There’s nothing like the first girl to ever break your heart.
I was on a date once with a girl and she asked me about my coming out story. I paused, blushed, took a sip of wine. She continued: “I mean, what was the first girl you dated? How did you get to that place in your life? I know it’s personal,” she said, “but I’d love to hear your story, if you want to tell it.”
I didn’t know what to say. She was my coming out story. She was the first girl I’d dated. If I told her that, would it all dissolve, would it be for nothing? I knew, from The Internet, that lesbians hated bicurious girls. What if I told her, and she thought that was all I was? “I haven’t really…put it into a narrative for myself yet,” I answered. She smiled, and we moved on.
But that all feels so long ago. Now, it’s a story I can tell.
Let’s back up. It was summer. I had been working with my therapist on “the queer thing” for about a year, and I had been hibernating — no dates — for even longer than that. Suddenly, it felt like time. So I signed up for online dating.
Well. That’s a lie. I had signed up a year before, and promptly ignored every single person who messaged me. I even set up a date once, then canceled it, petrified. That felt like a long time ago.
So I re-wrote my profile (oh, writing those things is beyond awful) and started sending out messages. A girl answered, and we talked about the books we liked, and she sounded nice and friendly and normal and I thought: can I do this?
I decided to ask her out.
I can’t even describe the terror. I sent her a message asking if she’d like to go for drinks and then I turned off my phone for 12 hours because I couldn’t even stand to see her response. I was paralyzed. But when I switched my phone back on, there it was: she wanted to meet me. We agreed on a time and a place. The date was still a few days away, and within those days, I learned there was an even deeper level of paralyzing fear.
And then finally it was the day of the date, and the fear just built and built and built. I was a total mess.
But I bought a shirt and put on some dangly earrings and walked up to the oyster bar (why our landlocked city has an oyster bar, I’ll never know), completely disassociated, basically just watching myself from far above.
It’s time. The time is now. I stand outside the door staring at my phone and trying to look casual until she walks up. She has short blonde hair and her ears stick out a little and she has a big bag of vegetables that she has carried from the Farmer’s Market. We introduce ourselves, and I don’t know what to do with my hands, and we can’t figure out who should walk through the door first, but we perch at a corner of the bar and order drinks and we start to talk about books.
She has a little gap in her teeth and she is very, very slim and is a couple of year younger than I am. She is wearing a button-up shirt. She orders a pink girly drink. I think I order a whiskey.
I am doing this, I think, I am on this date. I can’t believe that I am on this date. I watch the bartender for weird facial expressions but of course he’s a nice, normal person. So I relax and we start to talk.
Over the next couple of weeks, we will have so many of those dates that just stretch out time because you are talking about so many interesting things and covering so much ground, so I don’t remember all the things we talked about that first time. After our drinks are gone (she only orders the one) we have appetizers: corn on the cob (trying to pick it out of our teeth surreptitiously and giggling at each other), asparagus, three perfect deviled eggs. I think a couple of hours have passed when we walk back out into downtown, which is still bright with late-in-the-day summer sunshine. “Ok, well, bye,” she says, and off she goes. I am exhausted and exhilarated. I have lived through the worse nerves of my entire life, and been charming to boot. I am supergirl.
A couple of days later, I text her and suggest that we do it again.
“I’d like that,” she says.
We see a movie at the little indie theater and we both think it’s not bad — pretty, but too romanticized. Afterwards, we get a late dinner, talking so much I forget to text a friend of mine at the designated time, to tell him that I’m safe and she’s not a serial killer. When I finally remember to pull out my phone, he is minutes away from calling my mother. Poor friend. I’m so sorry.
Dinner ends and we wander back to the movie theater, where our cars happen to be parked together, just down the street outside a church I have never been into. It’s 10:30, it’s dark, not many people are out and about. And she is so soft-spoken I know that I am going to have to make the first move, but I am so nervous, but she is smiling at me, and I step closer to her, and we kiss, and it’s like first kisses are supposed to be, not at all the awkward bristly slobbery wastes of time of my youth, this is electricity, this is magic, and I don’t even care if anyone sees us, and I drop my purse on the sidewalk and I just know no one will take it, and our hands end up in each other’s hair and hers is so thick and different than mine, and after a little while of this, I ask her if she wants to come home with me. And again, she says (she always said this): “I’d like that.”
The next two weeks are a blur of farmer’s markets and sleepovers and used bookstores and the way she hides her face in the pillow when I compliment her and tries to hide the excema on her feet. And flying on the first blush of dating this woman, I am taking baby steps I never thought I’d be capable of, things like kissing good-bye within the swirling crowds of people downtown on a Saturday morning. Suddenly, I know inherently something I never truly knew before: there is nothing wrong about this. It is not embarrassing. It is not evil. It’s not even any different than with guys, except that for me, it’s a better fit. I know all of this, can really feel and believe it, for the first time in my life. And just like that, a weight lifts off my shoulders. At least in that way, I am free.
Then one day, a couple weeks in, she cancels one of our dates.
She’s just gotten more hours at work, she tells me, and it’s intense. She needs time to recharge. She reschedules, promises me she’ll be up to it then. The beers she brought over when I cooked for her are still sitting in my fridge. “I’ll just have to come over soon and we can drink them!” she says.
But she cancels that next date, too.
Finally she sends me a text telling me she’s just not been up to doing anything lately, and she’s sorry. I tell her I understand, and say she can drop me a line if things change. She doesn’t answer.
And ok, I get it. I’ve dropped a guy or two by just kind of falling off the face of the earth — it’s so hard to say “sorry, just not feeling it” to someone’s face. So I pick myself up, dust myself off, and sign back on to the dating site. In due course it’s time for another first date. And by now I’ve got this dialed down. I’ve got none of the angst and only a fraction of the nerves going when I go to meet Polly for the first time. I’m not sure about Polly at first — we are so very different — but she’s fun and carefree and very outgoing, and somehow, within a couple of weeks, we’re in a relationship.
The next time I see her is at a local Pride event — a drag show (why must every one of these events involve drag or burlesque?). I’m there with Polly but I go by myself to the restroom, and that, of course, is when I run into her. It’s standing room only, and she is coming in the opposite direction, so we have to squeeze past each other. When I recognize her, I smile. One of those oh hey, we’re grown-ups, I’m here with my girlfriend, so how have you been? type of smiles. “Hey,” I say. But she scowls at me like don’t even try it, and squeezes by as quickly as she can. She is leading a surly, young-looking woman by the hand. I roll my eyes and make my way back to Polly, and watch as a drag queen lip syncs my new favorite song. I lean against my girlfriend, and she wraps her arms around my waist, and all is well.
And that, as they say, is that. Except that now I see this woman absolutely everywhere — farmer’s markets, LGBT events, everywhere — and she is always leading a new, different girl by the hand. And without the new-girlfriend armor that I had at that first event (now that I’ve broken up with Polly), when I’m somewhere on my own, or volunteering, I am not really sure how to deal with running into her.
And that’s fine. I mean, it’s fine. But that is the story of the first girl who broke my heart.