Love & Loss in Russia: How One Queer Person Drew a Valuable Lesson from Their Teenage Heartbreak.

by Irina Groushevaia

My name is Irina Groushevaia and I’m from Moscow, Russia. 

When I was 16 years old, I was living with my estranged father because my mom abandoned me, and it was a difficult situation to be in because his wife wasn’t very fond of me. And to kind of cope with the situation, I had an online blog. I was meeting a lot of interesting people who were also writing about the difficulties of their lives, and I met someone… they were very masculine-presenting and they lived in St. Petersburg. 

We started calling each other. Skype was really big at the time, so we would do video calls. And sometimes it would just be hour long calls about nothing, like we’re doing homework together, I’m falling asleep in my bed with my laptop.  They wanted to hang out and it was really nice to get to know them in person. I was so enthralled by them and just taken away by how they are as a person. 

They invited me over to St. Petersburg for New Year’s Eve, which is our biggest holiday in Russia. They told me they weren’t actually a boy, that they were born a girl and they have a different name and that they present masculine to feel one with their identity and how they want to present. 

At the time, I was also coming into my queerness and I haven’t really explored relationships or even had any language around being trans or non-binary or genderqueer. So for me, the first time not being with a femme-presenting person who’s queer, opened a lot about my own desires and how I want to present and what I find attractive in queer people. And also I think sharing that information was a huge step forward in the relationship.

So I felt really connected and I definitely was falling in love with this person. They also shared with me about their living situation, which was also a little bit difficult because they lived in a communal apartment, with their parent, who’s dying of cancer. So inviting me into that space felt really intimate. 

I wanted to get them something really special for New Year’s Eve as their gift. And my dad did not give me any pocket money, but he did give me subway fair to go to school. So every day I jumped the turnstile so I could keep my subway fare, and I saved up enough money to get them an iPod Nano, which they really wanted because they didn’t have an MP3 player. 

Once I got there, there was some kind of shift in how they were talking to me and showing care, and suddenly this really intense, loving connection felt like it was fading away. They were absolutely blown away that I got them an iPod Nano. They couldn’t believe it. They were just so shocked.

After we had celebrated New Year’s Eve, I went to hang out with one of our mutual friends, and when I came back to the apartment, they weren’t buzzing me up. I was buzzing the apartment door number and they weren’t opening the downstairs door. So I waited until a neighbor came out and I walked up. I walk into the communal apartment and I get to their door and my things were packed, and there was a note that I was not welcome here anymore and that I should leave. 

I didn’t understand why I was being treated this way and why it was so abrupt. And after so much vulnerability and opening up and inviting me into their personal space, I felt distraught. I started questioning myself. Did I make this all up? Was this all in my head? Was everything I’m feeling just me?

I started questioning myself. Did I make this all up? Was this all in my head?

St. Petersburg is on water so in the winter, it’s very very cold because it’s also very humid. And I was like, I can’t keep walking around and I just went to the airport to wait for my return flight. I think I sat in the St. Petersburg airport for like seven hours because I just didn’t have anywhere to do.

I was back in Moscow and they had blocked me on all social media, and a few months later, either they unblocked me on social media, but they came up on my Facebook, and I don’t remember who messaged who first, but we started a conversation. And we were just catching up and I asked how the iPod was doing, and they gifted it to a boy in their school. I have never hit block so fast in my life. I cannot believe that this person felt so entitled to my kindness and my time and my efforts to show up for them and then have the audacity to give away something that cost me so much work and time.

I really had to process that slowly and realize, Well, I do not deserve this and that this behavior is absolutely wild. But a part of me wants to feel like maybe it was too vulnerable for them to be in a queer relationship with me. But genuinely, I’m grateful to have had that experience with them and genuinely feel so much compassion and love for someone. We were both teenagers in really difficult times of our lives, and I’m just grateful for the time we did have together that was positive and connective. And f*** that b****.

I think we always look down on teenagers and their feelings and what they’re experiencing, but that shit was real and it was life-changing for me, and it was really emotionally intense and mentally stimulating. And I want to shine a light that our earlier relationships also mean a lot, and we’re human beings at any age, and we all experience heartbreak, and it can happen at any time.

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