‘In public, we were just ‘friends’ and ‘roommates.’ For 17.5 years, we didn’t tell a living soul.’: Lesbian couple share years-long love, coming out story

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“Our wedding was held in a planetarium with stars projected onto the ceiling above us. With the theme from Star Wars announcing our entrance, we walked down the aisle lined with blue mason jars filled with fairy lights holding each other’s hands. After all, we had been together for 18 years and wanted to be together for every second of this day that we had dreamt about for so long but never believed would actually happen for us. This was the first same-sex wedding either of us, and probably most of our guests, had ever been to, and it was our own wedding. We wore non-traditional dresses, didn’t carry flowers, and did not have a bridal party. After all, this was a non-traditional wedding, and so many stars had to align to bring us to this point!

A lesbian couple stand at an altar decorated with stars and branches on their wedding day
Kimberly Hibbard Photography

Rachel’s Story

My story began in Ohio. I was born to loving parents in 1981—the oldest of their 6 children. I grew up in a very religious household where I was taught that my role as a woman was to get married to a man and have babies. I always aspired to be a stay-at-home mom. I was an obedient daughter and a people pleaser. I always tried to keep everyone around me happy and avoided conflict.

A young woman with long blonde hair wearing a blue plaid shirt
Courtesy of Rebecca and Rachel

All growing up I felt different. Part of that was my introverted nature—I was extremely quiet and shy. I did not like to be the center of attention. I’ve always been a perfectionist and like to be good at the things I do. I was also very cautious and worried about getting hurt or doing anything unsafe. As a child, I was creative and a bit of a tomboy. I loved reading and art, but I also loved Legos and playing outside. I did play with dolls and Barbies but preferred games that were more creative and involved problem-solving.

Once I got into middle and high school, all the girls were into boys, celebrities, and makeup and hair. I really had no interest in any of those things. I was in band and loved playing music and sports. I had a few friends over the years, but I never really had any close school friends. Most of my good friends were girls I met at church. I was active in my church youth group. My youngest brother and sister were born when I was in middle school (6th and 8th grades), so I spent a lot of time taking care of them. My little brother became my buddy.

For college, I chose a conservative Christian college across the country. I was on my own for the first time ever. It was liberating, but I was also very homesick. Luckily, I had some friends who helped me feel better, and I settled into college life.

I lived in a house with 6 other girls. Most of them were people I knew. In my 4th year, a friend of my ‘best’ friend moved in with us. Her name was Rebecca, and we became fast friends. We talked a lot and supported each other through a lot of challenges. One of the challenges that she helped me through was breaking up with my fiancé. I had dated him for several months, and he proposed. I said yes because that was what I was supposed to do—get married and have a family. However, I was miserable. I chose to end the engagement. He was confused and hurt. He was a really great guy! The only reason I could give him for the breakup was that it didn’t feel right. The decision was hard, but so freeing!

A pair of women sit next to each other on the floor
Courtesy of Rebecca and Rachel

I had always wondered in the back of my mind if I was gay, but I didn’t allow myself to have those thoughts. In my religious beliefs, it was basically condemning myself either to a life lived alone (or marrying a guy and pretending) or to be damned forever if I decided to be with a woman. None of the choices were what I wanted for myself.

Rebecca’s Story

My story began in California in 1976. I was the middle child and oldest girl in a family of five children. I grew up in the same conservative Christian religion as Rachel. I also became the obedient daughter and people pleaser, just like Rachel did, because that is the way we were raised. My mom was a stay-at-home mom who immaculately cleaned our house and had fresh baked cookies for us when we got home from school. I loved playing with baby dolls and could not wait to have children of my own someday. I also dreamed of having a career.

A young woman with long brown hair wearing a white shirt
Courtesy of Rebecca and Rachel

I was quiet and shy until about 9th grade. I was usually the teacher’s pet in elementary school and got As and Bs in middle school. I had several close friends, but I spent most afternoons and weekends at home, reading or playing alone. Then the summer before ninth grade I had my first boyfriend and got my first kiss. Everything changed after that. I started dressing differently and talking a lot. I became a boy-crazy teenager. I had lots of crushes, but usually on boys I realize now were unattainable, not because they were famous or anything, but because they lived in a different town or were in a completely different social circle, etc. I did date a few boys seriously, but unfortunately one of these relationships turned out to be abusive. I started pushing back on the strict boundaries that were set for me, but not too much, as I was a rule follower.

I got my bachelor’s degree in social work at a university in California. We would have gay students come to speak to us in our social work and sociology classes. It was the mid-to-late 90s and this was the first time I had ever met someone who openly identified as gay. I believe I was open and curious. However, I still lived with my parents and told them everything that happened in my classes, even when we had gay students come to speak. I knew my parents and my religion viewed homosexuality as a sin.

After getting my bachelor’s degree I served a proselytizing mission for my church. I remember the first time we came across a lesbian woman who told us our church believed in conversion therapy to try to change people’s sexual orientation or gender identity. I did not really know what this meant, and I did not know that the church taught this. For the most part, I thought I was a good example for our church of a strong, female leader. I definitely had my own mind, but I also tried to do what I thought was the right thing. I had gotten my bachelor’s degree at a ‘liberal’ college so now it was time to get my master’s degree at our church’s conservative college. This is where I met Rachel, and my life would forever be changed.

A lesbian couple wearing matching overalls and black T-shirts
Courtesy of Rebecca and Rachel

Living Together

By the end of our second year of living together in college, we were best friends and stayed up late every night because we didn’t want to be apart. We both felt like we had never had a friend like the other person, someone who understood us and listened to us in a way that no one ever had before. We were both graduating, so we made plans to continue to live together after college. Looking back now, we realize that we were falling in love, but didn’t recognize it at the time.

