The first time I saw her she was speaking at a meeting. I can’t remember anything of what she said, but something about the way she spoke drew my attention. She held the floor with absolute confidence and at the same time there was a vulnerability about her that left me curious and wondering. She wasn’t beautiful in any conventional sense and yet her beauty captivated me and it seemed that her whole being opened up when she smiled. It struck me that when she spoke to people she looked at them directly. She saw them and heard them and acknowledged them.
I wanted to meet her. I had just moved to a new city and was missing the company of good friends. She was just the kind of person I wanted to meet. But how? I realised that being new in town allowed me certain liberties and I decided to give her a call. I knew the organisation she worked for, looked up the number and called. She wasn’t in but I left a message and waited. It was a few days before she responded and by then I was feeling rather foolish. But she was warm and gracious and we agreed to meet for coffee.
Our meeting in that little café was like opening a birthday gift wrapped in layers of gorgeous tissue paper. We connected so easily: shared interests, ideas, theologies. It was easy to talk and easy to listen. We agreed to meet again. As I walked away across the road I turned to look back and she was staring after me. It felt a little strange, but thrilling and it occurred to me that perhaps she had enjoyed the encounter as much as I had.
We began to meet regularly – for coffee, breakfast, a walk, a swim, and we talked. It was a friendship that I had longed for. I could be honest about who I knew myself to be – intellectually, emotionally, spiritually. I felt safe with her. We laughed and cried and sat in silence together. I looked forward to being with her and became aware that even a text message from her would lift me.
I had also gradually become aware that she always used neutral pronouns to refer to partners and lovers that she told me about. And she never mentioned their names. I asked her about this one day and she confirmed what, on one level, I had always known: that she was gay and that all the partners she had been talking about were women. My only initial response was, ‘But, of course,’ as so much of what she had previously shared slotted more firmly into place.
But later that afternoon my whole world suddenly tilted as I suddenly realised that what I was feeling for my new friend was more than just platonic affection – I was very strongly attracted to her. I had fallen in love with a woman. Now, I am not gay (although what that means is no longer very clear for me) – at least let me say that attraction to other women had never been part of my life experience up until that point. I was married to a man and had two small children. And what I was feeling now absolutely terrified me.
I grappled for a few days with what this meant and what I should do. Part of me wanted to ignore what I had realised and pretend my way through to the other side of the infatuation. This was not the first time that I had had strong feelings for someone other than my marriage partner and so I knew from experience that if I didn’t act on them the feelings would probably pass in time. But I also knew that meant I would have to hide myself from my friend and that it would shut down the honest space that we had constructed between us. I eventually decided that the only thing I could do was tell her what I was feeling, even if that meant we had to end the friendship.
It was one of the hardest things I have ever done. And one of the most straightforward because I had nothing to conceal or avoid. We met. I told her. She listened. She smiled. She told me she had been attracted to me from the day we met. We agreed that we were both committed to the partners we were with and didn’t want to jeopardise those relationships. At some point I cried. At another point we laughed and laughed at the bizarre beauty and pain of what was. We decided to go on being friends anyway. And we did.