This has turned into “family week” here on my blog - a spontaneous development that wasn’t planned, but I welcome the exchange of thoughts, ideas and experiences that has been taking place.
The discussion started out on Monday with me expressing gratitude for support rendered to me by the “Family,” i.e., gays who have reached out to me and offered me acceptance, affirmation, friendship and counsel. The topic of conversation then shifted to how gay men in mixed-orientation marriages (MOMs) should or can deal with the situation in which they find themselves. This happened after I had received a comment in response to my first post that spoke in terms of me leaving my “real” family in order to embrace the “Family.”
In yesterday’s post, I discussed that comment. Among other things, I emphasized that my wife, not me, had been the driving force to end my marriage once I had uttered those fateful words: “I am gay.” I do not view myself as leaving my “real” family (to use the commenter’s word) in order to join “the Family.” Furthermore, I will always be the father of my children; provided, however that I will be a gay father, and it is possible that – someday – there might be a man at my side that will be added to that familial mix.
This post generated a number of interesting comments, and the conversation broadened from a discussion of MOMs to include a discussion of the meaning of the term “family” in general. Before I get into this discussion, however, I want to address some things that Apronkid and Beck expressed. Apronkid wrote, “You seem open and flexible about the future, and it seems you know how all these different pieces of your life fit together.” In a similar vein, Beck wrote, “I see you working through this carefully and cautiously, and am very impressed with your calm and reasonable tone. Sometimes I wish you would scream with frustration and passion!”
All I can say to these comments is, Wow! I must be doing a really good job fooling everybody! I don’t see right now exactly how all the different pieces of my life fit together; however, I am diligently working on the puzzle and I will say that I have a faith in my direction and purpose that is sometimes surprising to me. I have gone through most of my life without much faith in myself, even though I think it could be said that I am a very capable person. So to feel that faith, that confidence, that assurance, is an amazing and wonderful thing. As for you, Beck, I’m quite confident that you will yet see me scream with frustration and passion. Just stay tuned ...
Apronkid also asked about my relationship with my wife: “How do you think the relationship you have with your wife will develop? You seem to be following her lead as far as your relationship goes … has [she] already decided what direction she wants to take.” Well, my wife has very definitely already decided what direction she wants to take, and it leads to a place called D-i-v-o-r-c-e. My hope is that we will be able to navigate these next months (and years) amicably with her, but I’m not so naïve to think that this will be entirely possible. But for the fact that we simply aren’t in a financial position for me to move out right now, I probably would have left the family home by now. As it is, like many couples (including plenty of 100% straight ones), we are going to have to make do for right now with a “partial” physical separation.
Moving on, there were several comments from other gay men who have been, or currently are, in MOMs. These include Beck, Mark, dadsprimalscream, MoHoHawaii, Andy and JoeConflict, and they basically fell into two groups: two men – Beck and Andy – who are still married, and the rest who aren’t.
Both of the married men stressed that each situation is different, each MOM has its own chemistry and defining characteristics.
Beck came out to his wife six years ago. He wrote: “For some time, [I thought] that my life was over as I knew it, and that my marriage was definitely over … As time went on, love and commitment returned on [my wife’s] part and on mine. We worked through things, tough and hard things, until we've forged a ‘new’ path that is without a ‘playbook’.”
Andy playfully asked Beck he wasn’t “just a bit envious that Invictus is moving on while you are left trying to figure out the gay, married thing?” He then wrote, “Like you, my wife and I are trying, one day at a time, to work things out. It helps that she is such a good friend. It helps that we complement each other incredibly well. It helps that we desire to parent our children together in the same home. Yes, at times there is a part of me that wants my wife to throw me out so the decision is made and I don't have to be the bad guy. But so far it has been worth the effort to work on this together.” Sometimes "it" can be very hard on both of us, but that's our choice. There is no one way.”
