Many people asked “Why Now?” to my article last month, here is the answer to that.
Maria Bello: Partnerships, Love and Conversations, to Be Continued
By MARIA BELLO
Many people have asked me that question after reading my Modern Love column, “When None, and All, of the Categories Fit,” in the Dec. 1 issue of The New York Times Sunday Styles section. Why did I decide to share my ideas on the meaning of partnerships and their labels at this time in my life? And why share my personal story so publicly?
This past summer I thought I was going to die. Unknown to me, a parasite had invaded my body during my time in Haiti and begun eating away at me from the inside. As I struggled in the hospital to stay alive, I learned that waiting to do something isn’t always an option. In a moment, everything could end, and my stories would be lost — stories of love, partners, miracles and madness that filled hundreds of notebooks beneath my bed.
Mostly, though, I wanted my 12-year-old son to be proud of his family and not think that our story was something to be ashamed of or was so unusual that we were the only ones living this way. And Clare is the one who taught me about being a “whatever,” as she has always lived her life like this. She would never label herself, though she has been in relationships with men and women.
As I saw the thousands of blog posts, tweets, emails, letters and media articles, I realized that there are many more “modern families” than I had thought. Which means that there is a new conversation to be had — and not only by my son and me. A lot of people are having different experiences of partnership and aren’t sure how to celebrate (or even what to call) these different kinds of love.
Echoing the thoughts of many, one person wrote to me: “I’ve been feeling ‘whatever’ and I didn’t know what to call it. I’m a whatever too.” Another said: “Being a divorced mom I sometimes don’t know where my life fits, and your story brought to light that everything doesn’t always have to be black and white. There can be ex-husbands who are still partners in our and our children’s lives, friends who could be lovers — whatever it is.”
As I type this, I’m enjoying the aftermath of a pre-Christmas dinner party attended by many of my life partners. We have a gigantic tree with no ornaments anywhere near the top because it’s so big, no one can reach that high. My romantic partner and best friend, Clare, and son, Jackson, thought it was perfect for our house. My ex, Dan, and I disagreed.
After the great guys from the Delancey Street Foundation (a national organization that turns around the lives of addicts and convicts) sawed off the top, the tree fit perfectly in our living room, even though the top was still out of reach. After they got it set up, we all sang a bad rendition of “O Christmas Tree” beneath its branches.
Here we were — bi, tri, gay, lesbian, addict, con, Egyptian, American, mother, son and daughter (and whatever other label you want to put on us) — all singing the same song.
The three guys from Delancey Street, who struck me as a modern version of the Three Wise Men, shared their stories with me, just as so many others had all week long. “We’re each other’s family,” they said.
For two weeks I have been immersed in stories that were so different from mine but so similar, and I am so moved to think that I’m contributing to a new conversation about what it means to be a family and how we all experience love and partnership in different forms.
A woman came to my trailer the other day on the set of the movie I’m working on and thanked me for my story. She said that her ex of 10 years ago lived in her guesthouse and that her best friend lived in the room next to her and that they all helped to raise her children. How could she explain that to people? What is she to say when they ask, “Are you in a relationship?” or “Do you have a partner?” That she is not having sex with anyone but that she does, in fact, have partners and a family?
Blogs and magazines and tabloids made a big deal of my supposed confession. The headlines were predictable, if disheartening: “Maria Bello Comes Out as Gay,” “Reveals She’s a Lesbian in New York Times Piece” and “Comes Out as Bisexual.” But in reducing my story to those terms, they’re missing the point. As the writer Mary Elizabeth Williams so wisely put it in her article “Maria Bello’s Great ‘Whatever’ Coming Out” in the online magazine Salon, the “big deal,” for people like me, “isn’t the gender of the person they’re happy with; it’s the happiness itself.”