I've been in a committed relationship with a married woman for three years as of next month.
I realize that statement stirs a wide array of opinions and emotions in people, but it's something that I make a point to be open about, because it, and she, have made me a more compassionate and self-aware person. Our relationship has been arduous and incredible, usually at the same time. I've only recently begun to feel comfortable articulating exactly how I feel about the whole affair. I figure the three-year mark is as good a time to get a little analytical as ever.
Some background information: In December 2009 I got out of an abusive relationship during which I had convinced myself that my abuser was the only person I'd ever be in a relationship with. I have, like many others, grown up with a slew of difficult conditions; bi-polar, PTSD, ADHD, OCD and incessant facial and body tics, and I had a general lack of dating ability.
I met Kim at a time when I was in a vulnerable place and as our relationship progressed, the worse her treatment of me became. She got kicked out of her house and I offered her a place to stay at my parent's house and helped her get a job at the restaurant where my brother worked. She treated me terribly but I was so convinced that no one else would ever "love" me that I couldn't bring myself to kick her out.
I was terrified to be single because I didn't feel valuable unless I was in a relationship. Fast forward six months and shortly after I lost my best friend and creative partner to suicide, Kim moved out, dumped me and started selling ecstasy to support herself. I had a breakdown, got addicted to prescription pills and ended up hospitalized twice within two weeks.
Fast forward another few months and I was going to goth clubs in drag and questioning my gender identity. I had given up on my hopes of finding "the one" when I came across an OkCupid profile that caught my attention.
Her name was Clair* and I was interested right away. Her profile was articulate and thoughtful without being over enthusiastic. She had great tattoos and loved Nick Cave and Henry Rollins. She didn't take herself too seriously and seemed like she'd be a fun person to get to know. She also listed herself as having a husband.
I messaged her and asked if her and her dude would like to hang out sometime. We ended up messaging back and forth and eventually our messages turned into 10-paragraph essays. We seemed to have everything in common. We'd both gone from alienated goth kids to idealistic punk rockers and weird fucked-up adults at the same time, eight states apart. She was compassionate, fiercely intelligent and not afraid to tell me when my perspective was off.
She had a job where she could text and I was unemployed, so we would talk all day every day. One afternoon I asked her if her and her husband would like to come to the beach with a friend and me. She told me that her husband "didn't really care for the beach…or new people" but that she'd still like to go.
We ended up totally third-wheeling my friend and realizing that we even had more in common than we'd initially thought.
It also came to light that her husband didn't treat her very well. We continued to bond over the next few weeks. She was supportive and understanding of my gender confusion and the wedge it had driven between my family and me. I did my best not to ask her "Why don't you just divorce him?" when she told me that her husband was emotionally manipulative, verbally abusive and prone to kicking her out for days at a time or forcing her out of his car in the middle of the night miles from their home.
The closer we got, the further I fell for her. One night, when she told her unsuspecting husband that we were seeing a movie that he had no interest in, we sat on a beach by my parent's house and I apologetically admitted my feelings for her. Nearly immediately she told me that the attraction was mutual and after some skirting around the elephant in the room, we admitted that we were very much falling in love with one another.
I told her that as much as I loved her, I didn't want to make her life more complicated. She then promised me that we'd be together, somehow. Her husband didn't suspect a thing. He was under the impression that I was gay and, for her safety, we made subtle efforts to support his assumption.
Around two years later, I am no longer questioning my gender or sexuality. I'm comfortable not defining myself. Clair's tutelage on social issues and my experience living as a gender-variant person have left me with a burning passion for gender equality but despite this, I was still not able to grasp why Clair wouldn't just leave her husband for me.
We argued incessantly for a long period of time. I would go on dates and pursue other women, but it always ended with the realization that Clair was the one for me. I begged her to leave him endlessly. She told me that she wanted to but just wasn't ready. I accused of not *really* loving me even after she stuck by me through a life-changing nervous breakdown.
Through my recovery, I found a stronger sense of self and awareness and understanding of my relationship with Clair. I began to focus my gender-politic interests specifically on the dynamics of abusive relationships and made a promise to myself that I'd be as supportive and understanding as Clair needed me to be until it became overwhelming clear that she wouldn't be leaving him.
She was not only afraid of him but afraid of losing the security that his family provided; she grew up in and out of trailer parks in the South and he was from a wealthy conservative New England family. The financial safety-net and "upper crust" lifestyle that her new family provided was a far cry from her poor, largely uneducated, outlaw roots and it brought her a lot of comfort. I've only recently started to truly understand how difficult it can be to break free from an abusive partner, despite having experienced a much less significant situation of a similar nature.
Recently, I moved to a vibrant and artsy small city about four hours away from Clair. I'm feeling confident and healthy and I'm starting to pursue my nearly life-long goal of making independent films. She spent a large amount of money that she did not have on a tech-based career-training intensive that would allow her to separate from her husband financially and move to my adopted city to finally give our relationship the chance it deserves.
I still struggle, particularly socially, as anyone does in a new city, but Clair suffers from very similar things and we have been each other's best friend, supporter and greatest admirer for three years. I'm in her area visiting for a couple of weeks and she is talking pretty candidly about joining me on my return trip. I certainly hope she does, but if she doesn't, I know that it's not because she doesn't want to be with me, and I need to be a strong for her as she has been for me.