Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Family Encore: Living With Reality and Finding Peace

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 kids and I probably spend more time with them than any married straight father I know.”  It can get better.


  1. Invictus,

    First of all, excellent post today! I loved your thought processes and how you contrasted and compared the input you've been given by all of us. You have some really astute "counselors" here in a sense - wonderful men and women who've been through this and have made a variety of choices which work for them. Honestly, I don't have the wherewithall to own a blog and keep it current, but I'm just bursting over with pride for what you're all doing here, Beck, MoHoHawaii, DadsPrimalScream, et al. What a thoughtful, loving group of individuals who face this incredibly complex situation with lots of dignity, honesty and care. You all deserve nothing but praise and admiration!

    As an aside, I loved you used Sam Harris's family photo here. He is a friend to the Cathedral of Hope in Dallas (where I attend) and just performed an amazing concert on Sunday night as a benefit for our new Interfaith Peace Chapel. Incredible guy and as lovely and sincere as he appears to be in this photo.

    Wishing you a wonderful Wednesday!


    Mark (Cochran)

  2. Thank you for fostering this MOM discussion and including multiple perspectives on marriages that end and ones that continue. When I married nearly 35 years ago I knew I had strong attractions many men and to a few women. I anticipated that as a married man my homosexual urges would decrease and they did for a while.

    When I came out as bisexual to my wife twenty years ago it was like taking a sledge hammer to some of the foundations of our marriage. But just as underground renovations occur on Temple Square, we have continued to make foundational renovations in our relationship. I know there are no perfect marriages. I know some couples who have stayed together are much more conflicted than we are. I suspect some marriages that were happier than ours have dissolved. I do not know what the future holds for our marriage, now that most of our children are married and we're very close to being empty nesters.

    When I pray for my family and loved ones, I'm not just praying for more than my next of kin. I'm praying for our Moho family and the loved ones in it. Thanks for providing a safe place where we can share our experiences and seek draw strength from each other.

  3. Thanks for summing up the comments to your recent posts. I've been a bit busy and so haven't had time to really digest all you've written recently.

    I finally came out to my wife around the same time you did, except that this wasn't an issue (one that I consciously recognized that is) at the time we married. In fact, my wife was completely blown away and said she had no suspicions.

    I am committed to our marriage right now. My wife has moments of extreme anxiety about the future and does worry that I'll leave her. She's very scared that will happen. I'm like a lot of the other men who commented. I'm following her lead. If she thinks our relationship isn't working anymore, then we'll separate. That's not the way our relationship is now. We do have something very good and something worth fighting for. I'm not saying that can't change in the future. My wife has asked me several times why I'm still with her and why I haven't cheated. Well, I always wanted this. From a very young age, I wanted to be a dad and then a grandfather growing old with a lovely lady at my side. Sure, I'm physically more attracted to men and part of me is lonely and will always be so. At the same time, if my marriage ends, a part of me will die. Ideally, God, society, and my wife would allow me to be married, but have one male lover too. Then I can have the best of both worlds. That's not going to happen, however. So I stick with something that's really good in my life. My relationship with my wife has developed over a long time, since high school when we were good friends. Maybe that's why it's not so hard because we have a good friendship in addition to being lovers and parents.

    It's a bit disheartening to hear of gay mormon men going through divorce because I don't want that to be me. I know that not all relationships continue to work, no matter the orientations involved. So, if you and your wife decide that divorce is the best solution, then that's my prayer for you. If you both end up in better places, then I don't see how the pain of the divorce won't be worth it. Obviously, you've had a long relationship with your wife, and you will always be connected to her. So, I don't expect the divorce to not hurt, cause frustration, or drive you crazy. Hopefully you make it through.

  4. What Ned said.

    This was a touching, beautifully written post. I look forward to the next installment. Hang in there :-)

  5. You always seem to be able to focus in on an interesting discussion. It's true that it takes two to make a marriage work. If one is not willing or able to make it work, things fall apart pretty quickly.

