Rita Sayegh/MiC.

In high school when I was struggling with my sexuality, my future always looked blurry. Whenever I would think about my late 20s and 30s, I had no idea what my romantic life would look like. Everything was in the air. Would I ever come out? Would my family accept me? Would I ever be comfortable with who I am? 

Growing up as a closeted bisexual, I never really believed in love. I remember seeing Instagram posts in high school with captions writing about how in love the pictured people were, and I would ask myself how 16- and 17-year-olds could possibly know what love is. Looking back, I was just entertaining a very naive perception I had of others in love. I was jealous of everyone else dating and finding love interests; I wanted to be “normal” and easily find a partner, but that wasn’t my reality. Though I knew most of my friends would be accepting, I wasn’t ready to come out and was far from the idea of pursuing a relationship.

Though I dated girls when I was young, I knew that these relationships wouldn’t last. These romances were short-lived and made me feel better about myself. Yes, I knew I was gay, but these relationships were experiences that society and heteronormativity forced me to have. I didn’t come to terms with my sexuality until the middle of high school. Before then, I only had experiences with girls and hadn’t yet developed an attraction for guys. As these relationships ended and as I got older, I had to come to terms with who I was and “explore” a new side of myself I couldn’t ignore. 

In an attempt to explore my identity, I (unfortunately) downloaded Grindr, a “social media” app for gay men. As a 19-year-old newly-out person, I wanted to check out this community and what it had to offer. Though I wasn’t on the app to find love, it was a very … informative experience on what hook-up culture was like in the community. I had only come out a couple of months prior and was ready to check out this side of my sexuality, but I was definitely not trying to find love — especially through Grindr. 

After being on the app for a couple of months, I met a guy who was different from the others I’d met. We had only met each other twice when I realized there was a connection that I had never experienced before. The second time we met, we stayed up late into the night and talked for hours — constantly finding things we had in common. Whether it was finally being able to experience what straight people often take for granted, or simply being happy that I was able to express romantic emotions, I was excited to feel normal in the privacy of my apartment, free from society’s judgment. 

During this time, I was sharing a one-bedroom apartment with a roommate who ended up moving out, giving me and my new romantic interest the opportunity to spend a lot more time with one other. He would come over, we would make dinner, drink wine and watch a movie. Back then, this was the only thing that was getting me through my Zoom classes and feelings of isolation in my lonely apartment. It was an experience that was so exciting and new. When he was over, everything felt so normal — something I never thought I would experience.

Little did I know back then that I was falling in love. These moments felt so normal yet were the most exciting times of my daily life. If someone would’ve told me a year earlier that I would have someone I loved, I would’ve never believed them. 

Soon, these exciting dinner moments turned into an everyday thing. He slowly began to bring his things into my apartment. His toothbrush and contact holder for just-in-case situations ended up next to mine in my bathroom. Then came an extra day’s worth of clothes in his backpack, followed by his next day’s worth of Zoom school work, and all of a sudden his wardrobe was sharing what was now our closet. 

All of the pieces were coming together and my future seemed less blurry. I realized that I could have a future with a man. I finally began to accept who I was and started to become okay with being who I was. With the dinner plus wine plus movie nights, I felt comfortable. I felt myself. I started to accept my future with pride — I would be able to live with a man and be happy. 

Come Thanksgiving Break, we had to say goodbye — something we both dreaded, with me being confused about what I wanted and him not being ready for a relationship. Being new to relationships (with men especially), I didn’t know if I was ready to have a boyfriend. Though I was happy with him, having a boyfriend meant telling my friends and family — something that really stressed me out. Even though they were the first people I came out to, it had been months since anyone had ever talked about it. In my family, the idea of my sexuality seemed like it was taboo. 

Leading up to the day that he was going to drop me off at the airport, I didn’t know what to expect from the “goodbye” conversation. We’d spent months together in our little apartment and those moments were so special yet felt like a secret I kept from my outside world. My family and friends didn’t know about him because I was still not comfortable telling them; I was fearful of rejection and potential invasions of privacy. But I was super excited to finally have someone that I loved. Whether it was a fling or just something much deeper, I wanted so badly to tell people about him. But we weren’t official, so I calmed my excitement and lowered my expectations. 

Finally came the day I left for home and he came into our apartment asking if I had everything ready for my flight home. I, of course, had everything packed so that we could spend more time talking and less time loading my luggage into his car. After talking and ignoring the elephant in the room — whether or not we were going to make things official — we went back into our apartment to make sure I hadn’t forgotten anything. Our apartment was clean and ready to be left for a week and a half. 

The reason why this seemed so dramatic was that he wasn’t going to come back after the break. He lived over 1,000 miles away from me, so he was dropping me off at the airport and this was going to be the last time I would see him for about a month and a half. After spending every day with each other, we’d have to go weeks without seeing each other in person. Growing up in the closet, I always thought that I would never be able to date or talk to others about a crush and definitely not talk about falling in love. I was going to leave him and my tiny-yet-comfortable one-bedroom apartment to go back home, where I wouldn’t be able to be my full self. 

It was then that I realized I had to fully accept myself before all else. Even though I came out to my parents, we had never talked about my coming-out call. The main part of what I needed to be my full self was my family acknowledging and coming to terms with the fact that I had a boyfriend. 

So I tried to do just that. I told my mom over FaceTime and she was excited to meet him. Over the course of my relationship, I constantly told my sister about him — so she already knew. I told my brother about him and he was supportive. The struggle came with my dad — the one I was most worried about. 

During Winter Break after that semester, I told him about my relationship. My dad was driving me back home, and I told him about my boyfriend. Despite me being out of the closet, he was surprised and confused about why I had one. We then went through an emotionally draining conversation until I left the car crying. Like before, we didn’t discuss the topic for the rest of break. Finally, towards the end of break, I asked my dad why he hadn’t shown any interest in getting to know more about him and responded with him telling me he doesn’t “accept it yet.” Since I was leaving to go back to school the next day, this was devastating. I was finally starting to accept myself more and more but I could feel my dad’s rejection pushing my progress back. 

After talking to my mom to let all the tears out, I knew I couldn’t let interactions like this affect my happiness and comfort with myself. I had very supportive friends, family and a partner that helped me become happier about myself overall. I returned back to school knowing that I was ready to tell more and more people about him. Throughout the semester, I would bring him around to more hangouts with my friends; soon, he became friends with my friends and everything seemed so perfect. I could now easily tell people I’ve barely met that I had a boyfriend and everything was fine. 

It was through this relationship that I was able to discover what love is and finally accept my sexuality, and know that everything will be okay. I was able to have experiences that I’ll never forget and he helped me become vulnerable enough to prioritize loving myself and all the identities that make me who I am. 

Though we ended up breaking up, I appreciate his role in my journey to self-acceptance. Without him, it would’ve been harder to envision a future with a partner and I would’ve still been struggling with who I was today. By falling in love, I was able to learn so much about what love means — whether it is with someone else or myself, love helped me finally become who I am proud to be. 

MiC Columnist Hugo Quintana can be reached at hugoq@umich.edu.