Why Women Are Leaving Men for Other Women
Single again at 36, Gomez-Barris dated a few men, none seriously. “They were not so sure of themselves in their careers or financially,” she says. “It was a time of real exploration and personal independence, and I became very rational about the kind of partner I wanted and needed”—someone, she hoped, who would match her intellectual ambitions but also take care of her and her children.
At a party one night last March, Gomez-Barris ran into Judith Halberstam, PhD, a professor of English, American studies and ethnicity, and gender studies at USC. They had met in 2004 and admired each other’s scholarly accomplishments, occasionally finding themselves at the same campus parties. But while they shared an affinity for politics and social justice, they were seemingly miles apart in their private lives. Halberstam, nearly 10 years her senior, was openly gay.
That night, Halberstam, who had also broken up with a partner of 12 years, spotted Gomez-Barris standing across the room and thought, “Now, there’s a really beautiful woman.” “I saw her differently then and developed a big crush on her,” says Halberstam. “Yet it made me nervous, given that I have a history of unrequited love with straight women. Then again, you don’t choose who you love.”
Gomez-Barris noticed that Halberstam was more attentive to her than usual, even flirtatious. “She got up and gave me the better seat, as if she wanted to take care of me. I was struck by that,” she says. A few weeks later, Halberstam suggested they go out for dinner, and again, Gomez-Barris was impressed by qualities she liked. “She chose a Japanese restaurant, made reservations, picked me up at my place—on time. I felt attracted to her energy, her charisma. I was enticed. And she paid the bill. Just the gesture was sexy. She took initiative and was the most take-charge person I’d ever met.”
Intrigued as Gomez-Barris was, it still never occurred to her that they would be anything more than friends. While she’d been attracted to women at times, she assumed she would eventually fall in love with another man. “I was still inscribed in a heterosexual framework that said only a man could provide for my kids and be part of a family,” she says.
On a warm spring night in Malibu, after attending a film screening together, Gomez-Barris and Halberstam walked on the beach, a beautiful pink sunset rounding out a perfect evening. They kicked off their shoes and ran, laughing, through the rising tide. “At that point, things were charged with sex,” Gomez-Barris remembers. Her feelings deepened, and not long afterward, they became lovers. “It was great, and it felt comfortable,” she says of the night they first became intimate. “What blew me away was that afterward, Judith held me to her chest. So I got passion, intimacy, and sweetness. And I thought, ‘Maybe I can get all the things I want now.'”