Last year when my mum was in the hospital, I stayed in a nearby hotel that was popular with hospital goers and their families.
The cleaner was lovely and remembered me because I’d been there a few times over the past year.
She would often comment in her thick Eastern European accent, “You’re a very good girl, looking after your mum and dad. God bless. Such a good girl, beautiful girl,” and then walk off through the courtyard outside the rooms, loudly proclaiming, “Very good girl, beautiful girl,” as she disappeared to the next room.
She was one of those warm, motherly types who genuinely cared about how you were coping with a loved one who was unwell.
On the final morning of my last stay, as I was getting ready to go, she popped in to check if it was okay to make up the room. As usual, she asked after my mum and told me how pleased she was that mum was well enough to go home.
It was her next question, which should have been just a simple exchange, that threw my mind into an overthinking spin.
She asked, “Do you have a husband?”
I replied, “Um, pardon me?”—trying to stall for time to work out what I should say, wondering at the same time why I felt I even had to question my response. A million thoughts swirled through my mind in the seconds it took her to repeat, “Do you have a husband?”
She was looking at me, waiting for an answer.
I replied, “Um, no. I don’t.”
She looked at me intently and in her thick accent said, “You don’t worry, darling. There is still time. Yes, still plenty of time to find a husband. Yes, you are a beautiful girl; you will find a husband. It will be okay, yes.”
Then, before I could work out how to tell her I had a partner—that I was in a relationship, that my partner would never be “my husband” because she was a girl, that I did have a husband many years ago, but that ended, that this was my first relationship with someone of the same sex, but that I was in love and she was the one—before I could tell her any of that, she was off, walking back through the courtyard toward the laundry room, loudly proclaiming, “Beautiful girl. No worries; there’s still time. You will find a husband. Such a good girl…”
Since that day, I’ve gone over and over that conversation in my mind.
Why didn’t I just tell her the truth?
Should I have tried to explain?
Did it even matter?
Wasn’t it just a harmless conversation, because in her world that’s what good girls should do—find a husband?
Or was it more than that? Was my reluctance to correct her part of the problem? Was it because my “telling other people” experiences had been difficult? Was I avoiding the explanation and inevitable questions? Or was I simply making more of it than I should?
In reality, I answered the question truthfully: I didn’t have a husband.
But the fact that I struggled and felt guilt for not explaining somehow made me feel uneasy or deceitful.
The little things sometimes seem so big.
So many times in day-to-day life, I’m asked my husband’s name or what my husband does. Prior to being in a same-sex relationship, I didn’t really think about it. I didn’t see the small daily things that crop up, the feeling of having to explain yourself, or of not wanting the other person to feel bad so you skip over it.
The most recent was to an energy company querying plans:
Energy company: “Your name?”
Energy company: “Your husband’s name?”
Me: “Kerryn. And she’s not my husband; she’s my partner.”
Energy company: “Oh, um, oh, okay, oh…we’re all good with that, no problems, yep, um—okay then.”
A little awkward, but it was honest.
When I first told others about my relationship, the responses were varied. Overwhelmingly, most people were great. Some weren’t, and some are no longer my friends.
Maybe it’s because of this I struggled when the lovely cleaner asked me if I had a husband. All those comments came flooding back—the confusion, the questions, the skeptical looks, the whispers behind my back.
Our minds are so powerful, and as much as I try to be positive, to ignore the naysayers and just live my life, it sometimes takes just one little thing to pull me straight back.
Maybe my answer should just have been:
“No, I don’t have a husband. All my prior relationships have been with someone of the opposite sex, but four years ago I fell in love with a girl. I don’t want or need a husband, because now I have everything I have ever wanted and needed.”
Maybe that’s all it would take.
Yes, it might be uncomfortable at times. Yes, it might take explaining more than I’d like. But maybe, over time, it’ll become easier, for everyone.
Maybe a simple question won’t stir up a whirlwind of emotions. It’ll just be a simple question, with a simple answer.
That’s my hope.