Lauren and Jess live together in Atlanta, Georgia. Lauren is originally from Bentonville, Arkansas and Jess from Williamsburg, Brooklyn, but their differences are not only geographic. According to Lauren: “My family is 100% white Christian and Jess’ is 100% Dominican Catholic. To say we’ve been met with a few cultural differences would be an understatement.” Still, the ladies have overcome these obstacles and others, and have been together a full 4 years.
The ladies met online, and when Lauren had a reason to leave Arkansas, she took the opportunity to move north and get serious about her relationship with Jess. For over a year the ladies lived with Jess’ parents in her childhood home, an apartment in Williamsburg, where Lauren met the challenge of being a minority in the family’s Spanish speaking household.
Lauren: “Although I gained a love for an apartment full of family, a plate full of platanos, and a love for some bachata and merengue music, Jess and I knew that to make our relationship last, we needed to find a place of our own.” The ladies moved to Queens, and after three years in the north, decided to move south to be closer to Lauren’s family. This, however, meant coming out to them, including her grandparents.
Below, Lauren shares the story of her grandparents meeting Jess for the first time:
Jess and Lauren Go To Arkansas…Finally
It’s true what they say about patience: It’s a virtue. Good things come to those who wait … Jess and I waited FOUR years to visit my home and meet my family. Looking back, it was our patience that made the timing so perfect.
The process to get to Arkansas was slow and, at times, painful; Our relationship was at a standstill, hiding it from my family was starting to feel impossible, and being gay was something I wasn’t sure I could explain … but the greatest pain of all was knowing that Jess would never truly know the real me until I introduced her to the people and places of my past.
Jess and I spent years posting pictures of vacations and apartments, proof of our life together, to bring my Southern Christian family up to speed with our relationship. They slowly became familiar with Jess, an eclectic Dominican girl from Brooklyn. One by one they started acknowledging her as more than just my friend. Although I appreciated this, I needed her to meet my family face-to-face before I would feel the weight lifted off my shoulders.
Jess was always patient and never forceful. Once this year began I decided to write a letter to my grandparents, two of the most important people in my life. This felt like a way for us to get out of our boat and into theirs, and move our relationship forward.
In response, Grandad basically said that even if I was dating a monkey they would still love me. Later, he sent an e-mail* reminding me of his beliefs as a Christian, and that his love for his family would always come first, no matter what happens.
A few months later my grandparents sent us a card, and then money for plane tickets to Arkansas. We planned a trip for June. When we finally arrived at their house for an official family dinner, both of us had butterflies. Once we walked inside, however, the butterflies were replaced with warm hugs, and all of our nerves dissipated. It felt like we had been in their home together a hundred times before.
It was beautiful to see Jess speaking one-on-one at the table with my Grandad, and to see my family and the girl who I love together in one room. The best part of the entire trip was that I felt whole for the first time in my life. I knew this was the beginning of a really great me, and a really great us.
Over the course of my correspondence with Lauren I was grateful for how candid she was, and I understood whole-heartedly why her e-mails to me were bursting with explanations and details. Opening up to family about a personal relationship is emotionally exhausting. There is over-thinking and paranoia and the burden of feeling like your relationship is under the microscope.
Lauren was kind enough to let me read her Grandad’s e-mail that he sent her this past January, and I am truly grateful to her for sharing this. He stated explicitly that both he and Lauren’s grandmother are Christians who believe that marriage is between a man and a woman, that they “truly believe in an ‘Adam and Eve’ whom God ordained and began our civilization as we know it.” Lauren admitted to me that she thought of various ways to respond to his e-mail, which ended with this poignant declaration: “Always realize that you are OURS, and we will ALWAYS ADORE YOU, and anyone you love……………..!” Lauren thought she could send her grandad examples of successful gay couples, or send him the documentary of Edie & Thea, since he could relate generationally to those women. She says, “I had all of these giant persuasive plans but in the end just decided to say, Thanks! Can’t wait for you to meet her!”
I was truly struck by the contradictory message that Lauren, and so many men and women like her must feel by families who declare their love and support while maintaining the belief that marriage must be between a man and a woman.
I have no doubt that when Lauren and Jess do marry, their families—including Lauren’s grandparents—will be by their sides. My last surviving Grandparent, who died just short of 90, was a conservative WWII vet who danced at my wedding and was the first one to call my wife and I on our first anniversary. I believe that even in old age the heart can achieve metamorphosis.