I’m a 36 y/o (pronoun indifferent, she/her is fine) in need of advice or maybe just encouragement/permission.
So, the reader’s digest version is that I’ve pretty much always identified as bisexual, but am realizing that i really want to be with women. So, i guess I’m thinking that I’m actually more like a full on lesbian rather than bi? The wrinkle with this is that i’m coming up on my ten year anniversary to my husband, who is a Good Dude.
Here’s the long version. In high school I realized I liked girls. I came out as bi to my parents and my friends, but, really, I was focused on girls, and my friends from that period would probably have described me as a lesbian. When i pictured the future, I pictured it with a woman. I presented as pretty butch, even experimented with binders and things, although i’ve never really struggled with any sort of gender dysphoria, just sometimes clothes fit better without boobs. Or so I tell myself, but maybe that’s something else I need to explore.
Anyway, a couple of heartbreaks and dating false starts with women found me in college and desperately lonely. I had better luck getting romantic attention from men, so i shrugged, said, “well, I did say bi-sexual, didn’t I?” and started looking to men as romantic partners. I started dating a guy in my art program in college, and found that we had a lot in common, were great friends, and had the same values and goals and stuff. We weren’t a perfect match, but who is, right? I’ve always struggled with making friends, and here’s this great awesome friend, who I totally love. Then, of course, life happened. Realistically, I was probably about to break things off, but then Hurricane Katrina. I was living in New Orleans with my parents, we lost our house, i lost my job and ended up resettling in central louisiana for a profoundly miserable year. Eventually, i moved to Illinois and in with my boyfriend who had since graduated and gotten a job teaching art. What else was I gonna do, right?
First year living together was rough, but things got better and we got our routine down. It’s a routine that involves me doing a lot of the emotional labor of the relationship, which probably does add a layer to my discontent. Anyway, eventually we got married, and i had doubts throughout the engagement, but i’ve always been pretty conflict averse and just didn’t know how to exit. Also, I tend to get stubborn and don’t like to be wrong, and I’m definitely carrying some weird vicarious baggage from my mom’s unhappy marriage and divorce (I wasn’t even born! May parents have been happily married my whole life! How did i get this hangup about how I would definitely never marry the wrong person and repeat my mother’s mistakes. As I write this I now realize that I have some unexplored issues about my mom. Thanks, sobriety).
So now, here we are, nearly ten years later, and we just bought our house a little over a year ago (which was a huge step for us and something we’ve put a lot of work into together). In many ways, we are closer than we’ve ever been, we have become better about being honest with each other and about our mental health concerns, and I can honestly say my husband is the best friend i’ve ever had, and has positively impacted my life in many many ways, and in a lot of ways, i’m happier than i’ve been in years, like, ever in my adult life, maybe.
I finally confronted my problems with alcohol last year and am going on for eight months of sobriety. Now that i’m not numbing myself, the ways i’ve changed and accommodated myself to fit this relationship have been kind of a gut-punch for me. My queerness has become kind of a secret (not through any pressure from him, it just feels weird to be advertising all the other people i’m potentially attracted to when i’m married, and i live in a conservative enough community that i don’t want to put him in the position of explaining my sexuality if i’m too “out”). I also have the typical bi-girl in a hetero relationship feeling like i’m appropriating a label if i proclaim my love for the ladies too vocally. I have a lot of guilt about being able to pass as straight and feel like that excludes me from the lgbt+ community, which was a big part of my life in high school/college.
Bound up in all of this, is that i live quite a distance from my parents in New Orleans, and clearly, if we split, I could move back to Louisiana and be closer to my parents who are beginning to have some age-related health issues. Also, let’s be honest, if I want to be gay, New Orleans is a pretty good spot for it. Sometimes I think about asking my husband to move back to Louisiana with me, or at least closer, because he has occasionally said things that would imply a willingness to entertain the idea (he’s a plant nerd and the long growing season and weird bugs appeal to us both), but when I picture including him in that life change, it makes me cringe, which is, I guess, a pretty good indication of what I want to change.
So, i’m not miserable. I have a good life and a good partner. Leaving would kind of screw him over (i’m the primary breadwinner, he’s struggling with some depression, he’s on my insurance, blah blah shitty us healthcare system, plus, now we have this house to deal with). We bought our dream home together and he’s put so much work into it. We have a mini-farm full of tiny little fruit trees that he planted for me! We go on weightlifting dates and car shows together! He watches terrible 90s anime with me! He grows the spiciest peppers evar! He’s dealing with some stuff right now, things will get better!
But, he’s allergic to cats and crowds, he doesn’t like the smell of eggs, we never have sex and when we do it’s pretty lackluster. We are terrible at talking about our problems. Oh yeah, and he’s Not A Girl.
But what if all of this is just some kind of overboard reaction to relatively new sobriety? What if it’s the first manic episode of heretofore undiagnosed bipolar disorder? What if I start dating girls and find out I don’t like it? What if I ruined a good person’s life by not being honest with myself? Do i just have to live with my mistake forever? How miserable do i have to be to make this change? I know that if I do decide to end this, I will probably be the bad guy, and I will definitely lose most of my friends, so that’s not ideal.
