I joined Facebook in 2008 with curiosity, searching and scrolling through names of the past to see what had become of friends I once knew, discover who peaked in high school, and find out which former nerd turned into a hot thirst trap as an adult.
Not long after, I got a notification: “You have 1 new message from Jill Goldstein.”
“Hi. Is this Nicole Schlenger from Camp Nock-A-Mixon circa 1982? If so, a warm hello from your first boyfriend Matt and his little sister Jill.”
My name was now Nikki Weiss. Forty-eight hours earlier I had digitally connected with former bunkmates who I hadn’t spoken to in over thirty years. “Has anyone heard about Matt and Jill Goldstein?” I inquired. Matt was my first love and we were together for three summers. I always wondered if he was the one that got away.
“Jill Goldstein! Shut up! This is crazy,” I wrote in response. “How are you? How did you find me? Where are you living?”
Jill said she recognized my face on the alumni camp page, that it hadn’t changed a bit, and took a chance it was actually me. It was a coincidence she reached out just after I had inquired about Matt and her.
Over the next few days, we feverishly caught up over email and reminisced about our summers while sharing photos and gossiping about mutual friends. Jill told me Matt lived in Atlanta where he was an emergency room physician and married with three children.
Jill was an account executive in advertising and lived in San Francisco. I was living in Los Angeles where I represented commercial directors working with advertising agencies and brands. East Coast transplants on the West Coast always seem to find one another.
We have a lot in common, I thought. But little did I know how much.
“Call me. Here’s my number. So much to chat about,” she wrote.
I called the next day. We spoke for over an hour. There was an ease and familiarity in our first phone conversation ― a connection I couldn’t explain. Our collective childhood memories were indelible, while our current lives seemed to be on parallel paths.
After a month worth of texts, emails and late night chats, it felt like something else was happening. Was Jill flirting with me? Was I flirting with her? I had butterflies every time I thought about her. It is so weird. My first boyfriend’s sister?
Jill eventually confessed she googled me. A few headlines stuck out. “Nikki Weiss wins GLAAD award for her appearance on ‘The Oprah Winfrey Show.’” “Nikki Weiss consults on first lesbian storyline for ‘Grey’s Anatomy.’”
I was previously unaware of Jill’s knowledge about my sexuality and her struggle to understand her own. She hadn’t disclosed anything to me during our communication. Neither had I. We were just getting to know each other and we were hesitant about how much we revealed.
During one late- night call, Jill shared the details about her failed engagement to a man after she had an affair with a woman. She told me she was currently dating both men and women while she tried to “figure it all out.”
I responded with the story about how my marriage failed many years ago and my affair with a woman, after which I myself had figured it all out.
Our stories were eerily similar. In that instance we found comfort in one another, knowing we weren’t alone in our journeys of self discovery and in our shared guilt for hurting people we loved with our deception and confusion over our sexual fluidity.
Our growing flirtation became obvious to ourselves and each other. We decided to meet in person in Los Angeles, but made it clear that we had no expectations. We were either going to reminisce about camp, play jacks and braid each other’s hair or not. And I really was hoping for the “or not” scenario.
I was trepidatious. Two years prior I had the most devastating breakup with my long-term partner. I was emotionally devastated over the ending of this relationship. I did everything to keep us together and lost myself in the process. After months of trying to reconcile, I stood in our living room and asked, “Are you sure you want to end things so venomously?” She sat in silence. Truth be told, people don’t change, they only reveal themselves. This was the day I decided to finally take my life back and the day she finally realized she had made a big mistake. As hard as it was, I didn’t see or speak to her again.
That is until I was at the Four Seasons Hotel over the Christmas holiday.
I was sitting at a table in the bar, waiting to meet Jill for the first time since 1987. I felt a hand on my back. Turning around slowly, I was shocked to see my ex. It was almost as if a higher power was saying to me, “Take one last look. You did the right thing.”
In that moment I realized I was staring at a total stranger.
With my heart beating out of my chest, I somehow calmly said, “I told you two years ago that if you were ending our relationship with such venom, I never wanted to see or talk to you again. I’m going to the bathroom. When I come back, I expect you to be gone.”
I composed myself in the bathroom and sauntered back to what I hoped was my empty table. It was. She was gone.
I thought, You can’t make this stuff up. I just ran into my ex while I’m having a thing for my first boyfriend’s little sister? Imagine trying to explain this to the table sitting next to me.
When Jill finally walked into the room, our mutual attraction was palpable, our history undeniable, and the similar roads we walked in our lifetime felt fateful.
We talked and laughed into the wee hours of the morning, when, finally, I mustered enough courage to kiss her.
