At the beginning of 2020, I gave myself an ultimatum: if I didn’t hit a significant accomplishment with writing, I would give up. I was turning 30, and I felt like it meant I needed to get real about my aspirations. So, if the year ended without a sign that I should keep trying, I was done.
My husband said that counted as a sign, but I wasn’t sure. Was it a sign or a fluke? I’d act like it was the former for a while, but if I didn’t hit a new milestone, the ultimatum was still in effect. Because while writing has been my dream since I was in kindergarten, I’m not interested in wasting time. And continually pursuing something that’s so subjective, something where success isn’t guaranteed, was starting to feel like a big waste of time.
Talk about a sign, am I right? And while I was able to keep writing for a bit, it got harder and harder. I had fewer ideas as the months went on. By the start of 2021, I’d resigned myself to the idea that I’d never write again. Which was sad, but what could I do? I was so fucking exhausted, and the thought of having to pitch and suffer rejection or having to meet a deadline was too much.
But, even though I stopped writing, life kept sending me a bunch of situations that I definitely could’ve written about.
At the end of 2019, I was finally ready to admit that my heterosexuality was . . . nonexistent. Looking back now, there were so many signs throughout my life, but my suspicions truly started in 2017, when I saw the first trailer for Thor: Ragnarok and thought “Wow. Cate Blanchett as Fresh-From-Exile Hela is hot as fuck.” And then Cate Blanchett in 2018’s Ocean’s 8, just radiating queer energy and sexual chemistry with Sandra Bullock, hit even harder. (For months after, I thought, “If I ever write about this, it’s gonna start with ‘This is all Cate Blanchett’s fault.'”)
I wasn’t fully sure if I was bisexual, so I decided to try out heteroflexible. It fit for a while. But in December 2019, during a conversation with my bestie, I said that if I had fewer sexual hangups, I’d be more actively bisexual.
And then I started crying.
So, yeah. Straight Nicole was an illusion, and I just needed two undeniably fabulous fictional characters to make it disappear. I modulate between identifying as bi and identifying as queer. And that feels good. It’s not uncomplicated, obviously. But it’s good.
Okay, so I’m here and I’m queer. But I’m also married to a man. Now what?
Sure, Lawrence and I had long said that our version of monogamy was modifiable. But that was theoretical. This was me proposing to make it a reality. I was scared that he’d be mad. And when he wasn’t, I was freaked out about the prospect of dating again. I’ve been with Lawrence since I was 19. I don’t know how dating works at all! Like, apps, right? Especially because it was now 2020, and COVID was intent on making it impossible to just meet someone out in the wild, the way I’d met Lawrence.
But what if no one was interested in a newly out married woman who wanted kids? I felt like my profile screamed unicorn hunter—as if I needed the pressure of Lawrence’s involvement with my potential partner! However, I managed to meet someone who believed me when I said that she only needed to get along with him, not get it on.
It didn’t work out. She was my first Sapphic kiss, though, so I guess that’s something.
After that, I was like, “So, that was my one chance, right?” And Lawrence was like, “I think you’re being overly dramatic, but that’s your decision.” He was right about the dramatics. So, a few months passed, and I decided I was ready to try again. I’ve had some starts and stops, but I’m currently in the beginnings of a courtship with someone delightful. We’ll see how it goes.
I won’t get into all the specifics, but:
I lost three family members during the pandemic (but not to COVID).
I have weekly video chats with my parents (separately, since they’re divorced) and sister, and that has pros and cons.
I’m only out to two people in my family, and only one of them (until now, I guess) knows that I’m dating.
By mid-2020, I decided I was done with white men.
I’d struck up a months-long text friendship with a guy named Drew, and it got really fucking weird. He was as embarrassingly white and aggressively heterosexual as a white man can be without being a conservative. He was obviously developing feelings that I didn’t reciprocate, and he kept campaigning to be my backup husband. (Blech.) His own body image issues led to a lot of fatphobic comments and an odd obsession with proving that I enjoyed working out. (I really, really don’t.) We had two major fights where I stopped talking to him for a while. After the second fight, I was really unsure that I wanted to stay friends at all. But I thought I’d give him a last chance.
