I just noticed in my Treo calendar that today is the birthday of my first real girlfriend. (I qualified that with “real” because before her, in high school, there was somebody I went out two or three times, shared tender I love yous with, and pined over for a year or so.)
She was, well, not somebody any of you will be able to imagine me dating. She was raised a fundamentalist conservative, and she was a bit homophobic (in the “uncomfortable around” sense). But when she was involved with me, she was in a questioning phase, unsure of the faith, politics, or values she grew up with, and willing at least to consider those I represented.
When I met her, she was living at the Campus Students for Christ house. (Aside: “Bearing witness” is a Christian tradition I have a lot of respect and admiration for, but at CSC house it seemed to mean cutting put-downs, petty politicking, and veiled jockeying for power and status.)
We spent many hours talking about politics, literature, and philosophy. We spent many hours playing Ms. Pac-Man at the 7-11. My first date with her was to see The Dark Crystal. I embarrassed her once, but I think in a way she enjoyed, by translating a pornographic poem in Esperanto aloud in front of her co-workers at the university library. We acted together in community-theater productions. We went to English and French classes together at WIU until she transferred to U of I, and then stayed in touch through a very early version of email on the PLATO computer-assisted-instruction system, and through visits.
Anyway, we had a somewhat stormy but honest, respectful, and loving relationship. Among our other differences, I was poly by nature (although the term “polyamory” wouldn’t be coined for another few years), and she, uh, wasn’t. So one of us or the other could be happy in the relationship, but not both at the same time, and we went back and forth, opening or closing the relationship when one or the other of us got too unhappy. (Interestingly, the key to which of us was comfortable and which of us was stressed was the rules we were currently agreeing to, not whether I was actually dating anybody else. Also, it bugged her not only that I wanted to be free to date other people, but also that I wasn’t jealous of her, e.g. when she met an ex for lunch.)
Eventually she decided keeping the relationship open was not working for her, and she knew that closing it again (although I suggested it) would just make me miserable again, so she broke up with me, gently, kindly, and honorably.
We stayed friends for a few years.
I’d like to say that the curiosity and willingness to explore new ideas eventually led her to the kinds of beliefs I could share and admire, at least in part, and that she was happily monogamously married to a Unitarian minister in Ohio somewhere, agitating for peace and justice and raising their kids to know that they can be whatever gender and sexual orientation they want when they grow up. But I don’t think that’s at all likely. The last time I saw her, when we were both back in town for vacation after I’d moved out east for school, she told me she was going to hold her nose and vote for Bush (père) despite what a flaming liberal he was, because at least he was better than Dukakis. She’d returned to her roots. (I’m sure she’d be shocked to see me today and learn about my life.) I silently decided that while I still loved her, and even liked her, I didn’t have enough in common with her any more to make the effort to stay in touch worthwhile.
Karen, wherever you are, I hope you’re happy and I wish you well. I wouldn’t do it over again, but I don’t regret it a bit.