It’s also just embarrassing, because it’s not like I had any trouble embracing my sexuality. I’ve known I liked girls since I saw Linda Hamilton doing chin-ups in Terminator 2. I think I just lucked into a good enough companion and went, okay, this is fine, I can live with this, and I can, BUT, could I have more? I don’t want to make a decision right now. I think i need to sit with my epiphany for a bit and make sure that it’s not just a matter of feeling empowered by new sobriety and fitness. Because maybe(?) that will let me confront some of the other things that make me unhappy in my life, and then i will have the confidence to be more vocal about my sexuality and sexual identity, and make some changes within my marriage.
Anyway, any advice you may have is appreciated, especially any advice from anyone who’s been through a similar situation, whether you left or stayed.
Okay, got that out of the way.
Another thing to get out of the way: you don’t have to know, exactly, what flavor of queer you are in order to claim your identity. It sounds like you (like so many of us) have felt not-hetero for about as long as you can remember. That’s all the authenticity you need: it has nothing to do with how many girls you got to kiss, or whether you continue to identify as bi or as gay in the future. It’s not something you have to decide once and be done with. Sometimes we have the right words and the right freedom at the right time to say THIS IS ME!, and sometimes we don’t. Being married to a man doesn’t make you straight, and desiring women doesn’t mean you did something wrong by marrying a man — no matter what certain (generally cis, gay, male) pockets of the LGBTQ+ community may shout about. ALSO: fuck anyone who says you’re passing as straight because you’re in a relationship with a man. Unless you’re going around saying HEY Y’ALL I’M STRAIGHT, you are not passing — you are being erased by biphobia. That doesn’t mean you don’t have certain privileges that attain to having a male-presenting partner; however, those privileges are attenuated by the very real risks that bisexual women face which can include increased risk of domestic violence & mental health issues like disordered eating, anxiety, and depression. So if anyone tries to throw that passing privilege at you, ask them why they are so invested in erasing your queer identity.
Here’s what I do hear as the crises in your letter:
- You don’t feel rooted in an identity-affirming community.
- You are recently sober (CONGRATULATIONS, THIS IS HUGE!), and as a consequence, you are rethinking some of the choices you made at other points in your life and whether you should sustain them now.
- You want to leave your husband.
I suspect that #3 is not apparent to you, not in those words. But listen to yourself:
- am realizing that i really want to be with women
- It’s a routine that involves me doing a lot of the emotional labor of the relationship, which probably does add a layer to my discontent.
- i had doubts throughout the engagement, but i’ve always been pretty conflict averse and just didn’t know how to exit.
- How did i get this hangup about how I would definitely never marry the wrong person
- the ways i’ve changed and accommodated myself to fit this relationship have been kind of a gut-punch for me
- when I picture including him in that life change, it makes me cringe
- How miserable do i have to be to make this change?
There is an answer to that final question, and it is simple: you don’t have to be miserable at all. You just have to want to make this change. The definitive advice column on this is, of course, Dear Sugar’s “The Truth That Lives There”: if you haven’t read that before, I suggest you do it right now (and if you have read it before, I suggest you do it again). The central wisdom, the insight that goes against everything we are taught about marriage but is absolutely essential to your autonomy as an individual is this: wanting to leave is enough.
LW, in a way, I’ve been both people in your relationship. I am a bisexual woman, and I was with a good man for 12 years. We too had a good life, with pets and houseplants and friends and routines and so many inside jokes we nearly spoke another language. It was a good relationship for a long time. And then he broke up with me, because he had been unhappy in some of the ways you’re unhappy (imagining a different life, without me in it) and he was denying it in some of the ways you’re denying it (talking himself into ignoring his feelings, worrying about how he was going to hurt me by leaving me). He had been lying about his feelings to me because he had been lying to himself first, and when he broke up with me I felt devastated, blindsided. But the surprise wasn’t the worst part, for me: the worst part was realizing that he had, for a time, thought I was so fragile that I couldn’t live without him, when I quite obviously could. Ignoring what turned out to be a serious fault line in our relationship meant that neither of us was truly free to choose what we wanted. It sucked. It was awful, and I cried a lot. And we both survived, and we both rediscovered parts of ourselves that we had long since agreed to quiet down, salt away for some imaginary future self.
You don’t have to wait for your future self. You can start to make her, right now.
I’m not saying that you have to leave your husband; I can’t make that choice for you. All I’m saying is that it sounds to me like you want to leave your husband, and wanting to leave is enough.
A strange thing sometimes happens when love ends: you recognize yourself again.
Love After Love
by DEREK WALCOTT
The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror,
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.
LW, some time after I had started to love again the stranger who was myself, something surprising happened. Our beloved Captain introduced me to her friend S., who introduced me to her friend A., who was cute as hell and also finding her way again and full of kindness and laughter. That was over two years ago, and now A. and I live together in a house in a city I never imagined myself living in, and I am feeling both gay as in happy and queer as in fuck you.*
You are allowed to change your life. Start treating your queerness as the gift it is: a mandate not to accept the life that seems easiest, the default path through sexuality, romance, and family creation. We queer people are required by our core selves to question the norms of our culture, which means we have the opportunity to invent ourselves and our ways of living. No matter what the outcome for your marriage is, you are not a bad person for having these questions; you are not a bad person for being different from who you were ten years ago; you are not a bad person for wanting women and for loving this man in the way you have. You have more choices than “wait till I’m utterly miserable.” Greet the stranger who has loved you all your life, and listen to what she has to say.