The New York Times‘ weekly “Modern Love” essay feature is no stranger to generating buzz—regular readers will remember the infamous “Shamu lady” —but this Sunday’s may have topped them all. In a piece titled “Coming Out as a Modern Family,” actress Maria Bello (Prisoners, Grown Ups, The Cooler) described her decision to tell her 12-year-old son that she had become involved romantically with her best friend, a woman identified in the piece as Clare and ID’d by The Hollywood Reporter and other outlets as media executive Clare Munn.
But that buzz has, in many cases, missed the point. In reporting on the piece, many headlines have declared that Bello “came out as gay“—but, despite the phrasing in Bello’s own headline, that’s sort of the opposite of what she wrote about.
In her essay, Bello describes having had past romantic relationships with men and another woman. The central relationship in the piece is not her first same-sex one, and the essay isn’t about the actress first realizing that she was attracted to people of both genders. Rather, the narrative focuses on the writer’s worries that acknowledging this particular relationship could hurt her family and her career, juxtaposed with her family’s actual reaction:
[My son] looked at me for what seemed like an eternity and then broke into a huge, warm smile. “Mom, love is love, whatever you are,” he said with wisdom beyond his years. (Yes, he obviously attends one of those progressive schools in Los Angeles!)
I loved him so much for saying that. “But Jack, I’m a little scared,” I said. “When I was younger, people judged you if you were in a romantic relationship with a person of the same sex, and some still do. So I’m not sure how to deal with this. But we’ll figure it out together.”
In her final paragraph, Bello declares herself not a gay woman or lesbian or bisexual but, instead, “whatever.” That lack of a label, she decides, is what “modern” love looks like. And, if this morning’s other celeb coming-out news is any indication, she may be right: in a YouTube video posted by Olympian Tom Daley, the diver spent five minutes discussing his announcement that he’s in a relationship with a guy, all without suggesting a new label for his sexuality.