On a cold, brightly lit train from New York to Boston, I went over and over the words I would say to mother to explain my new relationship with a woman. She would be picking me up from Back Back Station in Boston and from there we would drive two hours back to Alfred, ME, leaving ample time for discussion. In two days my sister would marry, and in four days I would fly to Berlin, my home for the next three months. While there the woman I’d begun a relationship with several weeks prior would visit and we would travel to Norway and Sweden together.
Days progressed and feelings deepened with this woman, and I wondered how to say the words to my mother, “I’m dating a woman.”
I wondered how those words would be received, and what she would say in response. My mother is a very conservative Baptist woman, with a kind heart and strict morals. Despite being a close confidant there was only one relationship I’d ever opened up to her about and the details I shared were limited. This would not only mark the first time I was telling my mother about a female relationship, but also the first time I opened up fully about any seemingly significant relationship. As opposed to opening up about an identity that would then give legitimacy to a relationship, I thought this relationship would give legitimacy to a shifting identity. I thought I would find solidity in sharing.
As the train passed through Connecticut my mother informed my sister was also in the car. Hadn’t I just told my sister about the plan several days prior? And hadn’t she seemed supportive and encouraging? Hadn’t I explained that when the reality of being an ocean away for three months sunk in, and along with it an ever increasing sense of urgency to take this opportunity to be honest with my mother. My sister knew exactly what was planned for that two hours between Boston and Maine and yet she’d chosen to accompany my mother and then send this text;
“Can you wait until after the wedding to tell Mom?”
Everyone says that brides are known to get a little crazy, and I had to admit that for the most part my younger sister had stayed in the low-normal range of that scale (perhaps helped by the fact that her engagement was only three months long). But during a weekend spent celebrating love, in all it’s shapes and forms, I couldn’t help feeling a sneaking suspicion that there wasn’t a place to be found at the table for the relationship I’d begun. The concern was that any startling news might upset the delicate balance that is our family dynamic, that upon hearing the words I was romantically involved with another woman my mother might not be able to recover. The wedding festivities might lose their glow, the guests all wondering “when this happened” instead of rightfully focusing on the newly weds.
This sense that we [a collective “we” encompassing anyone whose decisions fall outside of the societal norm] have to fit our lives into an appropriate time and place for the lives that others lead is what was hard to accept. The idea that my life, my full life, needed to be shared in strategically chosen phrases and places and times, so as not to “upset” anyone around me was what hurt. The fact that despite our coming together to celebrate love, the real message was that certain types of love are more worthy, deserving, and valid than others. The idea that, “Yes you can live the life you want to live, but can you please just keep it to yourself?” really means, “Your lifestyle is not o.k. with us.”
The service was lovely, with the bride and groom exchanging vows atop a hilltop park. And after the service we ate pizza and cake, and later that night after one more person questioned whether marriage lay in my future (now the only Quartararo child left), my sister having consumed one too many glasses of Proseccco in her celebratory mood chimed in, “Jenna has a girlfriend!”. And the following day while driving from Maine back to Boston to catch a flight to Berlin I said the words, “Mom, I’m dating a woman.”
And she was o.k. with it.
Words by Jennifer Quartararo
Illustration by Judy Mièl