It's been a few years since I've talked about my ex-husband. We've been divorced since 2007 and I haven't had much to do with him since my alimony ended last year. He lives on his side of town in the waterfront house we bought together--with his boyfriend of three years.
Most of my friends know my story pretty well. Married at the age of 22, I jumped into my marriage with both eyes shut. The clues about my husband's confused sexuality were mostly pretty minuscule. While we were dating, I'd found a matchbook from a gay bar at his apartment once. Then there was the mysterious pair of men's underwear (he said they belonged to his brother). The one big clue was a mixed stash of porn I found in his car when I borrowed it one day. It featured gay and straight dirty magazines.
"Why would you have this stuff in your car?" I questioned him as my heart pounded against my chest walls.
His explanation was simple, "I once experimented with men. But I like women. And I love you."
Maybe another woman would have ended things with him, I wanted to believe him. So I let it go. The following summer, we married.
If you liked it then you shoulda put a ring on it
Ours did not start out to be a loveless marriage. Quite the contrary. We were happy lovebirds who delighted in each other's company. He was a good husband and I was a smitten bride. We made love sometimes three times a day. We put off the decision to have children for at least five years. I went to school, he worked and we fell asleep in each other's arms every night with a goodnight kiss and an "I love you." It felt so good.
The next few years were pretty good until one day, while my husband stepped away from the computer, I noticed an instant message from a man on AOL. His name was something like "Warren4Men" and a little antennae went up in my head. When my husband came back downstairs, I asked him about his "friend." I was surprised by his candor.
He told me the man was someone he'd met in a chat room for men who questioned their sexuality. He went there to "help" men, he said, who were where he had been. I let it slide because later that night, he made love to me the way he always had--like a straight man.
Wherever you go, there you'll be
A year or so later, we moved into our waterfront home. Things were looking pretty good for both of us and our marriage. Thoughts of having kids were starting to dance in my head. We were a year from our fifth anniversary.
The following spring, my mother passed away. By this time, my husband had been working long, late hours (or so he said) at his job. I left for Utah for my mother's last days with my sister and nieces. My husband insisted he couldn't leave work. However, shortly before my mother passed away, my husband insisted I needed to return home immediately for him. Torn and confused, I knew there was nothing I could do for my mother. After a tearful phone call from my husband, I came home. My mother died the following morning.
I couldn't understand my husband's urgent plea to return. As soon as I got home, he proceeded to ignore me as he had started doing since we'd moved into our house. A few weeks after my mother's death, I was searching through VHS tapes trying to find our wedding video to cheer me up. That's when I found a large assortment of seemingly blank tapes that actually had gay porn on them. I confronted my husband yet again.
This time he admitted what I had suspected all along: he was confused about his sexual orientation. He said he thought he might be bisexual. He insisted he wouldn't cheat on me. We went to counseling and after the reassurances of his therapist that we'd be okay, I agreed to continue being his wife. I believe this was a major turning point in my husband's mind.
I love you just the way you are
After I'd accepted him as possibly bisexual, he changed. Our sex life slowly died and we began to take separate paths in life. By our fifth anniversary, I decided that having children with "this man" was not to be. He was perfectly happy to keep the status quo.
The next few years were miserable in some ways, okay in other ways. I started gaining a lot of weight and by 1998, decided to do something about it. Partly I did it for myself; mostly I did it in an effort to save my marriage.
After a really rough recovery from a surgery full of complications, I started to drop weight fast. Every week I'd weigh myself and get off the scale doing a little dance of joy. Even though there were few things I could comfortably eat, it seemed worth all the hell I'd gone through to get where I was going. Nine months after the surgery, I was almost 100 pounds lighter. I jumped off the scale and squealed at the realization.
"So, what's going to happen to you when you lose all that weight? You're probably going to leave me for someone better," my husband said taking the wind out of my sails. Shortly after that, I broke my ankle and stopped losing weight. It wouldn't be long before I'd start regaining some of the weight I'd lost.
I can't get close to you
Things in our marriage went from bad to really awful. I tried to put up a brave front, but inside I was dying along with my marriage. My husband was hardly ever around and when he was, he was angry. I'd go from having a wonderful day and excited to see my husband to a snotty, sobbing mess within a half hour of his coming through the door. We were both completely miserable but I didn't know why.
