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Sophie Cachia's husband laughed at her 'girl crush'. But deep down he knew they'd never be the same.

This is an extract from Then There Was Her by Sophie Cachia.

I was running late. Again.

At almost 30, you’d think I’d have learnt by now how to manage my time a little better... But no, I still insisted on challenging myself to get anywhere and everywhere in the shortest amount of time possible.

Sigh.

Only eight weeks earlier, I’d given birth to my second baby – my daughter, Florence – and I was on my way to one of my first ‘working’ events since she’d arrived, as a guest speaker on an AFL panel. (I’ve always worked hard, but let me tell you, dolling yourself up for a guest speaking appearance while you still have stitches in your fanny was new territory for me.)

Listen to Mia Freedman's full interview with Sophie Cachia on the No Filter podcast below. Post continues after audio.


It was early 2017, the league’s inaugural season was about to kick off and I’d been invited to speak because I’d grown up in a pretty well-known footy family, the Shaw family, and am a vocal advocate for female representation in sport.

My dad had always worked in the AFL professionally as both a player and coach with Fitzroy, Essendon and Adelaide Football Clubs, as well in senior management at Fremantle FC – so I basically grew up in footy change rooms around the country. Plus, I had married an AFL player. I had lived and breathed the game at every stage of my life, so it made a lot of sense that I was so passionate about it.

I know the game, I love the game, and I was absolutely stoked when the AFLW started up. I’d taken Floss to the first ever AFLW game when she was ten days old, which was such an emotional night for me as both a woman and a mother.

Sure, I think the hormones were still raging through my body, but it was also such a significant, huge moment in history both for females and the future of our position in sport – and the fact that I got to be there with my daughter to witness it was really special.

Watch Sophie Cachia on Australia's Survivor. Post continues after video.


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So, there I was, racing to speak for an audience, the sweat dripping from under my milk-filled udders running down my stomach and soaking into the post-natal recovery shorts I’d decided to squeeze on underneath my leather skirt. Whose brilliant idea was that?

I raced into the hotel where the panel was being held, ran into the lift and pressed the button... wrong floor, of course.

Fuck. I was a sweaty mess and so nervous about getting up on stage – not because of any fear of speaking; more so because I was still in post-partum haze and, I reiterate, the under-boob sweat was real. (It’s an issue on any given day with size 12GG boobs, but add two proverbial gigantic hot water bottles on your chest thanks to your now 14-I-cup breastfeeding boobies and, woah, it's wet ‘n’ wild under your shirt.)

As a company director, digital marketer, social media influencer and the owner of multiple businesses, I hold myself to a high standard when it comes to work events (speaking events in particular), and I strive to be the consummate professional. My personal presentation is so important to me, so I like to always source [clothes] and style myself, as well as making sure that my prepared talk is in immaculate condition.

I am a ‘cram under pressure’ type of gal and it’s always worked for me. It’s how I operated best throughout school, university and now for work, so in regard to my preparation ahead of speaking engagements, it’s not uncommon to find me sitting up late at night, surrounded by pages and pages of handwritten notes (I’ve always retained information best by handwriting it), covering information on my expected talking points. I’ve also been known to stick notes up around my bathroom as a way of retaining information in order to present to the best of my capabilities.

As the elevator dinged to let me know I was at the right level, I could feel the panic rising.

Oh God, is my boob leaking?

I fumbled with my bag as the doors opened and I stepped through.

"Just in the green room to your right, Sophie," a lovely staff member said as she ushered me towards a door. The tiny room was buzzing as the other women inside all chatted to each other. I didn’t know who they all were at first, but the handful of girls wearing their club polos were obviously the footy players I’d be speaking alongside up on stage any minute.

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When you’re on a panel, it’s pretty standard to be introduced to a whole lot of people all within the space of 60 seconds, and as I was taken around the room and introduced to football players, administrators, various volunteers and other people (whose roles I can’t now recall), just remembering everyone’s names was far too much to take in, given my newborn-induced sleep deprivation and the tizz I was in over being late.

All I could think about was the moustache I hadn’t had time to wax. Shit, have I got a sweat droplet hanging off my top lip? Ugh...

"Hi, I’m Sophie, nice to meet you!"

"Hi, yes, Sophie Cachia, so lovely to meet you." And so it went on...

Then there was her. "Hi..."

My world froze.

