was I still in love with him? It was hard to know.
I loved him, sure.
It was the “in” part that was giving me problems.
There might be fifty shades of gray for sex, but there are a hundred more when it comes to love.
I tried to like other men; I really did.
I went on several dates, and I kissed a couple guys.
Late at night, though, when I was out at parties, I’d look around at all of the drunk frat boys reveling in the empty hookup culture, and I'd start to cry.
“Everett. Everett. Everett.”
Maybe we don’t all fall in love with someone of a different sexual orientation.
But at some point in our lives, most of us have someone who can’t love us back in the way we need.
We all have a name that smudges when we try to erase it.
Everett graduated the year before I did and moved to New York City.
I’ve stopped responding to his texts.
He probably thinks I’m mad at him or that I don’t care about him anymore.
He doesn’t see that it’s the opposite; I care about him too much to stay close to him.
He’s had multiple boyfriends since we've broken up.
I haven’t made it past date two with anybody until this semester.
I had trapped myself in the mindset that no one would live up to Everett, and that he was my soulmate.
Now, I see that he couldn’t really have been mine because I wasn’t his.
True love is built on reciprocity.
I haven’t found that yet, but I'd like to think I will at some point.
I'd like to think we all will.
And we will appreciate the right relationship that much more because of the lopsided love that came before it.
*Names have been changed.