I have wanted to write this post for awhile now– but it’s difficult to talk about and I want it to be perfect. I’m not sure if I am going to be able to put everything I want to say into one post, but I am going to try. Please bare with me and understand that this is heavy and tricky to navigate. I want to be as transparent as possible without being vulnerable, so here it goes!!!
When I was 16 years old I fell in love. Hard. It was the sneak-out-every-night, love-letters-passed-between-classes, kissing-behind-the-bleachers, together-all-the-time, kind of love. It was all-consuming. Every ounce of my physical, emotional and mental energy was invested into that relationship. Was it unhealthy? I am caught between “yes, definitely” and “maybe it was just passionate”, and I still haven’t come to a consensus within myself. Some things take years to process, and I think this is one of those instances.
This narrative sounds like something I read out of a Sarah Dessen novel when I was in middle school. I never thought that this kind of love was real– I never believed that someone could lose themselves completely in another person and not even realize it. I always thought the girls in those stories were so weak and stupid for not having better control over their lives, emotions and actions… I honestly never thought I would turn into one of them. That sounds so melodramatic, but it was unequivocally what happened to me– or perhaps what I had happened upon all on my own.
Something that extracts this narrative from the “Sarah Dessen” prototype is the fact that I fell in love with a girl. My very first girlfriend. She was beautiful. She had the loudest personality of anyone that I’d ever met. She was funny and goofy and vivacious– all of the things that I wasn’t. I’m not sure why we connected so well initially. We were so different and she was older and interested in completely contrasting things than I. We didn’t have the same taste in movies, music, art… she was sporty and care-free while I was uptight and artistic. She was a devoted Christian and I cringed at the mere sight of a Bible. I was a cheerleader while she was in the stands as the drum-major. We were such a contradiction, but despite all that, we were so in love.
The first time we kissed was by accident. I didn’t expect it at all. It was not premeditated on my part, not even a little bit. I have never been a very physical person, though, so this didn’t take away from the fact that I definitely had a crush on her before that moment. Once it finally happened, she texted me and we discussed what the heck was going on. We agreed– I think this conversation is permanently burned into my skull– that, “let’s not forget, but just see what happens”. And with that, we started a secret relationship. Confined to 12:45 a.m. car meetings, private texting apps, and sneaking around our family and friends meticulously. We pulled it off successfully for probably two months before our secret got out to our mutual friend group (this is so cliche, I want to barf just as much as you do). The news spread like literal wildfire, and all of a sudden we had no control over the information. It was humiliating and devastating. This relationship that was supposed to be happy and exciting all of a sudden became so heavy and stressful– we had to back-track, we had to make the blow seem less fatal. So thus came the other story that we weren’t gay we were just in love with each other. At the time, I had no idea how damaging this evasion of the truth was. All of a sudden I wasn’t Callan anymore, my identity did not belong to me. It was in the hands of this relationship and everyone who decided to talk about it. I was a trophy of someone else’s sexual liberation and being the quiet and emotional person I was, I didn’t know how to get out of this role I was in.
It wasn’t long before my parents found out about what was going on, and they were not happy. This time in my life is still very unclear and there is a significant amount of healing that has yet to be done, so I am not going to go into detail on this particular bit of my story. There was a lot happening all at once and there was no healthy communication, so emotions were running extremely high. I love my parents and family. That is all I am going to say.
We were together for around four months before we broke up for the first time– it lasted for a few days before we got back together. This first break was the catalyst that spun our relationship full-throttle out of the “honey moon” phase. We could never be together. We were navigating being outted, sneaking around our parents, her graduating and me still being stuck in high school, and a relationship. This caused her to start lying and me to cling desperately to her from lack of support in any other realm of my life. It became sickeningly toxic very quickly. But I still felt for her what I had felt the minute we first met– a rush of excitement and joy. She gave me a sense of comfort and validation that I had never experienced before. I think these feelings may have been amplified in the fact that I felt ostracized from other major relationships in my life, but they still felt so real. We leaned into each other in a time when the world was pushing against us with all it’s might– or at least that is how I perceived it.
