Autostraddle Stories // Coming Out and Coming Up Short

 Photos by Eileen Marie of  Buena Lane Photography

Photos by Eileen Marie of Buena Lane Photography

When I was 14, I stayed up late watching chick flicks, crying, and desperately hoping I could have a love that would set me free. Yes, I know, this is an unfortunately stereotypical story of a pubescent teenage girl pining for a relationship. I believed the best way to achieve happiness was through a happy monogamous relationship. Unfortunately, I had no idea (and still don’t know) what that looked like. After much trial and error, I later discovered being in a relationship and feeling free, without a healthy foundation, isn’t that simple.

In high school, I daydreamed my class time away on thoughts of me and the perfect boy living out our lives together happily, in peace in the mountains somewhere, unlike my parents. One snowy afternoon with my soon-to-be tenth grade boyfriend, I flirted my way through snow forts and sledding to receive my very first kiss. Everything was perfect: the setting, the timing, the boy, but then I thought, “wait, is that it?! I’ve been pining for years to feel how it feels when I practice kissing my hand!!” I was devastated and confused. Had all of my chick flicks lied to me? I continued going boy to boy in search of that rush of electricity that never came.

By sophomore year of college, after breaking up with my best friend, I still couldn’t understand why the only boy I ever truly cared about and pined after for so long wasn’t doing it for me. That fall, while I was seeing a different boy, I heard about a student director who was doing a version of Harold Pinter’s Night, casting two women to play the married couple instead of a man and a woman. I desperately wanted a part. I remember having the thought, “For at least for ten minutes I can have what I want.”

Here is the love that will set me free. At least, I thought that’s what was supposed to happen.

I got the part, and unexpectedly fell hopelessly in love with my “pretend wife.” All of those feelings rushed in the first time she touched my shoulder. Fireworks! I couldn’t breathe! This is what I’ve been missing! Unfortunately, she was straight with an uncommonly gorgeous boyfriend, and I spent four months crying over her, as well as coming out. I consecutively dated a few more girls and continued with the common theme of pining after relationships, getting wound up in lesbian triangles and involved in various episodes of heartbreak and heartbreaking.

Then, I met Eliza. I sat down in the third row for the Choreography Showcase. I watched Eliza’s piece unfold in a whirlwind of stories about lost love, relationship abuse, and self abuse. Her beauty paralleled the talent of her work. I had to meet her. I shook her hand, melted in her eyes, and even though I knew she was still too caught up in the adrenaline to notice me, I walked away thinking everything would be okay for me one day.

We dated for two years. I had finally found it: someone to love and someone to love me. We went on crazy adventures, we played in dirt piles, traveled the United States, and drank water off of tree blossoms in the middle of rain storms. We supported each other, as well as hurt each other, but my search had ended. Here is the love that will set me free. At least, I thought that’s what was supposed to happen.

Once the high levels of relationship-inducing anxiety caught up to my health, I started going to therapy. I realized how much I had in common with my parents’ relationship. Nothing was ever enough. I don’t believe my problems were just because of my partner, but also because of how I projected my expectations of what relationships ought to be.

I spent a lot of our relationship riddled with various levels of anxiety, taking every single thing she or I did so seriously. I wanted it all, so nothing was ever enough. I wanted to be in this relationship, but I also wanted to feel free. I got so caught up in the relationship that, for the first time in my life, I pined for myself. I didn’t want to break up. We had built so much and fought so hard to keep our relationship, but I realized I was my own ball-and-chain, and I was hurting us both.

I want relationships where people can love each other and be free to be themselves instead of being afraid to let the other be free. Eliza and I hopelessly loved each other, but she constantly wasn’t enough for me, and I knew that she felt it. My friends and family say, “she isn’t the right one.” I understand where they are coming from, but I think that the roots go deeper. If nothing is ever enough, won’t I be the only one rendering myself unhappy? This relationship was transforming, and in a way set me on the path to freedom, but now I know I need to be the one to set myself free.

Lily Johnston, of Leawood, Kansas, graduated with a degree in Studio Art from Hamilton College. Her dreams consist of spreading joy, learning as much as she can, enlightenment, changing the world, and dancing a little more each day, not particularly in that order. In her free time, Lily likes to knit tubes, roll in the grass, and have deep conversations. Like most people, Lily is still trying to figure it all out, but even though people like to call her naive, she still believes a little bit of extra kindness and patience can make a huge difference in someone's day.