What are the effects on the mind and body of being in the closet and hiding who we are? All of us who have lived in the closet have gone through periods where it was easier to hide and periods where it was much harder.
I have been struck over the years, attending and later facilitating support group meetings for gay and bi men in relationship to women, how often men coming to their first meetings disclose that they are on antidepressants, and yet at the same time are not willing or too afraid to make the big structural changes in their lives that would ease their depression.
In the two and a half years between coming out to my wife and moving out of my marriage, I was increasingly depressed. Part of what drove my depression was the moment by moment internal fight about if I would stay married or move out. For a very long time, I could not bring myself to pull the trigger and leave the marriage.
Pulling the trigger was not that simple. I loved my wife. I had a nice life, a beautiful house, a great job, and a wife and an extended family that loved me. But I was increasingly lonely, sad, and isolated. I was in my early 50s and I wondered if I had missed the window to come out. I had wanted to come out earlier but never could muster the courage. How could I blow up the ‘happy life’ I had created and hurt so many people?
After coming out to my wife, my anxiety grew. My wife’s ever-changing moods as she reacted and processed what she had learned about me had me walking on eggshells. I got quieter, more withdrawn and sulky, and increasingly depressed. For a long time, I thought maybe we could make the marriage work. Other men I knew had successful mixed orientation marriages. My wife believed that sexual orientation was a spectrum and that if I loved her it should not matter who I was attracted to. She thought that we should be able to make the marriage work. I could not get her to see that being gay was who I was, not just who I had sex with.
There were a few key turning points for me about a year and a half after coming out to my wife that all occurred around the same time.
My growing desire (which I kept to myself) was to leave the marriage. I could not imagine how I would juggle an open marriage. I could imagine my wife, even if she agreed to an open marriage, going through all kinds of emotional upheaval knowing I was out with a man. One day I finally broached the subject of an open marriage with my wife. She was adamant that she did not want an open marriage. She would not budge on the topic. This was one of the nails in the coffin that ended my marriage.
The second pivotal event which helped to end my marriage occurred during a therapy session. I had begun seeing a gay therapist about a year and a half earlier. I came to the therapy session that day despondent and unable to carry on a conversation. “You are scaring me.” my therapist said. “I think you need to be on antidepressants”. This was another wake up call. I told him that I would not go on antidepressants, but I also knew that my inability to make a decision about my life and marriage was at the root of the problem. I knew that I needed to pull the trigger I had been wanting to pull and move out of my marriage.
The third thing that helped me decide to leave the marriage was that I had been building a wonderful group of male friends that I had met through my support group and other Meetup groups. My fears of moving out of my marriage and sitting alone in an apartment depressed were beginning to be replaced with a new life, that for the first time, I was beginning to envision.
I do not have a strong feeling one way or the other if men should or should not leave their marriage. I think it is a very individual and personal choice. Mixed orientation marriages are hard and I have seen some men make it work and others struggle. I came to the conclusion that for my life, I could not continue in my marriage. I felt that I needed to come out. I also decided that if I was going to come out in my early 50s I did not want to do it halfway. I needed to fully and proudly come out after years of hiding.
The day I moved into my apartment, after a few incredibly difficult weeks with my wife, I was ecstatic. I lay on the air mattress on the floor, (my new bed had not yet arrived), and was giddy with excitement and joy. That first weekend in my new place I hosted a small dinner party for some of the men I had gotten to know and had a date or two planned for the following week. I kept imagining Marisa Tomei standing on the porch, tapping her foot, in My Cousin Vinny saying, “My biological clock is ticking.” I was determined to kick off my new gay life with a bang.
I have never looked back. The day I moved out of my marriage my new life began. My son and my siblings have all commented that they have never seen me so happy as I have been these past five years.