The New News (Encore: Part Three of Two!)

(For background, check out Part One and Part Two.)

In a same-sex relationship, there’s not an option of falling back on traditional gender roles.  Who cooks and who does the dishes?  Who does the laundry and who mows the lawn?  And more to the point (you see where I’m going with this), who proposes?

As you know, in mid-June, Liz surprised me by proposing (and I said yes).  Then, a few weeks ago, on a sunny Saturday in Napa, I proposed back to her.  (Spoiler alert:  She said yes too.)

The idea to propose crystallized in the midst of my post-engagement glow.  As I chatted with a friend over lunch, she shared how she and her wife always knew they would both propose, one-to-the-other.  Their choice was not who would propose, but instead who would go first.

I loved the mutuality of this.  When Liz proposed, I was already noodling on the idea of proposing to her in the fall; in fact, I felt a little scooped when she asked me.  (I felt 99% excitement and 1% mild annoyance at being beat to the punch by my clever, clever fiancée.)  Happily, this mutual proposal idea meant that I could ask right back.  We could both be the one summoning the courage to extend the question and the one thoughtfully answering.  (Though perhaps with a higher degree confidence this second time around.)

My planning began with the object of the proposal.  While Liz nailed my preferences by guessing I would want a traditional ring, I hadn’t seen Liz be too enthusiastic about one.  Every time I pushed or prodded on the ring idea, there wasn’t a clear answer.  Separate from the ring, however, I had heard Liz talk about wanting a pocket watch for a very long time.  So I took off to a fine San Franciscan haberdashery (yes, Virginia, there is a haberdashery) and secured a beautiful 1902 Waltham pocket watch with an engraving of a trolley car on the back.

Next stop was the engraver.  Like Liz before me, I suffered upturned noses, exorbitant prices, and long lead times at every Union Square jeweler before returning to the sweet little shop where Liz had my engagement ring designed.  They engraved a lovely message on the inside of the watch and tuned it right up.  When returning the finished product, the engraver even volunteered that this watch was very lucky indeed, citing the fact that the serial number (238) was the number of years from the country’s founding to today (2014 minus 1776).  Now I wouldn’t have thought of or celebrated that myself, but given Liz’s patriotic history, it seemed like a good omen.

After getting the go-ahead from every member of Liz’s family, I pulled together the detailed plan:  Liz’s best friend from graduate school generously gave us wine tastings and engagement photos in wine country as our engagement gift; I would now enlist her as my accomplice.  She agreed to arrange us for pictures such that I would sit near Liz’s feet and she would stand behind so it would be easy to switch into the traditional proposal posture.  We schemed that we would start our day at a champagne house where we could toast the proposal after Liz accepted <fingers crossed>.  I even assigned key words to coordinate in the moment; “That looks like a place for pretty pictures” was code for “We should probably do the proposal over there” while “I need to reapply my lipstick” was code for “This is happening.  I’m going to get my purse with the pocket watch inside.”

When I finally turned to ask, I don’t much remember what came out of my mouth.  You think I would have been a bit more stable considering my odds on the answer, but, in Liz’s words, I “shook like a little leaf.”  By the time I popped open the pocket watch and hazily got through my lines, however, Liz said yes.  Then champagne.  And crying.  And more crying.

Liz and Meredith_2014Jul19_8342
There was something really special about asking Liz to marry me.  I got to engineer a memorable, romantic moment for Liz, the Champion of the World at engineering of memorable, romantic moments.  She got to be surprised, a rarity for that observant lady.  And together we reaffirmed the mutuality of our relationship, wherein both of us can take the lead and both of can be wooed.

Interestingly, in the wake of both of our proposals, I heard all sorts of stories of other couples – both same-sex and heterosexual – being similarly intentional about their proposals.  A female colleague proposed to her long-time boyfriend, citing that he had always been more ready to get hitched and she wanted to give a clear sign that she was ready too.  A male friend initially rejected the idea of proposing (with its associated plotting and secret-keeping), but got on board when his girlfriend valued the traditional approach.

