I am not a "gold star" gay (Google it, Mom). Far from it. I have dated my share of strong, intelligent, beautiful — and admittedly naïve — women. And those relationships taught me a lot about myself and in some ways inspired me to become the man — and father — I am today. And so I figured it was time to give credit where credit's due, by thanking these wonderful girls who taught me so much about love, compassion and the importance of staying true to myself.
But first, a little backstory.
Way before I knew I was gay, I knew I wanted to be a father. I assumed I'd meet a girl, get married, have a child and then get divorced. You know, the American dream. Okay, maybe it wasn't the fairytale ending, but it was the typical trajectory for the couples I grew up around. It was the eighties — video games, camcorders, splatter paint, MTV and divorce seemed to be a part of everyone's lives.
I dated girls all throughout high school and college (I swear). It was partly because it was what was expected of me. But also, I think I was laying the groundwork to one day reach my goal of becoming a father. And while I definitely enjoyed these relationships, part of me found solace in the fact that I was with a lot of girls, as if it somehow proved to myself — and everyone around me how not gay I was (and boy, was I gay!).
Years later, even when I knew I might be gay, I still thought the only way to have a child was to get married to a woman. This was long before there was positive examples of gay parents in the media… when Neil Patrick Harris was just a pre-pubescent doctor, not yet a doting Dad.
It wasn't until a year or two after college, when I was dating a wonderful girl that I started to actually imagine getting married and having a child. But even then, I knew deep down inside the marriage would end soon after our child was born. It was then that I finally realized I needed to get to the root of my internal struggle.
And so with a mix of therapy, a lot of Radiohead and repeated marathon viewings of Real World New Orleans with the dreamy Danny Roberts, I finally figured it out… and started to accept that the reason I assumed divorce with a woman was inevitable was because of the fact that I was indeed gay. And I realized no woman would want to stay married to a closeted gay man (I'm talking to you, Kelly Preston!).
One thing's for sure, though — all those years of dating women did not go to waste. It was those meaningful and eye-opening relationships that helped teach me important lessons that stayed with me throughout my life.
But before I share those lessons with you — and show these girls my utmost gratitude — I must first apologize.
To all the girls I loved before, I'm sorry. Sorry that I was unable to give you 100% authenticity. Sorry I was so obsessed with what others thought of me. Sorry that at times I had you questioning if you were good enough. Sorry I made you change your outfit that many times... and made you do your hair like Whitney. And last but not least, sorry you caught me checking out your brother's ass. Just kidding… ish.
Please know that our relationship, whether it was four weeks or four years, was not a sham or ruse. I choose you to be with. And I loved being with you. I have amazing memories of our time together. You were never a ploy, a guinea pig or something I settled for. As unsure as I was about myself back then, the one thing I know in my heart is that each and every one of you, for different reasons, played a significant role in my life story. You have to live the life you were meant to live, to experience new experiences, to embrace people you were meant to embrace, so that one day you'll finally have the courage and confidence to discover and accept your true, authentic self.
And without all of you in my life, that wouldn't have been possible. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Okay, now that I got that off my chest… here are just a few of the insightful lessons these wonderful women left me with:
BEING SENSITIVE IS MORE A PRO, THAN A CON
I was always embarrassed that I was so sensitive. While society viewed this as weak, the girls I dated told me it was the reason they were with me. They said it's what set me apart from all the other guys. They saw a correlation between sensitivity and creativity. They liked that I naturally sought outlets to express myself, often through art, writing and music. It's true, us sensitive guys see the world through a unique lens; we're able to tell a creative, interesting story through different art forms. Apparently girls find artsy, introspective guys sexy. And as I learned later in life, some boys do too.
