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Writing about my “modified monogamous” marriage made me curious about how other people’s relationships work (or don’t). To get some insight, I decided to interview a few friends, all representing different levels of partnership. What I discovered was something I already knew: Love is complicated. And weird. And (almost always) worth it. It’s a beautiful mess, and with their stories, I hope to showcase just how true that is.

There was a time when I was positive Kristina Schaefer—herein referred to as KR—would become my sister-in-law. She’d been dating my brother-in-law for a while, and they moved to New York together. It seemed inevitable, despite his weird views on marriage.

But, after four years, they parted amicably because KR came to terms with the fact that she wasn’t bisexual, as she’d thought for the duration of their relationship. The truth of the matter was that she actually identifies as gay—and had been in love with a friend of hers for a while.

KR and her now-wife Kathleen met at work years before she began dating Mike.

There’d been an immediate attraction, but because KR hadn’t been with a woman before, she struggled to identify those feelings. Complicating things a bit was the fact that Kathleen was in the middle of divorcing her husband of 15 years. So, just friends they became.

“I never really was able to let her go emotionally,” KR said. (Which, to me, is a pretty sure sign to pursue someone romantically. As long as that lingering is healthy, anyway.) It was actually Mike’s support that convinced her to give it a shot with Kathleen.

The resulting relationship was swift. After around three months, the pair were engaged—”a year to the day” later, they were married. (And the theme was Harry Potter! Dope nerd queens alert!)

When I asked KR about her history of (mis)understanding her sexuality, she said that she’d been out as bisexual since middle school.

“Looking back now, I can identify girl crushes back to elementary school. But I became aware of it in middle school and would talk about it with friends by high school.”

Existing in this part of the sexuality spectrum lent a hand in KR being extremely picky about her boyfriends. After high school, she never dated anyone she didn’t see as “a contender for marriage. “[I] was always looking at my relationships as wanting something more than casual dating.” What she didn’t yet know was that she wasn’t even attracted to men outside of a cursory acknowledgment of their physical attractiveness. And it wasn’t until she was with a woman physically that things finally clicked in place.

Since being with Kathleen, KR has come to a lot of realizations outside of her sexuality. “I’ve learned what it means to be a partner. [We] both bring strengths and weaknesses to the relationship, but I’ve learned to value my own strengths and put them forward.” More than that, she’s gained the ability to fully put her trust in someone and rely on them.

There are, of course, some bumps in the road. She and Kathleen currently live with Kathleen’s ex-husband, and while they’re all on good terms, she’s found it difficult to live with someone “who knew all of the stories and all of the traditions.” Part of her adjustment strategy was remaking the home they all share to reflect her presence—rearranging furniture, painting walls, etc. What’s more, because Kathleen and her ex (Rob) have two college-aged children, KR had to navigate being seen as a parental figure. Thus, living as a family unit has taken some adjustment.

KR and Kathleen have a strong, foundational love, but it’s not all rose petals.

The way society and their families have reacted to their relationship has been a consistent thorn in their side. Living in Texas, KR says being in a same-sex relationship is sometimes like “living in a fish bowl.” There are people who accept it but still ask who wears the pants. There are those who are a bit ignorant but want to learn and be better. Then, of course, there are the bigots.

Among their families, there’s some hostility on both sides, though not entirely because of their sexuality. On one hand, Kathleen’s aging parents still view her as a child—despite the reversed dynamic, where Kathleen now cares for them—and therefore don’t see KR as a partner who has equal say in the family.

KR’s “more or less supportive” family doesn’t see Kathleen as an equal either. They’re rankled by the fact that Kathleen is 12 years KR’s elder, and when you add in the fact that they don’t see KR as a full adult, it means dealing with some delicate issues. “They have a hard time seeing me equally with my siblings in that I’ve taken different life paths.”

But, barriers and all, KR is immensely happy with where she’s ended up. It seems like having the courage to move to New York—a goal that had driven her for a long time—opened the door to knowing who she is. Now that she’s with Kathleen, she feels a sense of calm and home that had been missing for her whole life. “I don’t feel like I’m trying to find myself anymore; we’re trying to find our way.”

N. Alysha Lewis

N. Alysha Lewis is an editor and blogger with author aspirations whose love can absolutely be bought with french fries.

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