Maria Bello and the Modern Family: That Happened


ColumnMaria Bello’s recent Modern Love column shows that people still don’t understand non-traditional definitions of love, sexuality and family.

Many headlines about actress and activist Maria Bello’s Modern Love column in The New York Times say things like: “Maria Bello Comes Out as Gay” and “Maria Bello Is a Lesbian.” In our collective quest to classify people, those headlines miss the point of her column and prove that bisexuality, or as she wishes to define her own sexuality, “whatever,” is still largely misunderstood.

But this isn’t really a coming out story about sexuality, anyway. It’s a story about family and soulmates.

Her point that a family can include ex-lovers, parents, friends and fake aunts isn’t really radical (see: “It takes a village” for the Hillary Clinton via hippie commune history of the idea), but it is one that still confuses people because of an outdated concept: the soulmate.

We’re taught from a young age that we should seek out a soulmate, a person with whom we’ll construct a family. Many people have embraced that idea that the soulmate might be a same-sex partner. Some people have even gotten okay with the idea that soulmates may not want children. But most people have yet to grasp the idea of family that Bello has built and so beautifully shares in her column.

Most Americans have yet to let go of the one and only soulmate as one of life’s biggest goals.

Maria Bello has more than one person she thinks of as a partner but only one romantic partner? She used to be straight but she’s gay now? She’s bisexual? She and her girlfriend hang out with her ex? They have dinner with her son’s father, like all of the time on purpose? She has multiple soulmates? Minds are blown because her life shatters our social constructs about family and the idea that families are built around two soulmates choosing to live in a bubble of joy.

Personally, I have never bought the whole soulmate thing. The idea that my husband can be everything to me at every moment seems ludicrous. The idea that the two of us chose to marry and have a traditional monogamous relationship would have sounded impossible to me 10 years ago because I identified as gay. But the reality of how my life evolved, because I was open to possibility and didn’t try to fit into someone else’s ideas about love, is perfect.

Embracing my own bisexuality and happily choosing to marry a man that I love meant redefining my ideas about what having a person—which is often how I describe my relationship with my husband Erik—truly means.

It could be because I grew up with a slew of fake relatives that were just as real as my blood relatives. It could be because my parents are an awesome team—but always had their own lives going on. Or it could be that as someone who spent 10 years in relationships with women, and an entire lifetime surrounded by female and gay male best friends, I am 100 percent fine with the fact that there’s no way I can expect Erik to be my go-to for everything.

Which means that while he’s my person and I’m his, we both need other people to round out our lives and our family. In the real world, “You complete me” is not merely cheesy—it sets an impossible standard for both partners.

For example, when I want to talk about TV, I hit an email chain filled with friends who are interested in dissecting what Rayna’s nail polish choice says about her real interest in Deacon on the most recent episode of Nashville. Erik could not give a shit. And when he wants to talk about the players he benched in this week’s fantasy football game, he doesn’t seek me out. Thank god.

Those are traditionally sexually stereotypical examples for a reason. The way I engage with my friends over seemingly fluffy topics leads us to deeper conversations (usually). In those conversations we connect and draw examples from our own lives. We process life in ways that are necessary to me on a regular basis. Erik, I assume, finds connections that he needs while talking to his friends.

We’re not all half-people wandering the world for our missing puzzle piece. We’re whole and complex. Some days we’re damaged, and some days we’re perfect. We have a lot of needs, and a lot to give. We all require more than one person to build our families.

Headlines that focus on Maria Bello coming out as a … whatever … miss the point. Bello isn’t writing about sexuality, she’s writing about family.

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Image: Maria Bello via Facebook and