Seventeen years ago today, in the summer of ’93, I went looking for myself. I had spent the first two decades or so of my life trying to be the perfect daughter, the smart one, the girl looking for a boyfriend/husband because that is what was expected. There were moments along the way when I glimpsed the true me, but what I saw was so unfamiliar, so scary, that I retreated into what was safe and comfortable. But there came a time when the “safe” was no longer comfortable.
I had dated a guy for about 2 years while in college, but after he broke up with me in our Junior year, I avoided romantic relationships for a long time. In the summer of ’86, after college graduation, I found myself attracted to a fellow counselor at the camp where I had spent 11 summers. I didn’t say anything to her or to anyone – I figured it was just a phase, a delayed reaction to having my heart broken by a guy. At the end of the summer, we went our separate ways and I later heard she had gotten married.
A few years later, I met another woman and had a similar reaction. We got to be friends when we shared a house one summer, and reconnected the following spring when she was back in the area staying with family. We became very close – she was going through a difficult time and I did my best to be there when she needed a friend. Although there wasn’t a physical part to our relationship, there were times when I thought perhaps that would happen. I was more in tune with my feelings, but again, didn’t say anything.
She moved to Texas, but we stayed in touch. A couple years went by. I went to visit her in Houston and realized I was still very attracted to her. I spent the better part of the few days I was there trying to decide how to express that to her. I think she sensed it because it seemed that she did everything she could to keep us from being alone together. When I finally did get up the nerve, the day I was leaving, she let me know in no uncertain terms that she didn’t return the feelings. We kept in touch by mail for a while, but we have never again seen each other.
At this point, though, I was still missing my ex-boyfriend, so I was sure that I wasn’t gay – maybe bisexual, but definitely not a lesbian. To convince myself of this, I signed up with a dating service. This was in the days before eHarmony, so I had to go into a small room, fill out an extensive questionnaire and make a video introducing myself. Then I got to page through binders of information and view videos of men I thought I might want to meet. All in all, I spent over $1000 and went on a total of 3 dates.
The last of those dates ended with more physical contact than I had intended and I realized that I was wasting my money – I just wasn’t attracted to men physically. My next step was to put a personal ad in a local paper under the category of Women Seeking Women. My ad began “Bi-curious woman seeking…” because I was still convinced that I was just curious – I wanted to figure out where my feelings were coming from. I went on one date with a woman, but the idea that it might lead somewhere was still too scary for me, so I pulled back into myself, giving all of my energy to my job and convincing myself that it was enough and that it was okay to be alone.
Over the course of these years in my mid-twenties, I felt more and more unsure of who I was. It felt like I was sleepwalking through my life without knowing what was going on around me. I felt unconnected to everyone, especially myself, but couldn’t seem to put my feelings into words. I was adopted as an infant and thought perhaps my feelings of restlessness were a result of needing a connection to my past. So I planned a trip back to Prince Edward Island, where I had been adopted almost 29 years before.
I went on this journey to find something — a connection, a sense of belonging, a sense of myself. I went to find me. I wasn’t sure if that search would include looking for birth parents, but I knew I wanted to stand on the island and see if I could sense where I had come from, see if that gave me the feeling of completion that I was seeking.
The trip began in Virginia and included stops in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New Hampshire and Maine, attending a wedding and visiting friends and family along the way. Nine days after starting off on this journey, I arrived on PEI. I enjoyed my time there, seeing the sights, driving around the western half of the island, and visiting with the nun who had facilitated my adoption. She let me know that if I was interested in pursuing a search, the agency would work with me. I wasn’t ready to take on that emotional challenge, but it was good to know that there were options available to me. When I left the island, I felt a little more sure of myself. For one thing, I had accomplished this adventure all by myself. For another, I was bringing home a hand-made quilt that I could imagine might have been made by a relative. And I had seen the beauty of the land of my birth. I was ready to head home.