When our 10th anniversary rolled around, I really wanted to try to make things better. I threw a party the week before, but still wanted to go to dinner on our actual anniversary which fell on a weekday. My husband agreed to go out, then cancelled at the last-minute. I spent the night crying uncontrollably while my husband was working late yet again.
Then 9/11 happened. While most of our couple friends drew closer together, we drifted further apart. In a few months, I'd know everything I needed to know. My husband was hiding behind a big, dark secret.
I was blind, but now I see
My father passed away the following February. The feelings of complete aloneness I felt scraped away at my self-esteem and ripped up my heart. My husband didn't seem to care that I was flying to Utah alone for the second time to bury a parent. When I returned, I just wanted to be held and loved. He was incapable of expressing anything but indifference towards me while he ignored my pain.
I had been suspicious for some time over his cold, distant ways. I'd even asked him a few times if he had been having an affair with anyone. He would always answer that I was being stupid or crazy and that he didn't have the sex drive to even have sex anymore. I asked him to see a doctor because he was only 37. He refused.
That March, I found myself springing out of bed at 6 a.m. and actually looking forward to the day ahead of me. I decided it was time to try to work past my grief and move on with my own life. I also wanted to do something nice for my husband. I washed his clothes and was thinking about making him a nice breakfast. First, however, I needed to put some stuff into his work bag that he'd been forgetting for a few weeks. I didn't know I'd find my answers there.
After pushing things into one side of the bag and having them not fit, I opened a different compartment. Inside I found sex toys, lubricant and maps to houses with phone numbers and names scrawled onto them. Not the names of women, but those of men. As I stood there shaking, I finally realized why my marriage was practically on life support: my husband was gay.
I really never knew you at all
The weeks that followed what was a painful confrontation would reveal a whole side to a man I'd spent 11 years sleeping next to but never really knew. Like the fact that he'd had a boyfriend for two years while he was a Marine. That he told his mother he suspected he might be gay, right before we met, and she told him to find a nice girl. And I learned he'd been cheating with me for some time--he wouldn't say just how long, but it was why he had no need for my "services" at home.
Oddly, he didn't want to break up or divorce. I knew immediately that I wanted out, but as a freelance writer, it wouldn't be happening as quickly as I would have liked. In time, as my husband began making new friends in the gay community and started to accept himself as a gay man, he emerged from the closet. I found myself falling into one of my own. It was a cold, dark hell.
I'm on my own
It took almost three years before I was able to move out of our shared house. My first taste of freedom was delicious. I finally felt like I could be myself. My life was far from perfect, but it was my life now and nobody could tell me how to live it.
My ex-husband met a guy he's been with since our divorce. I have had a harder time with relationships. As you can imagine, I have MAJOR trust issues. It comes with the territory when you've spent so many years being lied to and controlled. I recently started dating a man who is completely wonderful, but I'm always afraid I'll mess that up. The fear in my heart is still very close, very palpable.
The hardest part has been getting others to understand where I'm coming from as I have my own "coming out." When my ex-husband learned to embrace his authentic self, he had a whole community of people waiting to embrace him right back. The gay community has a warm tradition of helping their brothers and sisters learn to love who they are when they come out. There is nobody waiting for the straight spouses. We are like babies left on a random doorstep. Sometimes we get help, but often we don't unless we seek it out on our own.
I get so tired of the people who ask dumb questions like whether or not I knew my ex was gay before I married him. There is no right answer except to say I was young, foolish and in love, like many people are at one time in their life. Like every other person getting married, I hoped my husband would take his wedding vows as seriously as I did. He didn't.
One of the saddest parts is how much our divorce felt more like a death. I look back over the years and remember a man I once really loved and wonder if he loved me as much as I loved him. Many of the good times we had are now tainted by the pain of the bad times. Even though I still hurt over him at times, I often dream about him and miss him. But the man I used to call my husband is, for all intents and purposes, dead.
Now that I'm finally out of my own closet, I just want what I wished I could have had all along for all those years in my marriage: love and honesty. And maybe a little understanding, too.