When my straight, long-ago girlfriend thought I was hitting on her…
It was the mid 1980’s, and I hadn’t seen this friend since our late teens in 1971, when I had shared my thoughts with her on my love for woman. She was very accepting.
By the 80's, I had come out completely as a lesbian, and had moved back to New York after living 10 years out west. My old pal was seeing a young man when we met again in our thirties. I was single, and she knew I was gay. She suggested we go camping on her parent’s property, and build a campfire. I was thrilled at the prospect of spending hours in conversation under a starry sky as the campfire crackled before us, pitching a perfect glow to our healthy faces. It started out like we never had lost touch. Our conversation was endless, easy and steady, as we camped high up on a hill.
We sat shoulder to shoulder like in our youth. We laughed, and easily shared a multitude of stories of where we had been since we left our youth behind. But in the midst of all of this sharing, she suddenly came out with: She thought I was hitting on her because I was sitting so close, and was looking directly at her as we talked. (Since my student-teaching experience at Rome State School for the Deaf, when in college, it was a habit of worth that I picked up: Watching someone closely as they spoke.)
I did smile a lot, and butted my shoulder against her when she shared something witty or profound. I easily felt no time had passed. Admittedly, she did know I had a crush on her when I was a teen, but I did nothing about it back then, and this night of camping was over 15 years later. On this evening, at least to myself, it felt like a wonderful reconnecting to a friend I truly felt I was always able to relate to on any topic. I felt close, but not that close.
I felt the shock-wave of disappointment pass through me at her statement, and felt the air go cold between us, when I realized she no longer saw me as my old self, but as a woman who loved women. What she didn’t seem to grasp, which I have come across with many straight woman, is that a lesbian does not lust after every woman she meets or knows. We like friendship, too. I like to give strong and long hugs to my friends, a peck on the cheek when saying hello or goodbye. I can love my dearest friends. Normal.
It became sadly clear that we were not going to reconnect as we once were to one another. I thought I had reconnected with an old friend. I thought she had, as well. But I was misunderstood on that evening as the earth rotated beneath the stars. I thought we would be lifelong close friends. After that evening, I understood the quote from American Writer, Thomas Wolfe, from “You Can’t Go Home Again.” “Loneliness…is and always has been the central and inevitable experience of every man.” Well, woman, in my case. We all move on, some of us with a bit more sadness and rejection.
I felt detached from her the next morning as we rolled up our sleeping bags, and walked down this lovely spot high on a hill, barely speaking. I also felt slighted, but resigned in knowing that we no longer had a life-long connection. What we left behind years ago was gone for her.
When we reached the house, her mother tried to take a photo of us as I stood by my car, but the camera did not work. I said my good-byes, remembering a dream on that hill from the night before. I dreamt her mother tried to take a photo of us but the camera flew away. I told them both about my dream, as she tried several times to take a photograph. I wished them all well, and deeply meant it. Life is most profound if you pay attention to the messages.
Eventually, she married, and had children. I took the initiative again to reach out a couple decades later to say hello. We shared some standard exchanges, but the communication faded away on her end.
A one-way communication is not a friendship, so I let go of reaching out anymore. But I will always wonder if she would have rekindled our old friendship, and the means to care again, if I had been a straight woman that camped with her that night on the hill over 35 years ago. We could have been great friends.
A Mere Speculation: It may have been internally dangerous or upsetting for her to want me in mere friendship. Her feelings for me in her past, perhaps, made her feel she may then be lesbian if she truly liked me, and wanted our friendship to go on -- and that scared her, so she rejected my friendship. She could not separate Frances from being a lesbian. When I met my first love in college and share that with my old friend in 1971, I told her, "You know, I did love you." And she replied, "I loved you too."