These defining characteristics were also apparent among those men who had been in MOMs, but are now divorced. Interestingly, in several cases, it was the wife who pushed the “divorce button.” Dadsprimalscream wrote: “It happened to me in the same way. I chose to be more honest and utter the words. That freed her up to make the choice to end the marriage with a divorce. It devastated me.” JoeConflict wrote: “Too painfully familiar. My marriage was effectively over the day I admitted it [that I’m gay]. Ouch. She could not, and would not, be married, or intimately involved with a gay guy.” That is precisely the same thing that has happened to me, i.e., those expressing it somewhat differently, my wife has said that she cannot be intimately involved with a gay guy.
MoHoHawaii wrote of his circumstances that were eerily similar to my own: “My situation was similar in a way to what seems to be happening to IP. My wife knew before we were married that I was gay. It turned into a forbidden topic of discussion after we were married. Over time I withdrew into myself and ended up in counseling for depression. In counseling I started to cast off my self-hatred and began to speak with my wife more openly. She grew increasingly angry and hostile. There was a perverse kind of "preservation of hostility" in action-- the less hostile I became toward myself the more hostile she became toward me! Eventually it was she and not I who pulled the plug on our marriage. We divorced at her request; at the time I was committed to the marriage.”
MoHoHawaii then very articulately summarized his thoughts on MOMs: “The point of this is that are two people involved in any marriage. What happens depends on the needs and desires of both parties. Some mixed-orientation marriages are stable; many will eventually fail. The question Beck raises [are there only two choices: leave the marriage or live in misery in a MOM as an essentiallt closeted gay] is: What can be expected of the stable mixed-orientation marriages? Are they doomed to "stable unhappiness"? I think answers to this vary depending on the degree of sexual and emotional incompatibility that is present. If there is a significant amount of incompatibility, it's probably best to keep expectations modest. I think that realistic expectations are the answer to Beck's question.”
Yesterday’s discussion, however, moved beyond MOMs to a conversation about what defines “family.” Mark observed: “Sometimes our "family of choice" is the one who understands us the most, shares more intimately of themselves and is less likely to put up walls, whereas, our "real" family often feels entitled to hurt us, to emotionally blackmail us when they think it is necessary - as if they have governance over us. What I've learned, as an out, gay, divorced, former Mormon man is … living with reality versus hope based on a foundation that clearly wasn't working for [my wife and me] has led us to a peaceful place for all concerned.”
CJ expanded on Mark’s comments by writing, in reference to my comments about adding gay dynamics to my family and also to Beck’s comments: “We're told, over and over again, both directly and indirectly [particularly in the LDS world], that standard family roles are where it's at ... Mom and dad don't need to be married, to be family; dad doesn't need to be straight, to be a dad. Mom and dad don't need to live together; mom and dad don't need to be heterosexual. Parents come in all shapes and sizes, all backgrounds, all sexual orientations. Parents live in all different places, and lead all different kinds of lifestyles. And, as time goes on, new family members--new boyfriends, new husbands, etc--join, and it doesn't change the parents' relationship with their kids. Really. Trust me, I know.”
Finally, Carla wrote: “Oh family complexity! … It takes a lot of courage to live in this society and to say that no, I don't actually have t conform to this plan to be happy. I don't need to be married, have children. Children don't need a male and a female parent, and they can have more than two parents. I love my complicated family, and I'm perfectly happy with them. As far as I'm concerned, you take the love you can get, wherever you can get it. If it's people related by blood or not, you choose your own family. If it's going to be all or nothing, it'll be because somebody else wants it to be, not me. I wouldn't do that.”
Thanks to all who have commented and contributed to a great discussion. I hope it continues, and it will be interesting to see where it goes, kind of like my life. In this regard, I’d like to conclude with some thoughts of Dadsprimalscream that have been echoed in private e-mails I have received from other men whose MOMs have ended, usually not by their (initial) choice: “While my ex led the charge, I'm forever grateful... and a little embarrassed that I didn't have the courage to do it all myself first. Divorcing and coming out has been the best thing that ever happened to me. I still have my family...my kids and I probably spend more time with them than any married straight father I know.” It can get better.