How Dating a Woman Helped Me Love Myself

I’ve been obsessed with love for most of my life. I mark periods of my life with what boy I orbited around then. Sometimes, when showing a friend songs that I love, I can sort them out by which boy I used to get in my feelings while thinking about and listening to that song. Once, in training for my summer job when I was 15, I checked my phone and saw a text from my friend I was fixated on. My manager caught me and asked me to put away my phone, and I giggled nervously and said, “sorry, sorry! it’s just a text from this boy and I, you know.” and she said “Oh, so you’re going to be the boy-crazy one this summer. There always is one.” and she sure wasn’t wrong.

After my relationship with my high school sweetheart fell apart horribly in my freshman year of college, which was largely my fault, I didn’t swear off of love, per se. But I think love swore off me. Despite any efforts I made to ask boys out, I’d get ghosted. I was very alone, romantically and socially, for awhile.This summer, a girl I had met during my freshman year sent flirtatious tweets my way. This went back and forth until she slid into my DMs asking me on a date. We agreed to take my dog for a walk together and then get dinner after. We laid in her bed eating the Denny’s we ordered and watched Steven Universe together while my dog cuddled between us.

For both of us, this is our first relationship with a woman. We’ve both had prior relationships with men, to varying degrees of success. But both of us, constantly, are shocked by how good we are together. We’re always saying, whether it’s in the middle of a date walking around the temple lights or as we’re in the middle of a makeout sesh This is so different from dating a man. This is so much...better.

I’ve realized now, dating a woman, so many pressures I felt existing in the world as a woman melt away. I no longer feel the constant pressure of the male gaze. In my relationships with men, even as we reached a point of comfort together where I could laze around in no makeup and ugly clothes, I  still felt the pressure to perform my womanhood and remain desirable. In social situations with men I dated, there would be an expectation of my femininity by contrast to his masculinity, and a pressure to “prove” how I could be worthy of a man. Now, if this all sounds drastic and dramatic, I understand. But it manifested in small ways. The way I approach my wardrobe dating a woman compared to men is very different. I now feel freedom to dress just as a person that I am, rather than dressing to highlight my desirability. Of course, we all know that women dress for themselves, not for men, but dating a woman has given me the freedom to understand the ways in which I performed my appearance for the sake of the men around me.\Women are trained and taught throughout their whole lives to be highly observant of social cues and behaviors. Men are taught this less so. So dating a woman means dating someone who will understand subtle cues you give off, and anticipate your needs much better. My girlfriend and I are constantly so grateful at the way we are able to understand each other, and the softness we afford each other. So much of the frustration I’d experience dating men, when they’d fully misread or ignore my emotions, is gone.

And in this, I’ve found a version of myself I love so much more than the version I was when I was dating men. I’m less anxious (still anxious, just less) and more open with myself. I am more comfortable in day-to-day moments as I don’t feel the pressure of the male gaze. I’m even able to interact better with men in day-to-day, as I no longer feel a pressure to meet their expectations of what a desirable woman can be. I feel comfortable being a gayer version of myself, and if they don’t appreciate that, I don’t need them. And it’s a delicious feeling.

This isn’t to say all women need to date women, although it’s not a bad idea, but just to say we should all take time to consider our own queerness. To be queer isn’t just to experience same-sex attraction, but it is also to be comfortable outside of gender norms and expectations, which fill our daily experience of life. It is to find a version of yourself that isn’t defined by gender roles. It is to find a truer version of yourself, and it’s goddamn magical.