When you hear about people throwing out phrases like "the world stopped" or "I saw stars", I always thought it sounded like a bit of bullshit.

But as I shook this woman’s hand, the electric current that ran between us was instantaneous. Energy ran between us – or perhaps just coming from my end. It was as close to an out-of-body experience as I could have ever imagined – and I’d never felt anything like it before in my life. Time stood completely still – and, yes, I am now one of those people who says that stars surrounded her in slow motion.

My mind was racing as she introduced herself. Who is this woman?

I need to know her.

Oh my God, look at her arms... they’re so... sexy.

She wasn’t ‘pretty’. Not in the traditional sense that I had been made to believe thanks to societal conditioning, anyway.

During a discussion in late 2020 with my good friend Deni Todorović – a proud non-binary human and activist in the LGBTQIA+ community – we spoke about this concept. Once upon a time, we had both associated the word ‘pretty’ with femininity – a clear indication, we agreed, that we’d been taught to associate certain descriptive words with gender stereotypes.

But this is a way of thinking from which we’ve since both evolved. It is important for me to note this as part of my story so that when I have ‘labelled’ or stereotyped, it’s clear that these were the beliefs and thoughts of a past version of Sophie, not the evolution of her.

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The woman who stood before me at the event was much shorter than me and very masculine in appearance. (Something else I have learnt over the past few years is that I’d instantly assumed her gender and pronouns based once again on societal conditioning, rather than asking her – though I now know how she identifies.)

She had soft, beautiful skin that seemed to glow, yet had muscular arms and bulging veins from her fingertips to her biceps – something I’d never seen up close on a female before. Her eyes were piercing, sharp – the kind that look straight into your soul.

I found myself inspecting her hands as she so firmly shook mine. They were strong, sturdy, with very short nails, bitten down to the bed. Protruding veins, as I’d so often seen on guys. ‘Man hands’, I called them.

When she spoke, her voice was deeper than I expected. Even her scent was masculine, and it struck me that, physically, she possessed everything that I found attractive in my husband. She wore no makeup, her hair was thrown into a bun on top of her head... she was completely untouched.

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So, whilst my then-conditioned brain hadn’t labelled her as ‘pretty’, she was without a doubt the most strikingly beautiful person I had ever seen in my life. And it was in that moment my world changed forever.

I’d never felt this way about anyone before – so instantaneous – and certainly not about a woman. I’d always been able to appreciate another woman’s physical beauty upon introduction, but this feeling was something new to me.

This wasn’t just me objectively taking in her looks. This was intense attraction – and I had never been physically attracted to a woman before in my life.

So while one part of my brain was absolutely enraptured by this gorgeous, intriguing, powerfully sexy woman standing in front of me, shaking my hand, then the other half of me was thinking, What the f***, Sophie? Why are you attracted to her? Why are you attracted to a woman?

I admit, I was really rattled after that. The next few moments were a blur as I went around the room chatting with the other people who would be speaking that day, prepping to get up on stage. But I kept looking over my shoulder.

Who is that woman? And why do I care?

I was married, after all, and still very much in love with my husband. We’d just had our second baby for God’s sake. We were happy. I was happy! Our relationship was wonderful. Sure, there were a few issues, but nothing out of the ordinary; nothing that you wouldn’t expect to see in any marriage at some point.

In the eight years I’d been with Jaryd, my eyes had never found their way to anyone else – male or female – with this level of intensity, intrigue or sexual attraction.

Whatever had just passed between me and this woman, I was truly shaken and as the night wore on, I couldn’t tear my eyes away from her, even as I was speaking.

I couldn’t stop staring at her nails. They were so different to my pink acrylic talons and I was surprised when I realised... I liked them. Usually I’d be thinking, ‘Oh God, look at her f***ing nails. What are you doing?’ But I wasn’t. I recognised she was different to me, to anything I’d ever been surrounded by... and I liked it. All I could think was how sexy those hands were; what they’d be able to do to me.

Listening to her talk later during breaks in the program, hearing snippets about her life and how passionate she was about female equality in sport, I soon found I was no longer just intrigued by her looks.

I was quickly becoming interested in her as a person. She spoke so confidently, so assuredly, and with such passion about footy – something that I loved so much, too. I was so absorbed in her stories about her life, her time in the sport, what it meant to her to be there that night, and I could see that there was, in fact, more to her than moisturised biceps and intoxicating eyes.

