Don’t Call Me Your “Girlfriend”
The general plan for my semester abroad in Italy was to lope around as a free woman and shave my armpits only when absolutely necessary. I met a few cute girls on my program but I assumed they were all straight, and the guys were either gay or annoying. It didn’t matter: I was a strong, independent woman abroad.
Then one of the aforementioned cute girls and I decided to go to Florence. I had actually asked our whole group of friends if they wanted to go and she, a little drunk on strawberry coladas, was the only one to volunteer.
We saw Ponte Vecchio, ate some strawberries with whipped cream, and bought a postcard with David’s penis on it. She told me she was bi at dinner so I ordered more wine. Funny that for a city famous for its male genitalia, there was none involved that night when we were making out in our hotel room.
The next morning dawned too cold and as we walked around the city, all of the tension, romantic and otherwise, that had been building the day before dissipated as the questions started: Did she want more? Did she want to start holding my hand and kissing me on train platforms? Was this the beginning of Our Story, or was it just a funny addendum to the Italy chapter of my life?
A relationship felt like an entrapment and I wanted nothing to do with it. I’d been single for about a year and had been enjoying it immensely. I loved the freedom and independence, the possibility and not feeling tied down to anyone. I could do what I wanted and I didn’t have to answer to anyone like I had during the two years previous when I’d been dating my ex-boyfriend.
I was terrified she would want me to be her girlfriend, so I ran. We hopped on an earlier train home and didn’t talk much for a week. I avoided her eye at a poetry reading we went to together (where I’d considered writing and performing a poem about one-night trysts but decided not to). We went to the grocery store and I refused to stand within three feet of her. The awkwardness came to a boil and I couldn’t stand the heat anymore so finally I messaged her and told her that I had absolutely no idea what I wanted but that I was against a relationship.
She said that was fine and she’d do whatever I wanted to do, and I suggested we just “see what happens.”
That’s what we spent the next two months doing. We took more trips together, seeing the Amalfi Coast and Cinque Terre; we cooked dinner together a lot, this time holding hands at the grocery and arguing about which frozen chicken looked more sketchy; we watched all of season 2 of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt in my bed one weekend. We consumed a lot of wine and spent a lot of time making out.
By the time our semester was over and it was time to head back to America, we realized that we couldn’t stand the thought of just forgetting all of this. We decided to officially call ourselves girlfriends because, at that point, it would change nothing.
Those two months without labels were filled with dates and laughs and kisses. We did everything two people who were officially a “couple” might do, but there was no obligation involved. In my first relationship, we decided to be boyfriend and girlfriend on our first date; in fact, I wouldn’t make out with him until he said that we were “together”. With her, it was different.
We spent two months actively choosing each other. There were no labels holding us to each other or keeping us away from anyone else. There were no rules dictating that we had to Hold Hands A Lot or Send a Good Morning Text or other Relationship Things. We just did them because we wanted to. We saw each other when we wanted to, we didn’t when we didn’t.
Now I’m proud to call her my girlfriend. She celebrates my independence and I celebrate hers. We give each other the freedom to be who we are and do what we want; but every day we start the day with a good morning text and a little doodle, and every night I call her on the phone to say goodnight. We watch The L Word together and send memes we hate back and forth. We reblog each other’s selfies on tumblr and send gross snapchats that disappear in two seconds. We do those things because we want to, not because we have to.
Giving the relationship time to develop naturally without calling it a relationship was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. It kept me from feeling trapped. I had room to breathe and to realize that I wasn’t just with her because I felt an obligation to be or because it was the path of least resistance. It gave me time to fall in love with her not because I felt I had to, but because I couldn’t help it.