“I’m going to be honest. There is a part of me that deeply regrets not coming out before I was married, or at least not too far into my marriage. But let’s face it. It’s hard on the psyche to accuse oneself of a betrayal of a large swath of one’s adult life.”
So I wrote in late November of last year in a post in which I reflected on certain realizations or lessons I had come to or learned about why I should be grateful for all the years I spent in the closet. I’ve lately had occasion to ponder anew about all those years, so I thought I’d republish an edited version of that post, along with some thoughts I’ve had in the months since I originally posted it.
Point #1: I wasn’t prepared to live life as a gay man when I decided to get married.
I was far too far into the closet and into my Mormon religion in order to take that step at that time. Furthermore, I didn’t really think of myself as “gay” then, just someone who was very attracted to men. Despite flirting with the idea of coming out of the closet while on my mission, I really had bought into the Church’s teaching that I could be happy living in a heterosexual marriage and that I could control my attraction and be a better person because of these choices.
Point #2: Though in a sense I was living a lie, I couldn’t see it at the time.
Most of my childhood and youth were spent trying to please other people and to hide the real me (which was not limited to just the gay me). I also didn’t really know who I was: I had spent so much of my life with my false persona, I actually thought it was the real me. Though I had some moments of connection on my mission, I had grown and continued to grow so out of touch with my real self that I could not possibly have allowed myself to come out at that period in my life.
Point #3: Being married and having children forced out childhood abuse issues.
I did not start to come to grips with abuse I suffered as a child until almost 10 years into my marriage. I never would have reached that point, I don’t think, but for the fact that my “buttons” were constantly being pushed, day in and day out, by the demands of marriage and parenthood. Recognition of the abuse and the subsequent counseling I went through helped me to crack – for the first time in my adult life – the false persona that had encased me for so many years.
Point #4: Low self-esteem and poor self-knowledge fostered co-dependency.
I’ll be honest. For most of my marriage, I was co-dependent with my wife. I felt like I needed her, and the thought of separation and divorce scared the hell out of me. I was willing to go to great lengths to preserve our marriage, and I did so. I was not emotionally healthy enough to assert myself, to feel good about myself as a heterosexual, let along as a homosexual.
Point #5: I had to be prepared to ask the right questions.
At a certain point, I was prepared to ask, and did ask, the right question. The problems that my wife and I had experienced in our marriage during the several years prior to my coming out prepared me for what happened. Last summer, I had a sort of epiphany in which I suddenly realized that there could and would be life after divorce, if that is what it came to. In fact, life might even be better.
This experience strengthened me and helped me to move past codependency. As my therapist had told me, “You need to be a position where you can say to your wife, ‘I choose you – not because I need you, but because I want you.’” My revelatory experience helped me to move past needing to choosing, thus preparing me for the possibility that my wife might not choose me or that, ultimately, I might not choose her.
Point #6: My marriage gave me wonderful children.
I am grateful for my children. I have wonderful children whom I love. For far too long, however, our relationships were governed by external mandates rather than internal, authentic love and caring. I believe very strongly that coming out has helped me to see and relate to my children in a healthier way, and I know intuitively that my relationship with my children will continue to grow more authentic as I grow more authentic.
Point #7: It’s healthy to ask “What If?”- so long as I don’t get stuck there.
I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t ever wonder what my life would have been like had I come out years ago, rather than at this point in my life. I particularly regret the passage of my youth, masquerading as a heterosexual, hiding in fear behind a mask.
However, wishing something “don’t make it so”. Even though a part of me mourns what might have been, an older, wiser part (not the emotional part, and definitely not the sexual part) of me forces a “reality check” and tells me that I should be grateful for the years I spent in the closet, which prepared me and brought me to a point where I could come out.
Nevertheless, I have gone through several “regret cycles” since November (and will no doubt experience more in the future). I let myself go through these because I know it’s healthy. Regardless of how many times I tell myself that things couldn’t have been different, there’s still a part of me that says, “Bullocks!” So I let it out, mourn it, process it, learn from it, and then go on.