It’s kind of weird how you can look back at a certain time in your life and realize how profoundly wrong you were about everything that happened. To this day I am learning about things that happened over the course of that summer and into the following year that I had no idea about or just looked over. Some things I chose to ignore out of fear and other things were so carefully guarded from me that I don’t think I would have picked up on them even if I had wanted to. The worst pain I have ever felt is from a lie that metastasized over the course of this year-long relationship. A lie that was explained to me as a solitary situation, but how could it be? When actions were repeated? With no visible remorse? When I was still the one that was in the dark? When I was never told the truth from the source until after the fact? I don’t know how to talk about this eloquently. My junior year was isolating and empty. I was in emotional warfare with my parents, my girlfriend and myself. It broke me, and I am still healing.
During my senior year I came to a reckoning with who I was. I claimed my identity as my own and felt comfortable being myself outside of a relationship, I can honestly say I was happy. Of course there were bumps along the way and I still felt hurt over what happened in the past, but I felt like I was becoming who I was meant to be and really growing from it all. In March of my senior year, however, my ex girlfriend reached out to me via a protected number. I instantly knew it was her– I could seriously feel it in the air. That whole day had felt so off and receiving a text from her just made too much sense. We started talking and a week later went on a date. A month later we were together again. She deleted months worth of pictures off her Instagram in order to make room for me. I really thought that things were different, and they were for awhile. That summer was amazing. We went to family dinners and could spend as much time as we wanted with each other. We even went on a vacation with my entire family to Florida; it was everything that I had wanted since I was 16. I was so happy. We posted openly on social media about our relationship. It felt like we had come full-circle and that we were the new-and-improved versions of who we once were. Pain behind us, the love was still there. Every single day was spent together that summer. We lived about 20 minutes from each other so it wasn’t that bad of a drive. The summer had to come to an end though, as do all things. Once I went off to college things changed quickly. Our relationship was ridden to hour-long video chats, sleeping on the phone, periodic texts and bi-monthly weekends spent together. We went from having to sneak around to see each other, to not even talking for a year, to spending every waking moment together, to rarely getting to be together. It was a roller coaster that plummeted us into the same emotional warfare that we’d been through prior. I hurt her. She didn’t prioritize me. I relied on her for too much. She didn’t rely on me for anything. I was a trophy to her. She was everything to me. That’s all I really have to say about that. There were a lot of expired emotions that rotted beneath the surface of that relationship and left it feeling nothing but sour. I am better without it, and I hope that she is too.
Okay, that was a lot. There is a point to this rather then just spilling all of my emotional wreckage, and that is this: for close to four years my identity was based off another person. I was so afraid of identifying outside of a relationship because I had never felt like I had an appropriate opportunity to do so… I take a lot of responsibility for putting myself in this box. I didn’t stand up for myself. I didn’t seek out the resources I needed or confide in the people I should have. I let my identity go to the wind and in return was left feeling empty and disconnected from who I was. I don’t want to do that anymore, I can’t do that anymore. It’s too painful and ultimately not worth it. Trying to fulfill a comfortable image is not nearly as gratifying as it is made out to be, despite every opposition that may present itself against who I really am. And that is gay; that is proud and strong and independent; that is resilient and forgiving and courageous; that is Callan. Not according to anyone else but myself, and I fully intend on grasping onto this identity without anymore second-guessing. I like girls and I don’t need to be in a relationship for that to be valid.
If you are reading this and currently hiding behind someone else for fear of not being able to stand on your own, please read my story as a warning. You deserve so much more then you will ever find in a relationship that is in control of your identity. Speak out about who you are and speak it loudly. Find people who will go to bat for you and seek strength within yourself every day. I know it’s hard but the sooner you accept yourself the sooner happiness will meet you where you are. You deserve to be yourself without another person telling you who that is. You’re beautiful and strong and worthy of liberation!!! Claim it with every ounce of your being and be loud about it!!! You owe it to yourself.
Note: This post was not a platform for me to call-out others. These are merely facts and if that bothers anyone, then I am sorry. Please take the time to really read what I am saying and consider all that I have left out– maybe that will put this into perspective a bit. Allow me to heal in the ways that I see fit and I will grant you the same liberty.