He fucked it up days later. And I was completely done.
After that debacle—and after cutting loose another text friend who told me to “Put it back in the deck” when I said that the character of Captain America was 100 percent not written to appeal to me as a Black woman—I made a rule. “No new white men, unless they are thoroughly vetted by a woman I trust.”
And I gotta say. It’s working out pretty well.
It’s quite amusing to me that, right after I decided I was done with white men, my ex-boyfriend Johnathan reappeared. We’d been good friends before we dated in high school, and then things got messy as hell when I went to college. I’d always cherished our friendship though, so whenever he would periodically reach out over the years, I’d think, “Okay, if he’s willing to put in the effort, I’ll happily bring him back into the fold.” However, he was never in the best place to sustain things for longer than a few days. So, when he popped up again post-Drew, I was honestly wary.
But lo and behold: he has stuck around. We talked daily for months and even had a little bit of closure regarding our breakup. (Some things remain unsaid, but it’s such ancient history at this point that I don’t really care.) Things have slowed down a bit because he’s got a serious girlfriend now, but I certainly consider him one of my closest friends again.
Almost simultaneously—because that’s how it’s always been with these two—I was finding a new groove with my friend Matt. I’ve known Matt since we were 15, though it’s always been an online relationship because we’ve never lived in the same state. I had the world’s biggest crush on him, but since he was hard to read and lived about 1,000 miles away, I put my focus on dating Johnathan. Except I wasn’t, uh, as focused as I should’ve been. (Sorry, J.) Things with Matt have always been on and off and vaguely inappropriate, though in the early years of my relationship with Lawrence, I can honestly say that our relationship was a normal, if quiet, friendship.
Over the years, we admitted to the feelings we’d had for each other. Then, after knowing each other for literally half our lives, we finally started texting in October 2021. And things got interesting real fast. And then they got complicated even faster. I won’t tell the full story here, but the TL;DR is that Big Feels have entered the chat, and we’re trying to figure out what that means (if it can even mean anything).
I will say that this isn’t what I thought would happen when Lawrence and I decided to become ENM.
Because everything has been terrible for the past two years, and because I wasn’t writing, I needed another outlet. And it came in the forms of Hamilton, A Black Lady Sketch Show, and Bo Burnham’s special Inside.
For months after the musical’s release on Disney+, I was only listening to the Hamilton soundtrack. It consumed me and my inner choir kid. I was determined to rap “Guns and Ships” flawlessly, and Hamilton became the go-to viewing selection for “Let’s get drunk” nights. (Though that was Lawrence’s decision.) While I’ve moved on to other all-consuming albums, this is still a top choice for me.
Then came A Black Lady Sketch Show. When it was first announced in 2019, I was definitely curious. But its release coincided with Lawrence and I ditching HBO, so I couldn’t watch it. And thus I forgot about it. Then, I was reminded of it at the beginning of 2021 and thought, “Well, hey, we’ve got HBO Max now. Let’s check this out.”
I. Was. LIVING. for this show. It was somehow the exact thing that I needed at a time when I was giving up on white people and the need to water down my Blackness for them. But more than that, I loved that ABLSS was promoting different kinds of Blackness. I honestly can’t even describe what this show has meant to me. All I can say is that it was and is perfect, and I will put it on whenever I need to laugh or just exist in my Blackness without explanation. In fact, I’m making an addendum to my “No white men” rule: I’m not making any new white friends who can’t understand why this show is brilliant. They don’t have to understand every single reference or vibe. How could they? But if they can’t get with it at all, then I ain’t fuckin’ with ’em.
Finally, Inside. I’d liked Bo Burnham before, but it had been so long since I’d watched his other specials that, when this one came out, I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about it. But holy fuck. That man NAILED IT. Equal parts ridiculous and poignant, all wrapped in “This is how the pandemic has impacted my existing depression and anxiety,” Inside really spoke to me as someone who stopped creating. I listened to the album version so much that it was my top listen on Spotify in 2021. I get that, for some people, it may be a little too heavy in some parts or too light in others. But it strikes the perfect balance for me. And while I won’t say it’s a direct influence, I can say that it’s partially why I’m here today, making you some content.
Let’s see if I can keep it up.