At one point on the long road to separation and coming out, my wife asked me during a particularly painful conversation, ‘So, are you doing this just for sex? You are not 21, you know!’ No, I said, I was not doing it for the sex, (although to myself I thought that the sex part would be nice). Primarily I was separating because I believed that if I didn’t leave and leave soon, I risked nothing less than the death of my soul. Now I know the phrase ‘death of my soul’ sounds just a bit dramatic, but that’s how I saw it. What I tried to explain to her, quite badly, was that I desperately needed, for whatever time I had left on earth, to live honestly, with a sense of integrity in the world.
When I tried to explain my need to break up a marriage of 21 years to a woman I cared for, to step out into a completely unknown gay world at 55, I couldn’t make it sound right, even to myself. The two years between coming out to my wife and moving out of our marriage were the two most painful years of my life. I felt I was dying inside. I became withdrawn, cold, quick to snap, and depressed. I felt like the very soul of who I was, died a slow, painful death each day. Again, dramatic but true. I knew I needed to get out to survive.
For almost two years, I vacillated back and forth about if I would really leave my marriage and my son. A turning point for me was during a therapy session where I was in such pain and indecision about my marriage that I could barely speak. My therapist said he was frightened by my behavior and suggested that he refer me to a doctor to put me on anti-depressants. That session was a wake-up call. It was if he had thrown down a gauntlet. I was determined not to take medication and to figure things out and make a decision.
What I think of as the ‘middle ground,’ the space between coming out to a spouse and separating can be incredibly painful. For way too long, I couldn’t make the decision to leave my marriage. I would moan to myself that I was leaving a beautiful home; a wife that loved me; an incredible walk-in closet we built; in-laws I loved and of course, my son. But in the end, the pain was too great.
I would go off to work, leaving home at about 6:30 AM each morning. I would function all day successfully at work and often find things I ‘needed to do’ before leaving my job that kept me at my desk until 6-6:30 PM in the evening. As I began to drive home, my stomach would start to knot. By the time I pulled in the driveway and walked through the door, I was in tremendous emotional pain. I tried to put on a happy nothing is wrong expression, but I would be an emotional mess inside.
I really felt like the person that I was, was dying a little bit every day that I stayed in my marriage. Part of what exasperated the issue was that when I first said I wanted to separate, about six months after coming out to my wife, she asked me to stay until my son was older. I stayed for another year and a half.
Moving out was magical and transformational. I felt reborn. I felt free in a way I hadn’t ever been free. I thought I was becoming who I truly was. I’ve never looked back or regretted the decision I had made to leave my marriage. The last twelve months have been amazing and powerful; honest and empowering; integrating and a gift that I never thought I would get. For years I was tortured with the fear of what coming out would be like. The reality was so much better than anything I had ever hoped for.
When I see other men in the middle ground, in tremendous pain, but terrified to move forward, it’s hard to watch. I know the space they inhabit well. It’s a very painful place to be. A place where continued indecision makes for constant pain. The only way out that I know is to make the decision to live a life of integrity and honesty and to begin to move in that direction. Staying in the middle ground only brings constant pain, the loss of one’s soul, and anti-depressant drugs.
I do think it takes courage to make the choices I have made. But not to have made these choices would have been to die inside. I am grateful for the life I have today. It continues to unfold in new, powerful, and surprising ways.