In our relationship, the answer to “who does what” has had to be intentional – and will continue to be so.  I am grateful every day that we consciously choose the path that works best for us, beginning with our two unexpected proposals.


The New News (Part Two of Two)

Making sense of it all
[Continued from The New News (Part One of Two) here.  Here’s where we re-start the very personal discussion with a particularly nerdy spin.]

Putting my story together and applying my consultant lens yields one way of looking at the world:  a framework of sexual orientation and degree of influence.  This is not the end-all, be-all way of understanding sexual orientation and the question of determinism versus choice (every lens highlights something and obscures other things), but it makes sense to my analytical brain and rings true with my experience:

Enter:  Nerdy framework

The x-axis maps to the second question I tackle here:  the question of sexual orientation.  This spectrum of sexual orientation is visualized in the well-known Kinsey scale, which dates back to the 1940s.  Near the origin is ‘Exclusively heterosexual’ (denoted by 0).  Towards the end of the axis is ‘Exclusively homosexual’ (denoted by 6).** Between these extremes, Kinsey proposed a spectrum of attraction.

As you would know from the above, my feelings are neither entirely homosexual nor entirely heterosexual.  I fall somewhere in the middle.

For the y-axis, let’s track back to my first question – of choice versus determinism.  Note that this is not a biological choice of who you’re attracted to (the nature part), but instead a choice of whether you decide to open yourself to those feelings, to give them space, and to see where they go (conceivably, the nurture part).  Our biological impulses – not only in the realm of sexuality but in all areas of our lives – are tempered, colored and interpreted through the lens of our experiences.  Some people, like me, feel they have a large degree of choice in how they live their sexual orientation.  Others – homosexual, heterosexual, and everything in between – see themselves as having no choice at all; this was the way it was.  But just like sexual orientation is on a continuum, so is it important to accommodate this continuum of ‘degree of influence’ from ‘Completely determined’ (near the origin) to ‘Completely chosen’ (towards the end).

To upend the rhetoric of 2003, you can have full choice in how you live out your sexual orientation – and still be legitimate.

You can, in short, fall anywhere on the framework and be worthy of acceptance and (indeed) celebration.

And what of the labels?
This whole framework is one way of thinking about how people experience the world internally.  It addresses neither how people describe themselves to others nor how others classify them.  So, beyond this, there is a third question of identification.  And just as labels don’t fit neatly on people, neither do they fit neatly on a framework.  Instead, people at any point in the framework could identify as gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, queer, straight, pansexual, bi-curious, hetero, questioning, same gender loving, multiple of the above, all-of-the-above, or none-of-the-above (you know, just ‘human’).  (Note that I have left out transgender here as it’s actually quite a different discussion; see this fantastic resource on discussing gender identify separate from sexual orientation).

For me, none of the labels fit very comfortably.  I don’t have formative experiences of frustration or judgment that are more normative for some who feel their queer identity is pre-determined.  Similarly, I don’t have the shared experience of complete homosexual feeling that would let me fully identify as a lesbian.  Sitting in the nebulous spots means that I don’t resonate with any labels.  Not lesbian.  Not bi-sexual.  Not queer.  Not really, umm, anything.

Except Meredith Whipple.

And maybe, in about a year, if she can convince me, Meredith Whipple Callahan.

With love and celebration,

Read the unexpected sequel (Part Three of Two) here.

**Note:  Since the Kinsey scale was invented, it has been updated to include X, meaning “No socio-sexual contacts or relations” to include asexuality.

The New News (Part One of Two)

There’s been a lot happening lately, as you might surmise from my recent silence.  Foremost among these is the happy news that, on Saturday, June 14th (Flag Day, for those of you who follow those things), Liz and I got engaged.


Liz and I drinking sunrise champagne to celebrate the engagement.

Liz and me drinking sunrise champagne to celebrate the engagement.

