I started the new relationship all wrong.
When my partner of 14 years abruptly left, everyone recommended time. Books, my therapist, friends. Almost everyone I talked to about what had happened — and what might come next — insisted that I avoid any impulsive decisions. I’d just suffered a horrible loss. A death, even if that was only true in the abstract sense.
“I took a year before I started dating anyone again” seemed to be a common refrain. I couldn’t blame them. I didn’t fully perceive the wounds I now carried, nor the ones that had been there through so much of my marriage.
From the outside, what happened was simple. My core relationship died. There was a couple. Now there was none. But that stark, piercing fact didn’t tell me anything about the rest of my life. What I should do. I needed time to find a new place and move out. I needed time to determine whether I could make a living on my own. Most of all, I needed time to give myself a chance to grow.
I knew all those things. And yet there I was, just weeks later, making out with someone I barely knew at a hotel bar.
On an early December night in 2018, in the midst of the world’s largest furry convention, I walked to the bar with a casual friend.
We’d met the year before, at the same convention. She read one of my dinosaur books, and I was happy to meet another fossil fan. She asked me to go get a drink, but I was too worn out from working the table that year. When she came back the next year, I had to jump at a chance to chat that I had squandered.
The plan was to talk fossils over cocktails for a bit. Instead, I wasn’t halfway through my first Long Island iced tea of the night before everything came spilling out. How my wife had just left me for someone else. How I was there working the convention with my poly girlfriend, despite recent strain on that relationship. How I just came out as transgender the week before, the blue floral corset I was wearing over my button-down shirt standing as an approximation of the curves I wanted to have myself someday.
My friend listened. Then she said “Can I share something?” I practically yelped “Yes, please!” She was brilliant, charming, funny, and kind. I was a little shocked she hadn’t bolted from the table after everything I said. I desperately wanted to know what she had to share.
We hadn’t been living the same life, but we shared far more in common than a love of old, dead, toothy creatures. The first time we met, unbeknownst to each other, we were unhappily married. The second time, we both wore fresh wounds from neglect, abuse, and betrayal.
We talked our way through two more Long Islands each before we lost track of time making out at the bar.
I half expected that she wouldn’t want to talk to me the next day. But we still met up, hugged goodbye at the end of the con, and started talking to each other through the days that followed. The days when I found a new place, moved out, and came as close as I ever have to hitting the reset button on my life.
I wanted to see her again.
What I thought of as the logical part of my self told me I was being stupid. We were starting to get to know each other better text by text, from almost an entire country apart, but we’d spent less than four hours together. I was wounded from my separation, and, though I was confused as to why, I know my girlfriend wasn’t keen on my seeing someone new. Was this really the time to start a new relationship? On paper, my life was a mess.
Looked at one way, my friend and I fell for each other under extremely challenging circumstances. We lived a five-hour flight apart. I returned home from the convention to move out and pick up the fragments of my life. And I wasn’t the man she first met, but a lady-to-be. If I said I was running away to join the circus, it wouldn’t have made things much more complicated than they were.
But logic is of little use in romance. We had something, a little spark. It could have been ephemeral. We could have comforted each other for a few hours, changed our minds, and gone in different directions. We didn’t. She continued to be brilliant, charming, and gorgeous. When I wasn’t talking to her, I was thinking of when we might talk again. We both had some painful mornings because of how much time we let slip into late nights. The more I shared with her, the more warmth I found. This was the kind of relationship I’d always wanted, but had been missing.
I asked if she’d come visit me. I’d take care of the airfare and expenses. All she had to do was come. I wanted to spend a weekend, just the two of us, so we could have some proper dates.
My bed felt like a looming presence as I weighed the question. I worried that she’d say “No”, as if I were flying her out just to get in the sack. I bought a new blanket and pillows. I tried to be clear from the outset. I wouldn’t be offended if she wanted to sleep on the couch, I said. I just wanted some more time, however we wanted to spend it. If she wanted to stay at a hotel, that’d be great, too. Whatever we had to do to make the trip work.
She didn’t hesitate. She said yes.
When she arrived, a few weeks later, we went from airport to pizza parlor to my apartment, not taking any further detours on the way to the bedroom. I slept more happily than I had in years. I still flip through the memories of that weekend as if each moment was a year rich in detail.
There was still turbulence to deal with. While my existing poly partner pursued her own relationships, she didn’t take kindly to my new connection. Three months later, she abruptly ended our relationship. Dating long distance created new challenges, too. I tried to take advantage of traveling for conferences and business, looping my new girlfriend in as much as I could, but we still only got about 48 hours of time together every month. We knew we had to move in together soon or our relationship wouldn’t last. And we had both been hurt so badly — we didn’t want to waste each other’s time if we didn’t see a future.
Now, when I wake up in the mornings, I hold her close. If I drift away in the night, I slide over to put my arm around her waist and press my breasts against her back. Sometimes we switch roles. It’s my favorite feeling, huddled close, the entire world framed by the feel of her skin and the sound of her breathing.
I can’t say what would have happened if I’d kept quiet on that fateful December night, or if we hadn’t kissed. Maybe we would have awkwardly gone home, tweeting at each other now and then as we pursued different paths. Perhaps we would have been drawn closer, anyway. There are more possibilities than I can map or comprehend. I could have been hit by a bus on my way back to my hotel for all I know.
All I can say is that I listened to myself. For the first time, I thought “What do I want?” I didn’t think about what would keep me out of trouble or would make other people happy. I went by instinct, listening to what I felt instead of the endless list of shoulds and coulds that kept me chained up for so long.
I used to frame it as “It’s ok to make mistakes.” I had tried for so long to be a good man, a good husband, a good person, that I cared more for expectations than what I wanted my life to be. I was easy to manipulate, and easy to neglect. I’d take anything. I had to give myself permission to screw up and do the unexpected so long as that’s what I wanted to do. That was more important that might have looked sensible to anyone else.
I shared that sentiment with my new girlfriend, early in our relationship. She had a helpful edit. “It’s okay to take chances,” she said with a smile. It is. It’s okay to take chances so long as we’re willing to learn from them. I knew I was ready. I had no idea what the outcome would be on that night, or that I’d be waking up with a wonderful partner every day. All I knew was that I had to take a chance. It was a chance to take my life back, and to share it with someone who was ready to take a chance on me.