I was in a six-year relationship with an incredible man that ended a year and a half ago. We had been together for most of my adult life, so when we broke up, I had yet to experience dating as a grown-up. I wasn’t ready to jump into a new relationship, but my foray into the New York City dating world sure was interesting: I went on a Tinder date with Martin Shkreli. I had a meet-cute on an airplane. I dated people from different neighborhoods and social circles who often ended up becoming my friends. I enjoyed meeting new people and the accelerated emotional intimacy that often comes with getting to know someone through dating.
Eventually, however, it got tiring and I needed a break to focus on friendships, career and my relationship with myself. After several months, I decided that I wanted to start dating again — this time with more intention. Eventually I want to get married and have children, so I started to seek out dating partners with long-term potential. Shortly thereafter, I met her.
I have always been attracted to men and women. As a kid, I crushed on Josh Saviano from “The Wonder Years” and Tatum O’Neal from “Bad News Bears” in equal measure. (Apparently I have a soft spot for endearing nerdy dudes and fierce women who excel at sports.) In high school, I had girl crushes but happily dated a boy. Our relationship consisted of a little kissing, lots of cuddling and eating McDonald’s every day during the summer between junior and senior year.
My sexuality wasn’t something I ever felt the need to define or discuss too much. I was open about my feelings if the subject came up, but since I was in a long-term monogamous relationship with a man, I wasn’t actively exploring my attraction to women. After that relationship ended, I was open to dating women but ultimately pictured myself married to a man. He was often faceless and nameless, but in my fantasy we had two cute little girls with freckles and big blue eyes, and we would send out Christmas cards with our entire family wearing ugly sweaters.
When I met her — the first woman I’ve officially dated — I had one of those moments where everything stops for a second and I thought: “This feels important — you’re going to want to remember this later.” We bonded over the role of basketball in our households growing up: She was a star athlete in high school and college. I was the sixth (wo)man on the basketball team my parents coached, while my brother and sister were the star athletes. (That’s pretty much the same thing, right?) As we talked, it was clear that she has an infectious curiosity about the world. Plus, she made me laugh. Not a cute, feminine girl laugh, but a knee-slapping, snort-inducing laughter. Real attractive for a first date.
The next day we texted and made plans to hang out again. There was none of the usual tentativeness that can happen after a first date. We were both excited about each other and not afraid to show it.
Over the past few weeks, I have been so happy to get to know this woman. When things go well in the beginning stages of dating, it’s easy to fantasize about where it could lead — or worry about where it’s going. For me, this situation is particularly complex because in addition to the “what are we?” question of a new romantic connection, dating a woman brings up questions about my own identity: What am I?
I haven’t found a label for my sexual orientation that feels right. I’m not a lesbian. Even when I was in a long-term relationship with a man, I didn’t identify as straight. The most accurate label is probably pansexual — those who are attracted to men, women, and to people who are transgender and gender-fluid. But pansexual sounds so trendy, and I’m one of the least trendy people on the planet.
For now, I’m just focusing on this special person who has come into my life — and on fostering our deepening connection. I don’t know what we are, and maybe I don’t even know who I am. But I know she’s made me smile every day since I met her.
I might end up with my two little girls and a husband, or a wife, or maybe I will be a single mom to an animal baby. No matter what, though, I will be rocking that ugly sweater on decades’ worth of Christmas cards.