By Amy Brown-Bowers
One day after class, Marie* thought she’d surprise her partner Vanessa Harrar with a romantic candle-lit evening snack. The couple had only done this for each other three times in the three years they’d been together.
Marie picked up some red wine and cheese on the way home from school, and when she opened the door to her apartment, Harrar was waiting inside. As it turned out, she’d taken the afternoon off school to prepare a special dinner for Marie, complete with candles. The only thing Marie could say was, “You bitch, you beat me to it.”
Marie, a second-year Ryerson journalism student and her partner, Harrar, a second-year psychology student at York University, have shared their lives with one another since they were 16 and 17 years old. These young women believe they’re soulmates, regardless of their sexual identity. The complications of where they are in the process of coming out and what their parents think, Marie and Harrar believe, will fall into place.
“I have been with a guy. It’s not like I’m anti-man or anything,” Marie says. “It’s about the person, not if you’re straight or gay.”
“It’s not about if they’re gay or straight, you just fall in love with the person,” Harrar adds.
Marie said she’s not with Harrar because she’s gay, but because she can’t imagine being with anyone else and loving them as much. She in uncomfortable with being labeled a lesbian and doesn’t rule out the possibility of being with a man someday. She just can’t picture a perfect person for her that isn’t Harrar.
Their story began eight years ago in Montreal. Marie was 11 and Harrar was 12, when they met at a friend’s Bat Mitzvah. Harrar says that Marie’s big palazzo pants stood out — everyone else was wearing a skirt or dress. Marie remembers that Harrar wore a red dress and had pigtails. They talked the whole night.
Over the next few years they bumped into each other at supermarkets and hockey practices. They never planned their meetings and hardly saw each other, but when they did, they always had a good time. They went to different schools but lived only 10 minutes apart. They steadily kept in touch through their chance meetings and through their hockey league.
Harrar suspected that she was gay in Grade 11. She didn’t want to tell any of her friends at school for fear of rumours being spread, so she chose to come out only to Marie.
Harrar planned her coming out speech for weeks in advance. The then 16-year-old was determined to do it during her next sleepover with Marie.
“I rolled over so I had my back to her and I had my face to the wall and I was all nervous,” she said. Then, she told Marie straight out: “I think I’m gay.”
Marie suspected that this was what Harrar was going to say but she had never had an openly gay friend before and felt kind of “weirded out.”
“I guess in the back of my mind I was partly homophobic because I thought I might be gay,” says Marie.
But both agree that it was that February sleepover that consolidated their friendship.
Marie had a boyfriend at the time. There was nothing about her that gave Harrar reason to believe she was gay.
“She was ‘straight-girl’, really, completely straight,” Harrar says, pointing out that she had to keep her feeling for Marie to herself because she knew Marie was straight.
Marie and her boyfriend broke up shortly after Halloween that year, roughly eight months after the sleepover.
Two weeks later, Marie and Harrar were babysitting together. Marie was reading Greek mythology when Harrar began to give her a massage. Harrar said that it wasn’t a sexual massage but rather an example of her affectionate nature.
Marie’s experience was slightly different. Her romantic and sexual feelings for Harrar began at this dramatic and definite moment instead of developing over time. She felt no sexual attraction to Vanessa before the massage.
“It was almost like an instant feeling that I got. I was like ‘oh my god.’ I was freaking out. I was like … I want more. I felt it in a moment.”
They shared a lingering hug goodbye and nothing more, for the moment.
Marie and Harrar played in the same hockey league for years. Marie often drove Harrar to the three-or-more practices per week. A few days after babysitting, Marie picked Harrar up for a routine hockey practice and said that she needed to talk.
They arrived an hour early for practice and sat in the bleachers to talk. Harrar probed Marie with questions. Marie denied that it had anything to do with her sexuality or with Harrar.
“I had this whole thing in my head that when I liked Vanessa, it wasn’t because I was gay, it was because I liked Vanessa. I didn’t want to be gay,” Marie says.
Marie was attending Lower Canada College at the time, which was a very conservative school. Any act that strayed from the norm was trouble, from having strange hair to being gay. Also, Marie’s parents were, and still are, extremely homophobic, especially when it came to their own children.
After the practice that night, they went to a Second Cup to continue talking.
Marie had to pee eight times but was too nervous to admit her feelings. “I can’t say it face to face,” Marie said to Harrar, on the drive home.
They were sitting in the front seats, Marie made Harrar turn to the side and face the window, while she turned to face the opposite window. That’s when Marie said, “I think I like you.”
The couple spent two weeks talking about their first kiss before it happened.
“We planned it that night that we might possibly kiss or be a little intimate,” says Harrar.
Harrar admits that it was a very loaded kiss. Marie had never been with a girl before and was afraid that she would find it repulsive and didn’t want to insult Harrar. She was also afraid that she would enjoy it.
Marie kept turning her face away from Harrar.
“Just shut up and kiss me,” Harrar said. “You’ve kissed people before. It’s not going to be any different.”
Harrar says that that particular kiss probably sucked, but Marie remembers it not being so bad. She says that they kissed briefly, paused, then kissed again. And they spent the rest of that night kissing.
Marie his her relationship with Harrar from her parents at first. She remembers finally admitting it to her mom one day while in line at a Canadian Tire. Her mom didn’t take the news well.
“After I told her about me and Vanessa she banned Vanessa from the house … she is also banned from being in our car,” Marie says. Harrar said that Marie’s mom would hang up on her when she would call. This past summer, Marie’s mom threatened to call the cops if Harrar came over to their house.
Harrar’s parents were more receptive. She had already come out eight months before Marie and her friends were both supportive and excited about her new relationship with Marie.
After a year and a half of being together, they went to Halifax to live for the summer. They wanted to get away from all negativity from Marie’s family and have time to develop their relationship.
“It was like playing for the whole summer … It was such a treat to go to bed together and wake up together in each other’s arms every day,” Harrar says.
Last year they each lived in residence at their own universities. Harrar says that it was hell. She hated having a day of class, then getting on the bus for two hours to see Marie for a couple hours, then wake up the next morning to spend two more hours on the bus. One of them would make the commute so that they spent almost every night together.
Last May, they moved into an apartment in Bloor West village. They said it was a natural transition to move in together.
“How can you not move in with someone that you want to be with all the time?” Harrar says.
Harrar loves that Marie makes her laugh. She says she doesn’t laugh with other people the way she laughs with Marie.
“I really noticed it this summer when the whole day would go by and it would be eight o’clock and we wouldn’t have gotten changed and we wouldn’t have eaten anything and we wouldn’t have been out all day. We didn’t do anything but had such a good time,” says Harrar.
“I feel like we don’t have enough time together even though we have the rest of our lives,” Marie adds.
“Every day spent on homework feels like a day wasted because we didn’t spent it together.”
“When people give us a hard time about being so young and so committed, we say to them ‘people always wish at the end that they had an extra day to spend with the person they love,’” Harrar says. “Once you find your soulmate, you never let go.”
*Names have been changed to protect anonymity