Ever since college, when I slowly came to grips with my bisexual identity, I have had a fear in the back of my mind. In every relationship, a little voice has always been there, questioning, "If you commit to one gender, won't you miss the other genders?" I have feared that having the capacity to love people from across the gender spectrum and the desire to be monogamous in my relationships would mean that I would also ultimately be unhappy in one way or another. At some point I'd like to pledge my life in partnership to another person, to start a family, but that would mean deciding to commit to one person of one gender identity for the rest of my life. Such a permanent prospect is terrifying in so many ways.
When I first came out as bisexual, it was my mother who had the most difficult time accepting this reality. I remember being in the kitchen with her the day after Thanksgiving during my junior year of college and saying, "Mom, I met someone. Her name is Sara." Having dated only boys prior to my first girlfriend, I figured that my bisexual identity was implied in that statement, and that instead of coming out and proclaiming that identity, simply telling her the name of the person I was dating would suffice.
My mother's eyes grew wide, and without a word, she turned around and walked out of the kitchen. Conversation over.
I didn't bring up the issue again for several months. When I did, my mom stayed put, and instead of being silent, she told me that she thought I was going through a "phase," a term that I would hear from her countless more times over the years.
I went on to date more people: cisgender females, cisgender males, genderqueer-identified people, transgender people. During the latter half of my senior year in college, I fell in love with a girl almost three years younger than I. I graduated and went right into the Peace Corps. I left for Malawi with a promise to write to her every single day.
I kept my promise -- and never got a single reply. The lack of support from the girl I loved, along with several other factors, meant that my time in the Peace Corps had to be cut short, and I came back to the U.S. I was dumped right after I got back to my parents' home, learning that I had been cheated on multiple times over as I wrote those heartfelt letters a world away. As I collapsed onto the floor of my childhood bedroom, my mom came to comfort me.
"There are plenty of fish in the sea," she told me, rubbing my back as I sobbed. "Both men and women."
Hearing those words coming from her meant more to me than she probably knew. Knowing that my mother was starting to accept my sexuality was the silver lining of that breakup, of all of the broken hearts I had nursed up to that point. Her words of wisdom and advice would only become more accepting and apropos as my dating life continued.
It was four and a half years ago, at a time in my life when I wasn't dating, that I randomly reunited with my high school sweetheart. I was leaving the newspaper I had been reporting for to take an internship at the United Nations as he was taking a job at the paper I was vacating. We met up again at a going-away party after a long absence from each other's lives. Over drinks, we talked the night away, laughing at each other's jokes and filling one another in on what we had been up to as of late. When the party ended, we went back to my place so that we could talk more.
We officially started to date again a month after our reunion. Eight months later we moved across the country to see what the West Coast held for us. A year after initially settling in the L.A. area, I started to question our relationship -- or, more accurately, my bisexuality and what I was missing, if anything, in our relationship.
That voice started to rear up in my head once more: "If you commit to one gender, won't you miss the other genders? If you commit to him and are never with a woman again, will you be missing out on an important aspect of life, an aspect of yourself that you value?"
As a bisexual activist, I have spoken at college campuses, PFLAG meetings and conferences from the East Coast to the West Coast and back. I have told teenagers coming to grips with their own identities that bisexuality is a beautiful thing, that having the capacity to love others regardless of sex or gender is a gift. As I have spoken out against the stereotypes that bisexuals are sex-crazed, greedy and incapable of monogamy, internally I have wondered if that last cliché might, in some small way, be true, at least for me.
When I was dating one girl in college, still unsure about who I was, I hooked up with a male childhood friend, needing to know if I was going through the "phase" that my mother spoke of and thinking that one hookup would hold the answers I desperately needed. It didn't, and a phase it was not. I hated myself for my indiscretion, but I also knew that the incident did not make me a "cheater," merely a lost and confused girl still trying to figure out who she was. Believing that being bisexual makes me incapable of being in a monogamous relationship is a self-defeating thought that I have worked hard for many years to overcome.
Considering my current relationship and where it is likely leading after going on five years together, I needed to reroute my thinking on this subject. Surprisingly, the ultimate advice I needed came from the one person who, at the beginning of my sexual journey, was the least likely to understand.
It has been my mother, above all others, who has made me realize that regardless of whether one is gay, straight, bisexual or of any other sexual identity on the vast spectrum, when it comes to love, it is about the individual. With many relationships come and gone, my mom has helped me realize one overarching fact: that regardless of my sexual identity, finding love doesn't mean that I no longer have the capacity to be attracted to anyone else; it just means that I want to be with my chosen significant other more than anyone else.
It also doesn't mean that I stop being bisexual.
A version of this blog post originally appeared in Bi Magazine.