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She was really intelligent, empowering, and – most appealing to me – she was really interesting. I had to get to know her.

As the night wrapped up, we all stood around mingling for a while, and I wasn’t surprised at this point to discover I was totally giddy around her. We were all standing around talking as a group, but I was completely fixated on this woman.

I was surprised to realise, though, that she seemed to be interested in me as well – not completely besotted in the way that I was with her, but there was something there drawing her to me.

She admitted that she’d had no idea who I was before the event but had googled me and seen that I had 200,000 Instagram followers – she looked impressed. I’ve always found it quite hilarious when people I’ve met have warranted me some ‘celebrity status’ because of the number count on my followers list. Even elite athletes or famous Australian actors have done this, when in fact it’s me standing there jaw-to-floor over them. They are the professionals, they are the ‘real deal’ – they are the famous ones here who deserve recognition and notoriety.

Despite what some people would like to believe, Instagram followers have never been significant to me. Sure, for my career they are – in my role on social media, I am paid purely based on statistics, market reach, ROI, traction, targeting set audiences, etc. But some live with the narrative that just because we ‘work’ on social media, that we ‘live’ by social media – and for me that’s far from the truth.

The more we chatted amongst the crowd, the more I got the sense that I, too, had intrigued this woman. So, we followed each other on Instagram, exchanged a few details, and made plans to catch up.

After what I didn’t realise at the time would be a life-changing meeting, I got in an Uber and I went home to my husband and my two babies. I had no idea what my feelings meant at that point – the confusion left me in a silent stare out of my window. All I knew was that I needed to know more.

**********

As my Uber wove through the streets away from her, taking me further and further from the fantasy and back to my life, I scrolled through the photos I’d had taken on the night with various people at the event – including her.

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'Gosh, I look so bad,' I thought. Never mind the fact that I’d birthed my second baby just a few weeks earlier, I still judged myself harshly based on the possible perception of me [that] she might be left with. Always a naturally confident person – one who has been blessed with quite a positive outlook on my physical appearance – I suddenly hated that photo.

I hated that she might see it later and think I wasn’t perhaps as appealing as she’d remembered. I didn’t care if it was on social media for the world to see; I cared what she was going to think, that she would think I looked bad.

I walked in the front door, bursting to tell Jaryd about the night. "You would not believe what just happened to me," I laughed, setting my bag down on the kitchen table as I filled him in. "I just had my moment."

Jaryd and I had talked about these ‘moments’ in the past – you know, the love-at-first-sight moments, those people who swear they met someone and fell instantly in love.

I was previously a bit judgmental about the idea of a ‘moment’, I’ll admit, based on the fact I’d always believed love and attraction went far deeper than purely looks. I’d always found myself attracted to and more inclined to get to know someone based on a soul connection and if their personality could make me laugh.

But if it wasn’t love at first sight – what was it? All I knew was that this was my first encounter of a ‘moment’.

"I just met this girl," I giggled to Jaryd, "this woman... and I think I’ve got a crush on her. I think I just had my moment."

It was normal for Jaryd and I to be so blatantly open with each other. If a beautiful woman walked past us in the supermarket, I would watch Jaryd look at her and giggle.

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Jealously was never, ever a trait of mine in that relationship. We understood each other on such a deep-rooted level, and with such open communication at all times comes great trust and respect. I was completely transparent with him about the night and how things had played out, my feelings I’d felt through both my mind and my body.

But I didn’t like girls! I was married... to a man. I’d only ever dated men. I’d only ever had sexual experiences with men! My confusion was obvious as I explained to Jaryd in detail my attraction towards her arms and hands, her deep voice, and the way she spoke about playing footy like Jaryd would.

Yet, she was a girl, with boobs and a vagina. What the f***?! We were both in hysterics when I proclaimed, "Jaryd – she even gave me fanny flutters!"

After an intense conversation about her, we headed to bed as usual, neither of us having any idea that this conversation would lead to us spending the next few years navigating our entire relationship – although much, much later, Jaryd confessed to me that he’d seen a spark in me that night that he’d never witnessed before, and he knew nothing would ever be the same again.

**********

When I tell you it was a slow burn from there, I mean it was s-l-o-o-o-w. It might’ve been an instant attraction for me, but there was a lot to process.

This woman and I became friendly on Instagram, commenting on each other’s posts, replying to each other’s stories – but it was nothing, right? Just some schoolgirl crush that I would giggle about over cocktails with my friends.

