Beginning around the time I was 19, I started having the same dream multiple times a week: I would be kissing a woman and, when things started heating up, she would run away. Each time, I would wake up in a panic. The feeling I was left with was always shame. The dreams continued for over a decade until I came out about four years ago at age 32.

Why did it take me so long to figure out that I was gay? The thing is, I was not actively in the closet. I wasn鈥檛 walking around my life fretting about being gay because things felt 鈥渘ormal,鈥 at least on the surface.

I was stuck in the hetero-normative life (or as I like to call it, 鈥淭he Straight Lifestyle鈥) that I thought I wanted, trying to do all the things society deemed I had to: Find a nice man, get married, have a baby. 鈥Is there really anything else?鈥 I asked myself.

Everything turned on its head one night four years ago. I鈥檇 gone to a neighborhood bar with some friends from my roller derby team. Under the influence of liquid courage, my teammate Anna and I snuck out the back door and began making out in the moonlight.

We had snuck a few casual kisses before, but this time was different. The nearby Pacific Ocean offered a soothing soundtrack of gentle waves coming in and out. The moon felt like it was casting a spotlight on us.

Anna鈥檚 lips were soft and her face was smooth. It felt foreign to feel a woman鈥檚 body in that way, but it felt really good. I had never felt anything as good as this; I felt awake. 鈥Damn it,鈥 I realized. 鈥I鈥檓 totally gay.鈥

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I should note here that I鈥檝e never had any moral objection to being gay, or to queerness in general. In fact, I come from a very liberal family. My dad is gay and I grew up with queer people as our extended chosen family. That was my normal; nothing ever felt weird about it. But somehow, I internalized a sense of fear of my own identity and desires.

My mom would even ask me as a teenager if my best friend and I were romantically 鈥渆xperimenting鈥 with each other. She was coming from a place of open-mindedness. I replied with the kind of mortified emotional exasperation that only a teenager could evoke: 鈥淚 AM NOT EXPERIMENTING!! I AM NOT GAY, OKAY?! GOD, MOM!鈥

But my mom may have realized that I had feelings I wasn鈥檛 confronting. For instance, I got really jealous whenever my best friend hung out with anyone else. Sometimes when we were together I would think about leaning in and kissing her softly, which felt very natural and also terribly wrong.

And that was how I classified these kinds of feelings. There was always a sense of shame attached to the fact that I was sexually attracted to women and it felt easier to not let myself deal with it. On the rare occasion, I would evaluate these feelings and ask myself 鈥Could I be gay?鈥 but the answer was always no.

鈥淚 could not possibly be gay, I like having sex with men.鈥

鈥淚 could not possibly be gay. I mean, look at me! I don鈥檛 look gay.鈥

鈥淚 could not possibly be gay, I鈥檓 married and trying to have a baby. I鈥檝e done everything right. I鈥檓 doing everything I鈥檓 supposed to do. I am not gay.鈥

But that kiss, so many years later, changed it all for me.

All of a sudden my life felt heavy with baggage I no longer wanted. I loved my husband Oscar a lot, but there was always this thing nagging at me, forcing me to assess where the exit signs were at every junction of our relationship.

I had been married to Oscar for a couple of years at this point, and we鈥檇 been a couple for 10. But if I鈥檓 being totally honest, I was not always the best partner. The relationship was satisfying in its safety but suffocating in its expectation.

He was a good man, for the most part, but I felt emotionally disconnected from him. As time and life would go on I would cheat on him 鈥 sometimes with men, sometimes with women, and always with guilt.

It鈥檚 taken me a long time to realize that I鈥檓 not a bad person; I was just in an unsatisfying relationship (these are things my therapist makes me say too). In reality, there were many difficulties in our relationship that we should have been dealing with. My sexuality was just one bucket of water in a sinking boat that we refused to acknowledge. Between getting married and trying to have a baby, something in me finally cracked.

When I met Anna, something about her was immediately intriguing. I had an overwhelming need to be liked by her. She was younger than me, thought she knew everything, and had a blind confidence that I found adorable and really sexy. I found myself aimlessly clicking on her Facebook profile multiple times a day. When I found out she had a dog, I insisted that we have doggie play dates. I wanted to spend as much time with her as I could, and I had no idea why.

The night behind the bar marked the first time I realized, with confidence, that I was gay. Everything I had experienced in my life with male partners, my husband included, felt like the beginning of The Wizard of Oz 鈥 sort of boring and black-and-white. The second I let down my guard with Anna, and allowed myself to process my feelings, my life began broadcasting in technicolor.

I fell so hard in love with her, which is common when people first come out. That first queer love is unlike anything you ever experience. It鈥檚 intense and emotional. It鈥檚 crazy and heated. It鈥檚 sexy and nurturing. It鈥檚 everything.

But falling in love with Anna was inconvenient, to say the least. My life was set before she came into the picture, or so I thought. The idea of tearing all of that down in front of the world felt terrifying. Everyone would know I was not perfect, and for some reason, that felt devastating.

*

Having to leave my marriage and come out was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. I still, four years later, feel horrible for how I treated my husband. But the fact of the matter is that I am and always will be gay. While part of me is on the sexual spectrum that finds some men attractive, a much bigger part of me is a lady-loving-lady. Those are the facts.

Me and Anna鈥檚 relationship was the hot gossip of the summer I came out. While we never were officially public as a couple, people figured it out.

The judgment was very real. Ever walk into a room of your peers and everyone stops talking? It doesn鈥檛 feel great, especially at a time when you feel like your life is crumbling around you and you have no idea who you are anymore. The judgment hurt, and it was hard to deal with on top of having to come out and emotionally process the end of a decade-long relationship.

I can鈥檛 say I always handled it with grace鈥 or handled it very sober. But, I handled it. More importantly, I learned to finally let go and just accept who I am and not care about what people think. I let go of all the expectations that had been weighing me down for so long. I stopped caring about the judgment and I just started living for me.

Eventually, I found my own strength. I reminded myself that I was the woman who had broken the chains of expectation to carve my own path. I prioritized my own happiness and never looked back.

Four years later I can truly say that I live a much happier, authentic life then I did before. I currently live in Portland, Oregon 鈥 or as I like to call it, the 鈥渜ueer women鈥檚 San Francisco.鈥 Things didn鈥檛 work out with Anna, but I鈥檓 now engaged to an amazing woman. As for Oscar: Readers will be happy to know he moved on in his life, remarried, and just had a baby. I wish him and his family nothing but the best.

While I occasionally feel the sting of regret that I did not have the revelation that I was gay earlier, I truly believe everything happens for a reason, and everything that has happened in life makes you who you are. No regrets.

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Evie Smith is a haver of big feelings, lover of adventure and doer of all the things. She currently lives in Portland, Oregon (but will forever identify as a beach-dwelling Californian). The founder and SheEO of Rebellious PR as well as a freelance writer and a longtime roller derby skater, Evie keeps herself insanely busy. Interests include health and wellness, LQTBQ rights, and unicorns. You can follow Evie on Instagram and Twitter at @ravenvonkaos.