I still remember every last detail of our very first kiss. I have never had that kind of chemistry with anyone. Our kiss turned into the most passionate and emotional sex. It was definitely the “or not” scenario with neither a braid nor game of jacks in sight.
After that we traveled to see each other every weekend, but Jill kept our budding romance a secret from work and family. A few of her friends knew, but not many.
On Valentine’s Day, she received a card from her parents. It read, “Not sure what’s going on with you, but the happiness in your voice makes our heart sing. Happy Valentine’s Day. Love, Mom & Dad.”
Not only had Jill kept our relationship private, she had never been honest about her sexuality with her parents. I was certainly not the first woman she ever dated, but to them, I would be, at least for now.
“I think it’s time to have the conversation,” I told her gingerly.
And she did. First she told her brother Matt, who wasn’t phased by the dating a woman part. He was phased by the Nicole Schlenger circa 1980s camp part. He might have even referred to me as his “sloppy seconds.” Whatever.
Jill’s parents did not take the news well. Her mother deduced many of the other women previously in Jill’s life that were supposedly “friends” were actually her exes. Her father was oblivious to those relationships and in shock.
Jill was adamant: I was her person. She was in love and she never felt happier, which, as evidenced by their Valentines’ Day card, even they could see.
“Mom, Dad, please understand that Nik is everything I never knew I always wanted,” she told them. “I see my future with her.”
At some point, our mothers told us they had saved every camp letter we ever wrote home as children. Naturally, we each dove into the boxes with curiosity. In one note, Jill told her parents she couldn’t wait until I was her sister-in-law and to please send her nail clippers. In another letter, she penned in all caps, “MATT AND NICOLE BROKE UP!” Apparently, I was so heartbroken, I mailed Matt’s actual break-up note home to my parents. They kept that too.
After six months of being in a long-distance relationship, we faithfully fulfilled our stereotypical lesbian duty: Jill left San Fran for LA and moved in with me. For the first time in Jill’s life, she didn’t care what anyone thought ― even her family. That was the moment her mother knew Jill was serious and that this wasn’t “a phase.” She welcomed me and our relationship with open loving arms.
Falling in love with each other was unexpected. We knew we needed to do the work to honor our fated past while surviving its present. We were making a long-term commitment and didn’t take it lightly. The universe might have brought us together, but staying fateful was going to take hard work. All of the history and magic is not enough to keep two people together. That’s a fairy tale. We previously had failed relationships and we wanted to do this differently. We enlisted a couple’s therapist to help us navigate our big feelings.
With all of our self-actualization, we were engaged two years later despite one more little bump in the road when I asked Jill’s father, Artie, for his blessing. It didn’t go well. Still unresolved about our relationship, he was startled by my request. Artie explained that it was not the life he envisioned for Jill.
Disappointed and hurt by his reaction, I waited, giving Artie the time he needed.
Once he realized his fears were about what the outside world would think and what his friends and family would say, he decided life was too short to care. Artie pulled me aside weeks later and told me, “Nicole, I love how you love my daughter. I have never seen Jill happier.” He hugged me. Days later, I finally proposed.
Jill and I were unlawfully wed in front of our friends and family on Oct. 9, 2010. Artie proudly walked her down the aisle and I read my ex-boyfriend and now brother-in-law Matt’s break-up letter at our reception. It was my “sloppy seconds” comment payback moment. Artie declared to all of our guests, “Nicole, I don’t have any more children, so I really hope this union with Jill works out for you. I love you both.”
Twelve years on, I would say it has.
Fate is a funny thing. If you would have told 13-year-old me that I would end up married to my camp boyfriend’s little sister and we would go on to have two children and live in Los Angeles, I would have never believed it! What I do believe is that things happen for a reason. I am so grateful that Jill and I were brave enough to fall in love and stand in our truth together. We might forever be the “fated love story,” but our continued happy ending isn’t without the work we put in to our relationship so that we always remain fateful.
The piece is in loving memory of my father-in-law, Artie Goldstein.
Nikki Weiss Goldstein is an agent and strategic liaison for feature film, episodic and commercial directors. She marries brands and advertising agencies with her top tier creative roster of filmmaking talent. Nikki has been instrumental in managing, developing and producing television and film projects for various clients as well. She currently has a docu series in development with RADICAL MEDIA as her reach goes beyond the advertising world with achievements that include a consulting role on ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy” lesbian storyline, a TED Award for Expedia’s Find Your Understanding campaign about her family, and a GLAAD award for her appearance on “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” She may even admit that she and her wife starred in Showtime’s “The Real L Word.” Nikki is a member of The Television Academy, The Screen Actors Guild, The Association of Independent Commercial Production, GLAAD, Female Founder Collective and a founding member of the FREE THE WORK initiative, giving minority and female directors a voice in the filmmaking community.