I officially divorced my gay husband in 2013. People who hear my story often ask the same few questions. The first, of course, is how I knew he was gay. Debra’s posts and Bonnie Kaye’s gay husband checklist are great resources for women who question their husband or boyfriend’s sexuality.
Once they know that I am not just an angry ex-wife trying to make up something outlandish to beef up my case in divorce court, they move on to the second, most logical question: If he did all those things, why did I stay?
Obviously, when you stay in an unsatisfying marriage for two solid decades, there are reasons. Looking back, four main reasons kept me there, until one day they finally didn’t.
First, well, I believed him. I believed him when he said he loved me, when he said it was all my imagination, when he said he was faithful. All of it. I gave that man the benefit of the doubt, until I doubted myself thoroughly. I was also isolated from a lot of outside input. I didn’t have close, male friends I could talk to about what my husband was saying and doing, to see if they thought it was unusual. I lost the ability to trust my own judgment.
Second, I meant my vows when I said them. Not only my wedding vows, but any time I committed to something, I made the best effort I could to fulfill my word. I did not enter marriage lightly, or thinking it would not have challenges, and I did not think of divorce as a live option. But even before we married, when he asked other things of me, I meant what I said. I was a “make him happy or die trying,” kind of wife, until I realized, eventually, that I might be speaking literally.
Third, I learned to fear his wrath and avoid it. Once I realized my marriage was a sham, I wanted to leave. But by then I also knew that he would do whatever he could to make my life a living hell, if he thought his secret might come out. When he said he would never share custody with me, never pay alimony, never pay child support, never accept a divorce, I knew he meant to stop at nothing. When he said he didn’t “want to be the kind of man who can’t control his wife, so he has to kill her,” I feared for my life. When he said he’d ensure I never saw my sons again, I froze. Nothing meant more to me than those boys. For so many years, they were the center and focus and greatest joy of my life. I was terrified that I would leave him and lose my sons in the bargain.
Lastly, I was financially trapped. After just three years of marriage, while living overseas, I quit work to stay home with my sons. I stayed home, educating and raising them and eventually doing some low-paid, freelance, part-time work, for the next 17 years. It took a very long time to find a full-time, paying position with health insurance. it took even longer to find one that would enable me to afford an apartment. When I did move out, I shared an apartment with my oldest son, who had a part-time job at a fast food restaurant. Between the two of us, we could pay most of our bills, most of the time. Living in a suburb of one of the most expensive cities in America, housing was hard to find–and the wait lists for rent-controlled housing were, when I signed up for assistance, more than four years long. Given a choice between moving into a homeless shelter or sleeping in my car, I knew I could not get a better job if I didn’t stay in place just a little longer. Staying in that house, living in a doorless, basement room which flooded after rain and featured only a single, tiny window far above my bed, was a nightmare, but as I fell asleep each night I reminded myself that it was the only way I could see my sons. It was worth it, for a long time, and even after it wasn’t worth it, it was all I could afford to do.
I had a lot of reasons to stay. None of them meant that I was happy, that I consented to being used as his beard, that I liked being married to a gay man or that I was aware that he was gay before I married him. I was just, by turns, naive, misled, confused, frightened, self-doubting and broke.
For my next post, I’ll talk about why, eventually, I left.