MEN CAN BE NURTURING TOO
Women are known to be better suited for nurturing. And I've had girlfriends that were incredibly nurturing to me when I was dealing with an ulcer during my teen years. I watched how they looked after me. And it stuck. The way they'd try to make me feel safe and protected is the way I try to make my son, Max, feel when he needs to be nurtured. Whether it's a stomachache, a scratch or a nightmare, I always want Max to feel safe and taken cared of. And so while I learned some of the tools by watching my girlfriends through the years, what I realized is that being nurturing isn't a boy thing or a girl thing. It's a human thing. We all share the same potential. Men and women cast into unfamiliar roles prove over and over that our limitations are self-imposed. Every challenge is an opportunity to find out what we're made of. Being a father has taught me this.
COMMUNICATION IS KEY
When it came to relationships, I used to be very introverted. Like many men, I wasn't very good at communicating how I was feeling inside. But that didn't fly with the ladies. They showed me the importance of keeping the channels of communication open. And once I felt comfortable speaking up… I was able to uncover the areas in need of attention before they were irreparable. So pay attention to what your partner is saying. Look for those subtle micro-expressions that speak volumes. Tell each other your secrets and ask the questions you may not want to know the answers to, like "Do you think I'm gay?" You'd be surprised what he/she might say. Spoiler alert: She said yes.
OPPOSITES DON'T REALLY ATTACT
Sorry Paula Abdul fans, girlfriend lied to us all. When it comes to creating genuine, long-lasting relationships, I learned that people with similar personalities and interests are happier in their relationships. Well, at least I am. I think that's why I had such strong connections with the girls I dated. We had lots of the important stuff in common and generally liked the same things — you know, music, movies, six-packs, boys…
FRIENDSHIP IS THE GLUE
Friendship is the foundation on which the best romantic relationships grow. Anyone can have romantic feelings towards someone they have just met; that doesn't mean much on its own. All my girlfriends started out as close friends — for me, it was about building a deeper mental connection with one another. When you base your relationships on friendship, you are saying, "You mean more to me than merely an attraction to one another." A good friend gets you. They make you happy. And they can handle your good and bad sides. And lord knows I've got plenty of them (just ask Alex).
APPEARANCE SAYS A LOT — BUT IT DOESN'T SAY EVERYTHING
Time for some real talk. As a teenager, I had major body image issues. I was too skinny. Too this. Too that. And I became obsessed with portraying myself in a certain light. My clothes… my hair… my skin… all had to be perfect. Part of that was normal behavior for an insecure kid in High School. Eventually, though, I found myself in a relationship with a girl who liked how I presented myself physically, but she explained that it was actually my love of words that kept her engaged. Seriously… she liked my use of vocabulary and my love for literature and writing. But the thing she found most satisfying was my HUGE… heart. She said it's what made her want to stay with me. It was my first real relationship that someone truly loved me for who I was, not who I was trying to be. And so as I got older, I put less emphasis on the physical, because, trust me, eventually that all falls to shit (#dadbod). So start loving yourself for everything inside of you, and you'll be able to find someone else who does as well.
WHEN PEOPLE SHOW YOU WHO THEY ARE, BELIEVE THEM
I was the kind of kid that would give people many chances to prove themselves. And because of that I'd find myself repeatedly hurt or disappointed by the same people. I had a girlfriend during college — and she'd notice my tendency to only see the best in people, even those who proved time and time again they didn't deserve my friendship. One day — I'll never forget — she said "Dave, when people show you who they are, believe them the first time." It was a Maya Angelou quote and it really stuck with me... even to this day. People are who they are and no matter how much you like to see the best in people, believe them when they show you their true colors.
So there you have it. Seven lessons from some incredibly admirable women.
Oh wait, I almost forgot; there's one more beautiful and talented woman from my past who taught me the most important lesson of all…
LEARN TO LOVE YOURSELF
She taught me that learning to love yourself is the greatest love of all. I know, it sounds corny as hell, but let Whitney's words sink in for a moment: LEARNING TO LOVE YOURSELF IS THE GREATEST LOVE OF ALL. It seems pretty simple, but it's actually quite profound. And it's something that I always strive to teach my son, Max. Because if you don't respect, value and love yourself, how in the hell you gonna respect, value and love somebody else?
Can I get an Amen!