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.
As I contemplated this and thought back over the years of my marriage, trying to see and feel where I was at various points along the journey that has brought me to where I am today, various realizations came into my mind:
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. In addition, then was then and now is now. It was far safer to get married then. I made a deliberate choice to get married, even though I knew I was attracted to men and informed my wife of this before we got married. But 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 (sigh) that I could be happy living in a heterosexual marriage and that I could control my attraction and be a better person because of it.
Though in a sense I was living a lie, I couldn’t see it at the time.
Most of my life had been spent trying to please other people and to hide the real me (which was not limited to just the gay me). In a way, joining the Mormon Church facilitated this process (i.e., pleasing other people and hiding the real me) and gave me the ultimate reward for doing so: eternal salvation. So, psychologically, I had a vested interest in “toeing the line,” i.e., living the “priesthood path.” 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.
I was caught in a cycle of poor self-knowledge/esteem and 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.
Serious marital problems prepared me to come out.
The serious problems that my wife and I had during the last years of our marriage (which had nothing to do with me being gay) forced me to confront half-hidden legacies from my dysfunctional childhood, to face some unpleasant things about both myself and my wife and to break out of co-dependent behavior. In the process, my knowledge of self greatly increased and my self-esteem was enhanced. I can clearly see that these challenges prepared the way for me to finally embrace my sexuality.
A major turning point came a couple of months before I came out when 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 a therapist 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.
My marriage has given me wonderful children.
Though there have been many challenges involved in being a father, I am grateful for my children. I am also grateful that events in my life over the past year have 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, for better or worse, as I grow more authentic. For too long, our relationships have been governed by external mandates rather than internal, authentic love and caring. I have already worked to change that and will continue to do so.
Everything I have gone through in my life has prepared me for this season of my life.
Because I know that I am gay, I suppose it is inevitable that I wonder what my life would have been like had I come out years ago, rather than now. 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”. And if I were to be honest with myself, as I have tried to be in what I’ve written above, I would admit that I was not in a position – emotionally, psychologically and religiously – to come out before this point in my life.
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 tells me that I should be grateful for the years I spent in the closet. They prepared me, brought me to a knowledge of myself and gave me my children.
For all of this, I am grateful. And as part of an ongoing effort to learn to love and forgive and accept myself, I must let go of the regrets, and go forward - but with new eyes and a renewed heart.
*This is the second of a series of posts, in celebration of the first anniversary of my blog, that review selected posts from this past year. The original version of this essay was published almost a year ago, and I wrote an updated version last June.