The Hook Up: Can one person alter your sexuality? And why can’t I stop dreaming about my ex?

I have always considered myself straight and never had the slightest attraction to other women. All through high school and college I only dated and fantasized about guys. The thought of ever being with a women never crossed my mind until about two years ago, when I met my first and only girlfriend (Sarah) who swept me off my feet. It was love at first sight, and I had never experienced that with a guy, never mind another woman. Everything developed naturally and we became the best of friends doing everything together which was amazing. Even better was the sex, which made all my previous relationships seem boring.

Unfortunately, she moved over seas to go back to school and we decided it was best to call it off after a year and a half of dating. I feel my life has completely changed. I am not attracted to men sexually or emotionally anymore, which seems strange. I went from loving male attention to being uninterested and, in some cases, repulsed by it.

Is it possible for my sexuality to be suddenly altered after one relationship? Was I a lesbian all along? Sarah would always tell me that the only reason I liked guys to begin with was because of society’s compulsory heterosexuality. Although that seemed a little radical to me, the more I’ve associated sexual pleasure with another woman, the more I’ve desired and fantasized about it. Part of me wants to try and believe that I can have a relationship with a man again. Am I fooling myself? Is this just because of guilt? Another part dreams of spending a lifetime with another woman.

What should I do? I would really appreciate your thoughts.

Anna says:It’s entirely possible for your sexuality to be altered suddenly by one person. All it takes for me to consider switching teams is to watch about 15 minutes of a Ryan Gosling movie. (Yes, even The Notebook. I feel shame.) I’d say that it’s rare, but sexuality, like love, is one of those facets of human behavior that we’ll probably never understand. And for good reason. Sexuality is complicated. Some lazyfaces and armchair psychologists try to boil it down to a hormone or two (testosterone for men, and oxytocin for women, usually), but we’ll never be able to look at one aspect or chemical reaction or situation and say, “Eureka! I now understand sexuality.” That’d be like trying to explain an entire novel based on one sentence. It doesn’t make sense. Yet, we try to do it anyway because we are creatures who want to know! We can’t even stand to see an androgynous-looking person on the street and not try to guess their gender.

So I totally understand where you’re coming from and why you are full of questions, and you’ll hopefully forgive me when I tell you that ultimately none of them matter. I realize that I just told you we can’t magically make the most complex and confusing parts of our lives simple, but I’m going to contradict myself and say this: The only question you really need to ask yourself is, Does this make me happy? Could be a man, could be a woman, could be a Costco-sized jar of Nutella. You might not know the answer to that question until you’re in the thick of it, in which case I urge you to do some experimenting, as much as I loathe that word. (That’s a column for another time, perhaps).

We start to get into trouble when we try to compartmentalize things in our lives that can’t be easily contained or explained, like sex and love and that one sock that somehow always disappears on your way from the dryer to the bedroom. Try not to get caught up by thinking in terms of absolutes, a la “Was I a lesbian all along?” — especially when labels are involved. I know it’s hard, particularly on bisexuals, whose sexual identities are defined by who they’re sleeping with, but the less pressure you place on yourself in this regard, the more able you’ll be to actually enjoy your life and all of its uncertainties.

It’s true that heterosexuality is compulsory, meaning it’s the default assumption, and many social and political power structures have been put in place to ensure it stays that way. This is changing somewhat – a big holla to Washington for being the 11th U.S. state to recognize gay marriage, and to the 9th Circuit for bitch slapping Prop 8 – but we still have a long way to go. While I do think compulsory hetness plays a role in why many of us come to queerness at a later age, I don’t believe it can be justified as “the only reason you liked guys.” That’s too simple an explanation, and you know how I feel about that! (See a few paragraphs above if you’ve forgotten.)

I didn’t even feel a whiff of attraction to women until I was almost 21. Adrienne Rich, who wrote the famous “Compulsory Heterosexuality” essay, didn’t figure it out until after she was married and had three kids. Cynthia Nixon, aka Miranda from Sex and the City, has a similar tale. All it took for her to change her life completely was one woman.

I can’t tell you who you’ll end up with or what you’ll find under their skivvies, but I can tell you that once you do, it won’t matter at all what’s under their skivvies. What will matter is the connection you have, the desire, the friendship, the mutual respect, the ardor and the radical that coexists in the ordinary.

Don’t fear the questions that can’t be articulated. Instead trust in their silences. You’ll be alright. I promise.

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