Hi Anna, I have always thought I was a lesbian (or at least bisexual). I’ve had crushes on several girls, but they were all straight. The only lesbians I’ve ever met have already been in a relationship. Because of this, I ended up dating men and marrying a man. We’ve been married for five years, and as time passes I keep feeling that I made a mistake. What do I do? How do you know for sure if you are a lesbian or not? — So Confused
Anna says: For me, it was when the white guy with gold teeth yelled “Dyyyyke!” as I walked in my pajamas to class. Before then it was pure speculation.
I’m just kidding, SC. And I don’t mean to be flippant about your serious and potentially life-altering dilemma. The thing is, it’s different for everyone. Some claim to know from the time they were wooing girls with G.I. Joe action figures and Fruity Pebbles. Some know once they’ve kissed a girl after being straight their whole lives. Some know for a while, but then their bisexuality leads them back to heteroville. Sometimes it feels like we’re all stumbling through life, hoping to bump into our most authentic selves, wondering how much of our lives have already been wasted in the wrong careers, with the wrong partners, in the wrong towns, or even in the wrong centuries.
I can’t even begin to say which course your life might take, SC, but if you’re writing into an advice columnist, it’s fair to say that you’ve probably given it a lot of thought. I encourage you to give it even more thought, to figure out exactly what your ultimate problem is. Is it that you’re unhappy with your marriage and would like to get out of it? Is it that you’d like the opportunity to explore being with a girl?
There’s a common Japanese saying that you don’t really understand something until you ask five times “why?” Confront a problem by asking why and keep asking until you can’t go any further. For instance, here’s what I would’ve asked myself during my “figuring out I liked girls” process.
Why do you want to date [insert my first girlfriend]?
Because it’s exciting and dreadful and new and taboo.
Why is this important?
Because I haven’t had a relationship in a while and I’m curious even though I still think I like guys.
Why is this important?
Because I want to connect with someone in a profound way and I don’t care what gender that person subscribes to.
Why do you not care?
Because girls turn me on.
When tackling tough decisions, it also helps to create a wish list. Write down everything you could possibly want out of a relationship. What would make you the most happy? Is it being able to explore your bisexuality within the safe confines of your marriage? Is it to run away with the next motorcycle-riding babe and start a new life on a goat farm in Asheville? Is it to have a threesome? It’s okay to be disorganized when making a list like this, and to write down everything that comes to your mind, even seemingly trivial things like “Must love to watch Dance Moms.” The important thing is to try to flesh out your hidden motivations and core desires, so that you’ll be better able to make a smart decision. You never know what might come out of it. My ex and I, during our one and only therapy session, did something similar and it revealed startlingly that we wanted completely different things (literally, she wanted to be with dudes, but also other things too). We broke up shortly thereafter.
Of course, once you’ve gotten a loose idea of where you’d like to go with your relationship, you should also think about alternatives and consequences. If you decide to leave your partner, will you be financially OK on your own? Will you have a place to stay in the short or long term? If you decide you’d like to open your relationship, are you OK with the idea of him sleeping with other people? Or if he says no, what course of action will you take?
I’m not trying to mire you in 1,000 questions when you merely asked one, How do you know? But sometimes, we don’t know. The answer lies in the spaces of that non-knowing. In listening to the small voice in your ear that whispers “maybe this is not the person I really am.” In reaching toward the truest version of yourself, it’s possible you’ll take a tremendous leap and realize you were wrong. It happens all the time. But maybe you owe it to yourself to take that leap, to wade in the glorious uncertainty even though it might ruin your good shoes. Even though it might upend all the checkmarks you thought were on your life’s to-do list.
There are so few guarantees in life. At the end of the day, after all of our earnest lists and well-thought-out plans, we might decide that the gut feeling is the loudest and most persuasive argument. Sometimes you can’t beat the hunch, or intuition, or good vibes, however you want to name it. Sometimes you know without knowing.
I would also like to implore you to be proactive. Don’t wait for the decision to be made for you. Make the choice. Make the leap. Take ownership of your wants and desires and say “fuck it” if they don’t conform to others’ perceptions of you.
Good luck, SC. I’m rooting for you, whatever voice wins out.
Hailing from the rough-and-tumble deserts of southern Arizona, where one doesn’t have to bother with such trivialities as “coats” or “daylight savings time,” Anna Pulley is a freelance writer living in San Francisco. Find her at annapulley.com and on Twitter @annapulley. Send her your The Hook Up questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.