When I separated from my wife, moving out of our family home and moving into an apartment, my life changed dramatically. Within a few weeks, I came (back) out to my parents, both in their mid-80s, my 86 year old aunt, my four siblings, and some of my closest friends.
From there I came out to my cousins and my other aunt and uncle, and then ten months later, after a lot of thought and planning, I came out at work. After years of hiding who I was in a small secret compartment, ashamed to share my secret with anyone, I felt incredibly liberated. Each coming out was increasingly empowering and integrating.
The reasons for leaving my marriage were many. The most central driver of my decision to leave my wife was that I could no longer hide who I was. It was literally killing me. I was increasingly depressed, moody, and angry. I was having difficulty focusing at work. I felt that If I were going to survive mentally and emotionally that I needed to come out. I also hoped to have a deep, intimate relationship with a man. My wife and I talked briefly about the possibility of opening up the marriage. She felt strongly that she wanted to keep the marriage together but an open marriage was not acceptable to her. It became clear to me that if I wanted to come out and be free to explore relationships with men and learn about the broader gay world at large, I would need to leave the marriage.
I also believe that if my wife had been willing to try an open marriage, I would have stayed in the marriage. My wife is one of the most decent people that I have ever met and has always had this sparkling personality and warmth that I love. I still enjoy being with her and her family and miss the close relationships we once had. Over the past year and a half, my wife and I have done a lot to rebuild our friendship, and there is now growing warmth and closeness between us. But my wife is still deeply hurt by the breakup of the marriage and does not want to hear any details about my new life.
As I left the marriage and began to talk about my new life both in a support group for men in mixed-orientation marriages, with friends and on my blog, I now realize that I spoke and wrote in a way that was not accurate and hurt two men I was close to, which I regret. Though the criticism of one of these two men, who had been a close friend, I began to see that I talked about leaving my marriage and coming out in the same breath and associated them both with the new level of integration and authenticity I felt.
I have begun to see, as I have given this more thought, that it was the coming out that made for the feeling of integration and authenticity I felt, and not the leaving of the marriage. Leaving my marriage, for me, was part of the coming out process, because as my wife had said clearly that she did not want me to come out to anyone while we were still together. And as I wrote earlier, had my wife been willing to try an open marriage, and been willing for me to come out while staying in the marriage, I would have stayed. While I do not believe an open marriage would have been easy for us, given how my wife sees marriage and my own views about marriage, I would have stayed and given it a try.
I don’t think choosing to stay married and telling the world you are gay is an easy thing to do. Given how public my life is, I am not sure, even if I had chosen to stay married and also to come out, our marriage would have lasted. I know I would have felt the pressure to ‘choose a side’, as would my wife. The complexity and challenge of explaining to the world that we had chosen to stay together because we were committed to each other, that she was my best friend and confidant, but that I was gay and wanted to have male relationships as well, would have been quite difficult for me. As an adult, I’ve always stayed within the swim lanes for what was acceptable by society. I have been more of a conformist than I ever wanted to admit to myself. As the oldest child of five children, one of my younger brothers told me a few years ago that I was the typical first-child: overachiever and socially conforming.
I won’t try and say that I now ‘see the light’ and have changed every single view I have held regarding marriage and coming out, but I have changed on a number of topics and feel I’m very much in process and learning. My friend was very critical of what I had written in my blog about marriage and I have been trying to take the criticism in, look at myself honestly and see where I need to change my views. The main thing I have seen so far is that in my excitement and feelings of liberation in coming out, I didn’t take the time to really think through my core views, but would quickly write what came into my mind that day and post it online. For me, the blog began as a form of therapy. In the beginning, I didn’t care who read the blog, and then I over time I began to tell friends about the blog I was writing and they began to read it. Now that people are reading what I wrote and I have a bigger obligation to be thoughtful and precise about what I say online.
Regarding marriage, I was wrong when I tied my feelings of authenticity and liberation to leaving my marriage and made statements that I did not see how a gay man could stay in a marriage and find authenticity. Those words were inaccurate and hurt two men I care about. When I was jolted awake by my friend’s anger and criticism and I began to look closely and think thought what I had been writing and saying, I realized that my words did not accurately represent me either. I realized I had lumped together leaving my marriage and coming out in an intellectually sloppy manner.
I know my friend is still angry at me but I am grateful for his anger and his insistence that I take a hard look at statements I was making, and also how those statements affected him, his partner, and other men. It is painful when someone confronts you but I needed to hear the criticism in a loud and clear way in order to change.