As a teenager, male attention felt terrifying because of the sexual aggression I experienced from boys at school, but if you had a boyfriend, they would mostly leave you alone.
So I thought I needed one to be happy.
At 17, I met my first serious boyfriend; he became controlling and abusive within weeks.
Violence, threats, and isolating me from my family and friends became commonplace, and after a while I became trained how to behave in a certain way, believing as long as I kept in line I’d be kept safe.
My self-esteem was worn down over time, and soon my whole life revolved around making him happy: his job, his friends, his sex drive, even his choice of holiday or what film to watch.
If he felt happy, then at least I could feel like I wasn’t at risk of immediate harm.
After a year or two, I got so used to feeling like I didn’t matter that I lost any sense of what I wanted or what might make me happy.
I had been a clever, fairly popular girl with horribly low self-esteem. I had intense female friendships and idolised female singers, but still didn’t consider that these feelings might indicate something more.
It never occurred to me that I was a lesbian – especially as my relationship was all consuming.
Almost immediately after our daughter was born, he moved us away from my family. I was 24 and 50 miles away from what I knew.
My family were concerned but I was under his control – I didn’t have a choice so I brushed off their comments.
I love being a mum but the experience was so isolating. I left my job in fashion and had no friends nearby, no help and no support.
Two years later my son was born. My children are such a joy, but it’s not a child’s job to make their mother happy. I needed space to be myself.
I had been a clever, fairly popular girl with horribly low self-esteem
One morning, I was up early with the children, then aged one and three, and I started getting period pains. I felt faint and called upstairs to him for help, but he refused to come down because he was having a lie-in.
It was this kind of treatment I look back on now and find quite unbelievable that I accepted.
Roughly four years went by. I was bringing up my children, being treated like a servant and feeling totally numb.
But when I was 31 I met Heather*, whose kids went to the same school as mine.
I thought she was beautiful and magnetic, I couldn’t believe she wanted to be my friend. We just clicked straight away and spent time with each other every day.
I really fell for her. I’d suspected I was bisexual for a while after a few crushes on strangers, but hadn’t told anyone – if my happiness didn’t matter, why would my sexuality? I wasn’t surprised to feel attracted to a woman.
She was a single mother and very nonconformist in the way she dressed and thought about the world – although nothing happened romantically, she opened my eyes to that it was possible to be loved by a woman, even if it wasn’t her.
I remember sitting on her back step looking at the stars one night. I was convinced that one of us would pluck up the courage to make a move and we’d somehow end up together. Fear of rejection stopped me from revealing how I felt about her.
But I’ll never know how she really felt about me. The friendship ended abruptly after three months because of a mental health condition she has, which causes her to push away those closest to her and I was heartbroken; it took me months to recover.
My husband noticed the dramatic change in me, but I did my best to hide it.
I started secretly seeing a therapist and she helped me think about things differently in terms of how I deserved to be treated.
In November 2019 I met my wife through Tinder. It was like coming home
My self-esteem grew: I realised I deserved happiness.
I attempted to talk to my husband about what I had realised in therapy but he became violent. I had to leave in order to keep myself and the children safe in early 2019.
My family helped me escape. I had to make a plan in secret and had a bag of clothes hidden in the car just in case we had to leave in a hurry.
A few months after we separated, I began to think about what I might look for in a partner, and it was a huge relief to realise that I had absolutely zero interest in dating men after considering my own desires. A new concept that meant I could do whatever I liked.
In November 2019 I met my wife through Tinder. It was like coming home. She’s the funniest, most compassionate person, and truly my best friend. We said ‘I love you’ to each other on our sixth date.
After meeting the children a couple of times, she moved in with us when the first lockdown was announced, despite only knowing each other for five months.
In September 2020, I asked her to be my wife, and we got married with the children and a handful of guests that December.
I’m grateful for her every day and feel loved, appreciated and supported. The children are blossoming and it’s beautiful to see their relationship with my wife develop day by day.
I wish I’d known when I was younger that there was no set path I had to follow. My parents are lovely people and I truly think that they would have accepted me just the same if I had come out earlier, a belief that was solidified when I saw how accepting and welcoming they were of my wife
I wish I had time to explore the different possibilities open to me before becoming trapped in that early relationship.
But as a teenager, when I looked around for role models all I saw were straight people. I think if I had seen lesbian representation in media then I would’ve acknowledged my feelings sooner. I’m so glad things are different now.
I can’t change the past, but I can make better choices, one at a time, knowing my happiness truly matters.
*Name has been changed
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