A couple hold a desert while sitting next to each other at a dining table
Courtesy of Rebecca and Rachel

We moved to another state after graduation and built our adult lives together. We bought houses and cars together, adopted pets together, went on vacations together, began careers, supported each other through work challenges and advanced education, celebrated holidays and milestones, and took care of each other when we were sick. Rachel even attended Rebecca’s family functions (Rachel’s family lived across the country) and was seen as part of Rebecca’s family. We also continued to attend and hold leadership positions in our church. In public, and to our families and friends, we were just ‘friends’ and ‘roommates.’

A pair of women sticking their tongues out
Courtesy of Rebecca and Rachel
A couple stands by a geyser wearing pink and green jackets
Courtesy of Rebecca and Rachel

However, at home, we were together, a couple, in love. It was confusing and heartbreaking because we wanted to be together and shout our love from the rooftops but were still holding on to all the expectations that everyone else had for us. We shed many, many tears because we understood our relationship would not be acceptable in our church and there was a possibility that our families would reject us.

For 17 and a half years we kept our relationship a secret. We did not tell a living soul that we were really a couple. Occasionally, especially in the early years, family members would ask us if we were together, but we felt like we had to lie to protect our family members’ feelings. We were scared. We did not know what would happen if anyone found out the truth.

A lesbian couple sit together on the couch with a small white dog
Courtesy of Rebecca and Rachel

Coming Out

In August of 2021, everything changed. We had been going through both personal and couple growth periods. As part of this growth, we both decided that we wanted to be our true and authentic selves. In one of our frequent heart-to-heart conversations about being our true, authentic selves, we decided to get married. It sounds so simple, but it was not. Honestly, it sounds crazy now, as we are both in our 40s and were finally giving ourselves permission to do what we wanted to do. We had to start researching the marriage process and learned about all the laws and things. We didn’t even know when gay marriage had been legalized in the United States. At first, we thought we would just go to the courthouse and have a quick ceremony. But then, we decided to make it a little more meaningful by choosing a venue and having it on the day that we already considered our anniversary in March.

A couple sitting on a park bench in front of fall foliage at their engagement
Kimberly Hibbard Photography

So, just like that, we started planning our wedding. At first, we were going to keep it private, but the more internal work we did to try to be our authentic selves, the more we realized how important coming out was. We wanted to stop hiding and worrying about what everyone else thought of us. We also realized that we needed to give our supporters a chance to support us, so we decided to come out to our families and tell them that we were getting married, and they were invited to our wedding. We came up with a plan of when and how we would give them the news of our wedding and the true nature of our relationship.

We first told some of our friends that we knew would be supportive and it went well. The first family that we told was Rachel’s sister and her husband. They were very supportive and started making plans to come to the wedding. We both chose to write letters to our parents to break the news. We wanted them to have the time and space to react how they needed to without having to say anything or make us feel bad.

Rachel sent her letter in October and Rebecca sent her parents’ letter in November. Rachel’s parents were receptive and wanted to talk. They said that they would love her no matter what and would come to our wedding. We made a video to share with our siblings to tell them the news after we told our parents. Rachel’s entire family was supportive, and most were so excited that we had finally come out—the phone calls and texts were abundant. Rachel felt like it was so freeing and amazing to finally be her true self!

Unfortunately, Rebecca’s parents’ reaction was what she had anticipated it would be. They still loved her but could not support the wedding and would not attend. There are still a lot of tender feelings to this day that need to be worked through in this regard. She has one brother (out of 3) and her sister who are supportive.

Our Wedding

Our wedding was in March of 2022. It was stressful, like every wedding is, and we were both so emotional that the day had finally come when we would be legally married! We wrote our vows for each other and stood in front of our family and friends, and for the first time ever, publicly declared our love for one another. We also shared a little piece of our 18-year journey to get to our wedding day. It was a beautiful wedding, and people told us that it reflected our personalities.

A couple exchange vows at their wedding
Kimberly Hibbard Photography
Brides hug after kissing at the altar during their wedding
Kimberly Hibbard Photography

There are times when we wonder why it took us so long to do this. Why didn’t we come out sooner? Why didn’t we get married sooner? However, we believe that everything happens when it is supposed to. Our stars aligned to bring us together 20 years ago. We were on a journey for 18 years that only we can understand, but our love has withstood so many challenges that many other couples don’t have to face. Coming out is a process and we are still working to understand who we are. Our love is greater than just one star; it is the whole night sky.”

A lesbian couple hold hands outside on their wedding day
Kimberly Hibbard Photography

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Rebecca and Rachel of Lansing, Michigan. You can follow their journey on InstagramSubmit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

Read more stories like this here:

‘We hid under the guise of ‘best friends.’ Suspicious, my roommates logged onto my Facebook. They exposed our romantic messages to mutual friends and strangers.’: LGBTQ+ woman details brave ‘coming out’ journey

‘If I pray enough, I can fall out of love with her.’ I lived in a society where people said you can’t be Christian AND homosexual. I knew it’d make or break my family.’: Woman details self-acceptance and coming out journey

‘She’s so beautiful.’ ‘Yeah, RIGHT. She’s Christian! You don’t have a chance.’: LGBTQ couple thrives despite hate, claim ‘love is so much stronger than words’

We both rolled over in bed. Me: ‘I’m gay.’ Her: ‘I’m transgender.’ Silence. Now what? I’m married. HAPPILY married!’: Couple stays together despite realizing sexual preferences weren’t as they initially thought

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