"Oh, Jesus," my best friend joked. "You watch all of us start finally settling down at 30 and you’ll be going through a mid-life crisis, getting divorced and becoming a lesbian." I couldn’t have predicted that that joke would become a reality.

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I didn’t know if she was seeing anyone, if she might have a boyfriend, or if she could possibly be gay. Looking back now, it’s obvious to me where she was at in her life, but at the time I was totally naïve to this unexplored world.

I soon became obsessed with finding out if she had a partner. Why did I care, though? I was happily married. To a man! Remember, Sophie? I didn’t even like girls, right? Yet here I was, so heavily invested into a life I shouldn’t have cared about.

As I dived deep on her Insta page, scrolling back through photos, treading dangerously in that ‘you’ve-scrolled-back-to- 2016-please-don’t-accidentally-like-a-photo’ territory, I noticed she had a few snaps with this one particular girl, but I was at a loss to find the concrete evidence I needed.

No lovey-dovey captions that I was renowned for spurting to the internet, no obvious displays of affection in the pictures, not even a glimpse of a love emoji to seal the deal.

Maybe they’re just housemates, I reasoned. It could be her best friend.

What an idiot.

My stomach knotted up and I got butterflies every time she’d message me, and even though our interactions didn’t feel flirty, I wanted to flirt with this woman.

I was getting a kick out of her; I’d get excited when my phone would light up and I’d see her name on my screen.

Jaryd was across all of this, mind you, and I cannot stress that enough. This wasn’t some top-secret operation, an illicit emotional affair, or a devious plot I had concocted behind his back. I read him every single message we would send each other, and it became almost a little joke between us, him laughing at how giddy I was when she’d text but then going on to help me draft a response.

Looking back, I can’t figure out if I was at the point of even understanding what was actually happening here, or if I was simply in denial.

Because whilst it was a bit of fun for me, it was never something I would’ve even considered acting on back then. I was married. I thought I was happy. Jaryd was great. I was just having some harmless fun.

Finally, I got it out of her: yes, she had a girlfriend; yes, it was that woman in the pictures on her Instagram; and yes, they’d been together for a few years.

I respected that, and almost found it a relief. Was she now off-limits to me? Not because I was in a committed marriage, mind you, but because she had a partner. It did give me a slight wake-up call – a bit of a dog-shaking-the-water-off-its-fur moment – but somehow, no matter how dry I thought I was, I was leaving a trail of wet footprints behind me.

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She still held so much intrigue for me. Did I ever consider acting on it? Absolutely not, and not because I wasn’t ‘allowed’ to. Freedom to experiment was on the table within our relationship – not constantly – but if a fun sexual experience arose, we would always discuss it with an open mind.

It was being with a woman; that was not a possibility for me. The thought just didn’t make sense to me, despite how much it appeared my body was starting to crave it.

‘Nope, she’s a cool chick, we’re going to be great friends,’ my logical brain would tell itself. ‘But those hands... those fingers... what would they feel like... inside of me?’

It was not even something I allowed my brain to consciously consider, and I thought that if I didn’t give my attraction to this woman the credit that it really deserved, then maybe it wouldn’t be real.

So, I tried to forget it. I tried to forget her.

But I couldn’t. I so desperately wanted to know her, to be a part of her life. ‘Was this really her, though?’ I would ask myself.

Or was it that this fantasy was providing me with something I was lacking in my real life?

I got my chance to see her again a couple of months later. I’d been invited to a charity walk, Move In May, which is run by Stand Up Events – an organisation that delivers programs to create safe and inclusive environments for everyone whilst fighting sexual and gender discrimination in sport.

Founder Angie Greene has not only become a good friend of mine over the years, but she’s also played an integral role in my education across the LGBTQIA+ space and I am forever grateful to be an ally alongside her.

I was going to be attending with my family – my husband, my son and my daughter – and you’d best believe that I was counting down the days. I was so excited that I’d be seeing her again, this woman I hadn’t been able to get off my mind since that first meeting.

Oh my God, I’m going to see her again.

Oh shit... I’m going to see her again!

What should I wear?

How do I do my hair?

I wanted to look... good. For her.

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What is actually going on with me here?

I’d always loved being sexy for my husband. I loved nothing more than when I’d be in the bathroom getting ready for a night out, or an event, and he’d come in and say, "Oh f***, you look amazing."