    But just as important, I would say emphasize that MOMs can work out fine. As long as both partners are willing and able to make it work, it will. It takes the basics of hard work, forgiveness, communication, patience, and sacrifice. I believe God's help figures into that equation somehow, too.

    Of course, I know it's more complicated than that. Sometimes one just simply can't keep going anymore. That's when the lines get blurry. How much is too much?

    Furthermore, it is tricky to fulfill one's own needs while respecting the needs of the partnership and family. This is true in all marriages, but I would say the challenge is more obvious and central in a mixed-orientation marriage than in a traditional one.

    It's a version of the age-old paradox of individual needs versus the collective good. How do you manage to fulfill both?

  6. @ Other CJ, I think that, ideally, the partners--regardless of their sexual orientation--are working toward the same thing. Too many couples, gay or straight, view marriage as something to "get through", as a "trial". It doesn't need to be that way. No, no relationship is perfect, just as no two people are perfect--but that doesn't mean that any of us need to settle for "getting along". The *right* relationship--and I mean, by "right", right for you, the individual--is one that supports you, and nurtures you, and helps you grow into the person you want to be.

    I think God loves us and wants us to be happy. He'd rather see people in happy, fulfilling gay relationships than miserable straight relationships. Love, and partnership, are beautiful gifts. I see nothing wrong with a man sharing those gifts with another man.

  7. I'm just catching up with all that's happened to you this week. All I can say is, wow! Just to point something out, I don't think that my wife believed I would one day make the leap and accept that I was unhappy and wanted to move on when she'd bluff about "what do we do, or where do we go from here?". She was truly in shock when I told her I was done trying and said: "I was hoping you never had the courage to say those words". So I felt like the world's biggest jackass for doing that but I couldn't undo it. I won't tell you that the road has been easy but it certainly has been worth it, all pain and craziness experience aside. Again, we only live once, there are no do-overs in life regardless of what one believes.

  8. @CJ. I don't think we are disagreeing on anything.

    Like you said, marriage is not something to "get through." Being in a MOM is not just "a trial." My wife and I are happy and enjoy our relationship. Our several friends who are in gay marriages are also happy and sharing the same things we are in much the same way. Marriage is the most fulfilling and happiest part of human life. There's a reason marriage sets the stage for heaven. To be able to really share yourself, your whole self, with someone so utterly and completely is a very special and rewarding and divinely wonderful thing.

    But we can't kid ourselves either. As beautiful as marriage is, all marriages, gay, straight or mixed, will always have their moments to "get through." Though marriage is the most fulfilling, meaningful part of life, it can also be one of the hardest. Maybe that's why it's one of the most rewarding.

    It is my belief that marriage only becomes real after two people have to struggle through a lifetime of problems that come with melding two separate individual lives, and then look back and say "Look what we did together. We made it." Without something of a struggle that requires elements of work and sacrifice and forgiveness, it's nothing but a superficial relationship.

    I stick with what I said before. Marriage requires hard work and sacrifice. Everything that amounts to anything in this world does. And yes, the love and partnership that comes as a result of the process is a beautiful gift from God. Gay marriages included.

  9. Thanks to all who have commented. I really value and appreciate your insights and your experiences - and your support.

  10. IP,
    Wow, I've just been reading your last few posts with comments and I'm amazed at how quickly things seem to be re-shaping your life and family. Your hyper-speed journey to 'the family' and the unfolding of your life as you formerly knew it will surely have tremendous downstream effects upon your kids! Can you slow this whole process down a little, maybe with the help of a licensed family counselor? Talking through these issues with the guidance of an experienced referee may help you all avoid a train-wreck. You may have little influence upon your wife's reactions, but you are not powerless. With such life-changing events happening to your family so quickly, I would advise you to draw upon as many resources as you possibly can to help you and your wife to sort things out in a reasonable and loving manner. My heart goes out to you, brother.