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The Framework of a Love Story :

A former nun recalls meeting her wife and bonding over fashionable eyewear

Patricia Dwyer (right) and her wife, Connie, photo credit: Tom Imboden

“I know someone I think you should meet,” my friend Kathleen blurted out almost as soon as I answered the phone. “Her name is Connie and she photographs nudes under water.” That caught my attention.

“I just have a feeling,” Kathleen continued. “Here’s her email. I think you two would click. Oh. And she wears crazy eyeglasses just like you.”

Frame: An Enclosing Border

Unusual eyeglass frames had become my go-to fashion accessory in recent years. For most of my life, I had worn functional, utilitarian glasses. I’d spent 20 years as a Catholic nun. Hipster eyeglasses never made it to my priority list given the $50 monthly stipend I received for clothing, personal items and the occasional dinner out with a friend.

I’d entered the convent at 18, and my entire adult development had been influenced by my Irish-Scot family, Catholicism and the nuns. At the time, I was completely unaware of even the idea of different sexual identities, let alone where I fit on that spectrum.

When I finally faced that question, I wondered what it would be like to step outside the familiar to figure it out. I respected the Sisters for their social justice worldview, but I was unsettled. Who would I be outside the guardrails that had shaped my life? Almost 40, I decided to find out.

Frame: The Way Someone Thinks or Feels at a Particular Time

Life outside the convent was filled with new adventures and challenges: managing bills, starting retirement savings and prepping for job interviews. But those all paled in comparison to the daunting, yet exhilarating, idea of dating. As a Sister, my romantic imagination conjured every version of coupled bliss. This, of course, skewed my view of real relationships and translated to wildly unrealistic expectations of my partners. Worse, I found that my self-esteem and self-worth hinged on the person I dated.

Her eyeglasses immediately caught my attention. Small red squares accentuated lively blue eyes. I was sporting a distinctive pair myself: silver-rimmed half-moon frames, wide crescents that rested on my nose …

During what might be termed my exotic stage, women with accents fascinated me. German and French, Dutch and Mexican. Surely if someone this sophisticated, this cosmopolitan could find me date-worthy, I must be desirable.

Then there was the sporty phase. I tried hard to accommodate my girlfriends’ interests, despite my lack of coordination. I nearly got killed biking through D.C. traffic circles, and 30 minutes into my first golf lesson, the pro suggested that it might not be my sport.

My frames of reference changed according to my love interests. This resulted, not surprisingly, in a turbulent period of breakups and meltdowns.

Frame: To Express Something, Choosing Words Carefully

At 52, I’d been happily single for nearly a year when Kathleen called about Connie. I wasn’t sure I wanted a new relationship, but I was intrigued by Kathleen’s description. I waited a few days before emailing Connie a breezy, upbeat note. Her response came almost immediately, and the emails that followed covered topics both serious and lighthearted.

We wrote about our families and religion (my convent story nearly knocked her off her seat). She made me laugh when describing the Fourth of July party she hosted despite her dismal kitchen skills. I regaled her with details of my dog’s starring role in the town’s parade. We exchanged photos at one point. Her curly blonde hair framed a face, open and inviting. Lapis-blue eyes. Cool eyeglasses.

Frame: A Structure That Holds the Parts in Position and Gives Them Support

After a month of email exchanges, I invited Connie to a friend’s party, a casual, low key setting, for our first official face-to face meeting. Music streamed through the sound system propped on the outdoor tiki bar outside. Strings of lights, mounted on the tall fence surrounding the yard, crisscrossed the air. A smoky charcoal grill promised medium rare burgers and blackened hot dogs.

I arrived early and sat with my friend Roseanne on the backyard deck overlooking a narrow path and gate where guests entered. “You have to stay with me all night,” I warned her. “You can’t leave my side.”

As each cluster of women arrived, I grew more nervous. Finally, I spotted a curly blond head. Definitely Connie. Two women, each holding one of her arms, resembled bodyguards — her own Mod Squad. Connie and I locked eyes.

Her eyeglasses immediately caught my attention. Small red squares accentuated lively blue eyes. I was sporting a distinctive pair myself: silver-rimmed half-moon frames, wide crescents that rested on my nose, crafted by an obscure Belgium company called Theo. The first words out of our mouths came almost in unison: “I love your glasses!”

Connie was the first to pull hers off, squinting to read the small print that identified the designer.

“Theo,” she read. “From Belgium.”

“Mine too!” I cried.

Frame: One Picture of the Series on a Length of Film

That moment set the tone for the rest of the evening. Sitting at a small corner table on the deck, Connie and I recalled the emails that had made us laugh or surprised us, inspired us or cheered our day. I confessed my panic when I hadn’t heard from her for a couple of days, the result, I learned, of an internet outage in her neighborhood.

“I thought I’d said something to upset you when I didn’t hear back,” I sheepishly admitted, not wanting to reveal my anxiety when it came to dating.

“I’d feel the same way,” Connie replied reassuringly. “I wanted to call you to say I was still here, but I didn’t have your phone number.”

I was still here. On that July evening, I didn’t know those words would still ring true 16 years later. We had our civil union in 2005, and married in 2007. In our future together, I would experience Connie’s steadfastness as we managed the typical bumps inherent in building a relationship, the hurt feelings and petty jealousies. Tragic life moments, our parents’ deaths and my own diagnosis of breast cancer reminded us of life’s fragility.

But mostly, that sense of being there came in the moments in between, the less dramatic, day-to-day scenarios. Her hand that reaches out to make sure I don’t miss the step assures me that she’ll be there to catch the falls, whatever form they take. “Text me when you get there” is never about logistical details. Her steady breath as we sleep side by side, our dogs snuggled close, calms me on the occasional restless night. Yes. She is still here.

My friend took a photo of us that night. Connie and I sit on that bench, relaxed, smiling, leaning in, each with our trendy Theo glasses. I had the picture framed.

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