My entire life, I’d never dressed for anyone except for myself – until I met Jaryd. He always looked at me with such admiration, no matter what I looked like, but it was nice to see his face when I’d dressed up and made an effort.

I didn’t ever care what anyone else thought; I’m always confident in how I dress, I always love what I wear and I feel good in it. But if I was out to impress someone else, it was Jaryd and Jaryd only. I wanted to look good for my man, you know?

Yet suddenly, here I was wanting to look good for someone else. For her. It was now her that I wanted to make think, ‘Wow,’ when I walked in, even though the reality was I was only going to be wearing activewear since we were partaking in a 4km walk.

Still, I fake tanned the night before and I carefully stuck on false eyelashes with expert precision the morning of the walk (because, of course, fake eyelashes and some terribly bad fake-tanned hands were going to make this woman fall head over heels in love with me).

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I was nervous, so nervous, that I was going to see... her.

Sophie, what the f***?

Why do you feel like this?

Clearly, what I was feeling was more than 'just friends', but while I was inching towards admitting that to myself, part of my brain just wouldn’t fully accept it. I didn’t have any intentions of cheating on my husband, but that wasn’t even the biggest factor standing in the way. It was simply...

I’m not gay. I’m not bisexual. I’m not.

Being with a woman didn’t even occur to me as an option, which sounds crazy now, but in terms of my upbringing, the way I grew up, I wasn’t surrounded by gay women. I had never seen that side to life.

To me, you found a man – a man, specifically – you got married, you had babies, you got a cute house with a nice white picket fence... it was the suburban dream, and it was the only option I thought I had, the option that had been ingrained into me since early childhood.

I wasn’t against same-sex relationships at all, of course, it just wasn’t something I’d ever considered to be part of my journey, or an idea I’d explored for myself.

So, for anyone who has been through – or is currently facing a similar identity crisis as this – you can imagine both the shock and the internal struggle I began to process as the realisation dawned on me that I had actual feelings for ‘her’.

We arrived at the charity walk and I quickly found her amongst the crowd.

She introduced me to her friends – mostly footy players and other women with their female partners – and again, I was instantly intrigued.

These people were so wildly different to all the women I knew, the girls I’d grown up with and the social circles with which I regularly associated. They had such a naturally warm, welcoming vibe about them – a safe space, I felt – and they were all so unique and confident in their individuality.

No one cared who I was or what I did – I was simply a friend of a friend and that was enough for me to be instantly accepted by the group with open arms. As we all got to know each other, and they handed my gorgeous baby daughter around for selfies, I observed this woman within her natural habitat.

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What was it about her and this group that made me feel like I, too, wanted to be here? Still, it would be another whole year before I began to pay any real attention to the feelings that she’d stirred up inside of me since our first meeting.

We stayed chatty on Instagram, but to be honest, I don’t think I could call us actual ‘friends’ at that stage. I’d go to watch her games when I had time, and I was starting to become mates with people in her circle.

But the whole time, despite many hot and cold attempts at shutting it down, I still had this hidden crush, this obsession, this fascination smouldering away in the back of my mind.

I assume that a conservative straight thinker would approach this situation with a completely different mindset than I did, and I’m sure there will be many readers here with frustration that I didn’t pay attention to the red flags waving dramatically in front of my face at this point.

I was constantly fighting my intense attraction to her, and I’d go in waves of shutting it down fiercely to focus on my life as a married woman and mother of two.

But my true spirit kept reminding me that I was entitled to wonder, to dream, to allow my intrigue to run free.

The internal struggle is something I probably haven’t spoken about to many people aside from Jaryd and my best friend. Never family, never online.

The reality was that I didn’t even know what was happening to me, and that’s why when people asked for answers, I didn’t have any to give.

So many times I truly thought it would all go away; that perhaps my marriage had hit a few hiccups thanks to recurring issues that I couldn’t see changing, and that I was just taking this opportunity to distract my mind temporarily.

But deep down, that was the mind of a society-trained young woman, and not the real Sophie.

The true Sophie goes off the power of intuition, passionate love and emotion, and a constant yearning for more in this thing we call life.

This is chapter one of Then There Was Her by Sophie Cachia, published by Simon & Schuster Australia, available now.

Listen to the bonus episode of No Filter where Mia Freedman and Sophie Cachia talk about sex, vibrators and marriage Exclusive to Mamamia subscribers, listen here. 

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