“A month before I was set to marry the man I loved, he called off the wedding. I had no idea why. He and I had been together for eight years. We’d planned to have children and to build a family together. Nearly four years on I got my answer: my former fiancé, pro basketball player Jason Collins, last April announced in Sports Illustrated magazine that he was gay.
Jason told me he was gay over the phone on a Monday morning, the same day the magazine hit the newsstands. However, he didn’t mention the article – that came as a surprise when I heard about it from a friend. In his story, Jason wrote that he was once engaged to a woman. Reporters zoomed in on me, thrusting my name into the news. My inbox exploded with emails from women saying the same thing had happened to them.
The day Jason cancelled the wedding was surreal. It was July 2009, and he’d just returned home from a road trip with his twin brother, Jarron. I’d been living with Jason in LA for a year, since our engagement. He told me, ‘You may want to sit down.’ I loved this man deeply. He was intelligent, good-humoured, handsome and, importantly, taller than me at 214cm. (I’m 196cm and a pro basketball player myself.)
His words didn’t make sense to me, and they hit me hard, freezing my heart. “I’m just not sure,” he said. There were no tangible reasons, no explanations. I opened the front door and ran, my mind spinning with questions. I kept running until I ran out of breath. When I returned, he tried to calm me, but I couldn’t stop crying.
[The first time I met Jason was] my first day at Stanford University. Jason, Jarron [his brother] and I became friends. All basketball players, we ran in the same social circles. There was no romance at that point. I hadn’t gone to college to look for a husband – I was focused on my schoolwork and my dream: becoming a pro athlete.
When I graduated in 2001, I achieved my goal, getting drafted into the WNBA, then signing a contract with a pro team in France. That year, I saw Jason unexpectedly in Dallas while travelling for business. I’d gone to a basketball game with friends, and there he was, playing with the New Jersey Nets [now known as the Brooklyn Nets].
We agreed to meet up after the game. When we did, we looked at each other and simultaneously asked why we hadn’t dated in college. I felt incredibly attracted to him. I always had been – I’d just been too shy and focused on my goals to show it.
During our conversation, I lost track of time. He had this natural, easy-going way about him that pulled me in. I remember having a rush of emotion because I could picture myself with him for the long-term. It seemed like a given that we’d become a couple, and we did, albeit a long-distance one.
Jason and I talked on the phone and saw each other when we could. Our schedules as pro athletes made things challenging. In the off-season, we had more time together. We loved working out, playing golf and tennis, hanging out and talking about our lives.
One visit, I remember taking a nap after a hard day of training and he woke me up with a rose and told me how much he believed in me. Another time he told me I was his soulmate and I was meant for him.
Over the next few years, I got my master’s degree and started my own business in LA, Fitt4Life, as a personal trainer, nutrition consultant and yoga instructor. Jason was traded to a team in Memphis, then Minnesota. I began to feel like it was taking forever for him to propose, but I knew he’d do it when he was ready. We’d discussed marriage, but we were young, in our twenties. I felt sure it would happen by 30.
Finally, on a trip to Mexico in 2008, seven years after we’d begun the relationship, he finally said the words I’d waited so long to hear. We’d been swimming with dolphins, eating fresh seafood and having an amazing time. At dinner on our last night he started out slowly, saying, ‘I’ve been thinking about my life and what I want.’ I felt like finishing his sentence. Then he said, ‘I wanted to ask you if you would marry me.’
I remember being overwhelmed with joy but also thinking finally – I was almost 30. In the air on the way home, I saw my future unfolding before me. I pictured our family: intelligent, athletic, tall, dynamic… I could hardly wait to get off the plane to start making plans for our wedding. Soon after, Jason and I moved in together in Los Angeles. We discussed our future, agreeing we both wanted children. I felt grounded in the knowledge that he wanted kids. Family is very important to me.
A year after that, Jason cancelled the wedding, throwing me into a tailspin. Up until that point, everything I’d ever wanted I had achieved through hard work and sheer determination. When I couldn’t get answers from Jason on what had gone wrong, I questioned myself and what I could have done better or differently. I should have questioned him, but I didn’t think to do so. In the years that followed, I dated other men, I built up my business, I had a full life. But when it came to Jason, deep sadness and confusion remained.
The phone call in April ended in mystery. He left a message on a Sunday, saying, ‘I have something important to talk about – please call me back.’ I was working and called the next morning. He uttered an eerily familiar phrase: ‘You may want to sit down.’ Then he said, ‘Carolyn, I’m gay.’
I was stunned. After a silent moment and a deep breath I managed to say, ‘I had no idea. I’m sure a huge weight is off your shoulders.’ In all the years I’d known him, I’d never guessed he was gay. We talked again briefly that night and he answered a few questions. I felt there was much left to discuss but he said he had to go.
I can’t imagine what it’s like to go through all the stages he went through; all the deep layers. I don’t know what it’s like to wear a mask for 34 years. It’s sad that society puts that kind of pressure on a person.
I empathise with Jason and support him. But at the same time, I remain deeply hurt by him. I wish he could have been honest with me years ago. I feel like there are two Jasons now: the man I fell in love with and the man I’m trying to understand. He’s being hailed as a pioneer, but I believe true heroism is a result of being honest with yourself and those you love.
Today, I’m 35 years old and dating. I have a great life. I train pro athletes and high-school kids and work at athletic camps with at-risk children. I’m writing a book that I hope will help other women. I froze my eggs last week as a backup plan. It’s an empowering option, something I’d been planning to do for some time. I realised recently that maybe I’d put it off because there was a seed of hope Jason might come back to me… It’s hard to admit that but I like to face up to issues; I run toward them at 100km an hour.
What I’ve learnt is that my only mistake was thinking, ‘What did I do wrong?’ I’d done nothing wrong – I’d been true to myself the whole time. I understand now you can never truly know what’s going on in the mind of another person, no matter how well you think you know them. But you do know yourself. Be your own cheerleader. Trust in yourself.”