While there’s plenty of story-telling to go with the engagement (blanket fort, 5:30AM, videos of ring-making, flowers hidden in the water heater closet), the engagement also serves as a timely prompt for thoughts that have been circling in my head for a while.  While Facebook followers are likely unsurprised, there are many for whom my engagement is the first news that I have dated women at all.  So I’m going to rewind the tapes, share more of the journey, and give more context on everything.  (Note that this will be a two-part installment given the length.)

Choice or determinism?
Though I had inklings prior, I first time I seriously considered women was when I was a senior in college.  I wasn’t displeased with men, but I knew I was attracted to women as well.  I met my first out-and-proud lesbian and spent time quietly observing how she carried herself.  More importantly, under the guises of a project for my graphic design class (which asked us to create a poster for a cause we cared about), I started to think critically about LGBTQ* issues for the first time.  I went to my first march for LGBTQ rights outside of New Haven’s City Hall.  I was nervous and tentative, knowing neither what I wanted as an individual nor how to participate in the broader community.  But I designed my poster for class, walked in the crowd, and took a side on the first political issue I had real clarity on.

Researching that project exposed me to the rhetoric of the LGBTQ dialogue for the first time.  At that point, in 2003, the discussion of sexual orientation – and all the associated civil rights issues – hinged on the question of whether you had a choice about who you were attracted to.  The debate was framed as:  “We don’t have a choice about our sexual orientation, therefore you must accept us as we are.”  The political rhetoric was binary:  you were heterosexual or homosexual – and, either way, you didn’t have a say in it.

While there was still a lot I didn’t know about my feelings, this framing never sat well with me.  I could feel the choice in myself.  I knew that I was attracted to men and to women.  And I had a choice as to what to do with that.  There wasn’t any tension in it.  It was just true.

[Now pause for an interlude of almost a decade of very happily dating a phenomenal handful of men.  And park this thought of the question of determinism versus choice in sexuality.  We’ll come back to it.]

Homosexual or heterosexual?
Jumping forward to 2012, I started dating Liz.  Our first date was on a second obscure holiday (which, like Flag Day, would become personally meaningful):  Cinco de Mayo.  As my relationship with Liz grew, I quickly came out to those I interacted with on a daily basis.  This was easy in certain ways because my relationship with Liz was so happy and I had no reason to be ashamed of it.  My feelings weren’t ‘odd’ or ‘other’ to me.  I didn’t hold a lot of judgment as to whether this was better or worse than dating men.  And as I had been quite happy in my situations before, I hadn’t been hiding or avoiding anything.

When I started telling people, the responses were overwhelmingly positive.  There was still curiosity, however, about how I had arrived here:  “Wait, are you a lesbian?”  “Have you known this all along?”  “But didn’t you date men?”  “Have you been hiding this for years?”  Everyone wanted to support and some people understandably struggled to fit this into their past experiences and previously-held beliefs.

We had an outpouring of love and support.  Over five-hundred people sending their love on Facebook.

When we announced our engagement, we had an outpouring of love and support. Over five-hundred people sending their love on Facebook.

It’s easiest for a society of many millions of people to define things – and people – very clearly.  Thus, as a way of simplifying, we migrate to binary definitions.  You can be homosexual or heterosexual.  You are attracted to men or to women.  The wide swath of middle ground (the many flavors of ‘bisexual’), the answer that negates the question (‘asexual’), and all other nuances are harder to put our heads around, even while they’re more accurate to our complex world of feelings.

Emotionally, I’m attracted to men and women.  What a wonderful thing.  And how lucky am I that this sincere openness to love made my relationship with Liz possible.

To be continued (in some combination of personal story and nerding out on frameworks) on Thursday.

With love and celebration!

Read the next installment (Part Two of Two) here.

Yep, that happened.

Yep, that happened.

*Note:  I use LGBTQ (Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender/Queer) as shorthand throughout this post to refer to the entire ‘non-straight’ community.  That said, I know this label is not as fully inclusive as it could be and there are a million other letters we could append on the end.  With apologies to those who feel their appropriate letter is not included.