As a kid, I was shy and introverted. Friends knew one side of me, but anyone new was completely unapproachable.
Later, I watched as other girls got their periods, grew breasts and rounded hips and became boy-crazy while I continued to look like a stick figure. I never had to worry about talking to a boy; they never approached me.
Aside from the few boys who were in my group of nerdy friends at school, I was terrified of the opposite sex. I got braces at 16 and didn’t get them off until 18. My first period arrived at 17 and I can’t express what a relief that was.
As one might guess, I was not even acquainted with self-esteem. The summer before starting university, I went to stay, out of province, with my brother. My sister-in-law helped me to come out of my shell.
She pointed out the looks I got, from time to time, from boys. I had never noticed them because I never made eye contact with anyone. She styled my hair and gave me fashion tips on how to look both attractive and classy. I finally required a bra. When I started school in the fall, I was ready.
At school, I made new friends and went on a few dates, but I was closest to three guys who lived in my residence. They were fun, and less intimidating than other boys. Maybe one summer of self-esteem boosting was not enough after all, since I still felt awkward and afraid around most males.
I thought one of my new friends was cute, and after a lot of help from third parties, we started to date. Weeks later, I was hit with Seasonal Affective Disorder for the first time, and my life turned completely around. I couldn’t attend classes or study. I failed my first year and was given a second chance.
In retrospect, another important turning point came in my second year of university. My boyfriend tried to break up with me, but I was terrified that no other man would every want me. I convinced him that the relationship was worth saving.
One day, I found a duffel bag in my boyfriend’s closet, filled with gay magazines. He told me that they belonged to a friend, who wanted him to dispose of them. I asked him if he was gay and he denied it.
“Good enough,” I thought, “I won’t be alone forever.”
I was too young and stupid to know that if I had only developed some self-confidence, I could have had my choice of any of hundreds of boyfriends. I just didn’t realize it. People told me that I was gorgeous and I would get completely embarrassed, thinking they were all lying, without knowing why.
After seven years of dating, and not even remotely being in love, I married this boyfriend. Other clues had presented themselves along the way: a gesture one of my brothers made when he met my boyfriend; a male locker room video in the computer history; the two other guys I was close to in university coming out of the closet...Every time I accepted his lie, because I didn’t want to be alone.
We remained married for over 13 years. After 10 years, I realized that I disliked many things about this person and that we weren’t even good friends anymore. I talked to him about separating, but at this point we had two little girls to consider. Letting fear make my decision for me, I chose to try again.
Things were going to be more difficult than ever. We had been out of the country and were moving back. I was returning to work full time in a demanding job and my three-year-old, who had always been home with me, was going to have to go to daycare, as well as full day junior kindergarten.
I tried to do it all: continue to be a good mom, work and keep the house clean. It was too much. The S.A.D. took over in the winter, and by year 13, I decided that I would no longer let fear hold me back. We lived, separated, under the same roof, for a year and a half.
Things got ugly very quickly when we were going through the separation. The court process was long and frustrating. My ex had called all of our mutual friends, and even my family, the minute he knew we were separating. I’m not sure what he told everyone, but they all stopped talking to me. My own family took his side, without checking in with me.
Things crawled along with the legal system. My ex had always denied being gay, but my hope was that he would find a woman to date, and then he could mellow out and stop bullying me in court.
His biggest weapon was money; he had it; I didn’t. He requested an evaluation with a psychiatrist before a visitation schedule could be determined with the children. The cost was $8,000 each and he ended up with what most fathers get anyway. I did get some satisfaction out of it, though. The doctor’s report included my thoughts about my ex being gay, and the I.Q. test results, which showed that I was smarter than him. I wouldn’t put an $8,000 price tag on that, but it felt good.
My girls got older and sometimes talked about the friends in my ex’s life, but from time to time, something sounded a little off. First, my daughter mentioned that on some weekends, her father was hanging out at a friend’s farm. When I asked what friend, she said, “Oh, his friend Ryan, from high school.” When I asked who else was going, she said that it was just the two of them. I had met his high school friends. There was no Ryan.
Another time, my daughter was talking about playing Just Dance with her father. He won the round and said to her, “I guess all that dancing in the clubs has paid off.”
It was when she started talking more about my ex’s friend, Brian, that I became certain. Brian was always over at the house, and eventually my daughter mentioned a text she had seen on my ex’s phone when he was in the bathroom. It read, “The sky is beautiful this morning. I love you.” When she pointed it out to him, he said, “Isn’t it nice when a friend tells you that they love you?” After that, I had a number of questions.
When my daughter finally told me that Brian was sleeping over on the couch while she was there, I was not only sure, I felt disgusted and robbed. How dare he lie about being straight and rob me of 20 years of my life? How dare he lie to the kids?
I was furious. I lost it. I needed to yell out to the world that I had been wronged. This worthless creep had lied to me and stolen by youth. I wrote an email to the priest who had married us. I wrote a snail mail letter to my ex’s parents, who had never been the most involved grandparents, but who had spoken ill of me to the psychiatrist during the visitation evaluation. I wrote to my brother and my ex-friends. I even wrote to my girls’ school, and finally, to my ex. He never responded.
After the separation, I had made a handful of new friends. It was to these people that I mentioned my suspicions, long-ignored due to his denials, and the way that I felt cheated out of 20 years of my youth.
My eldest was now 12 or 13, and she had numerous questions. I had had to tell the girls about the separation by myself, because he had always found a reason why the timing wasn’t right. Then the ‘For Sale’ sign was going up on the house and there was no time left.
This situation was similar; the girls did not want to bring up the subject with him, so it was up to me to have this difficult talk by myself. My eldest saw how angry I was, and she knew the reason why. Her thoughts, however, were around the logic that if my ex and I had been a huge mistake she should not have been born. I explained to her what I felt to be the honest truth. Her soul and mine are connected. She would have come to me anyway, just in different packaging.
The biggest insult, however, was yet to come. My ex’s parents, who had never stepped up when they saw me struggling with a demanding job, Seasonal Affective Disorder, maintaining a house without much help from their son and two little girls to care for…these same people who were strict, traditional Catholics, now gave my ex all of their support. They even told the kids that they would answer any questions for them about this.
What would these people – who had most certainly been the reason that he had lived a lie for so long – have to teach my children about their gay father?
My ex-husband continues to lie to the children. I do realize, in retrospect, that my low self-esteem probably had as much to do with marrying a gay man as his determination to live a lie for appearances sake.
Now in my own house, I have a partner who is definitely straight. I told him that I will not marry again, because I don’t see any advantages to it. My friends are always amazed that he is so smitten with me after 6 years, but I tell them it’s because he knows that I won’t put up with any man taking me for granted.
My strength comes from wanting to model for my girls how a woman does not need validation from anyone in order to be valuable. I will not be used again, because my policy is to never repeat a mistake.
My ex-husband has also bought a house, and he and Brian are renovating it. I hear plenty of stories about Brian from my girls and he sounds like kind of a jerk, but I don’t have to live with him. I tried to talk to him once and he acted like an angry little kid. Obviously, whatever brand of crazy my ex sold to everyone else has also been bought by him. I don’t care. I am happy.
I used to wonder out loud, in my youth, about these women who married gay men. How could they not know? Today, these types of musings are more about trying to understand and to be compassionate, rather than bemused scoffing.
I see my daughter; now 15, watching other girls grow up, grow breasts, and talk easily to boys. She has had her first period and is two years ahead of where I was in wearing a bra and getting braces, but she cries, because she thinks that she may never catch up to the others.
I think next weekend I’ll take her shopping, even though I hate it. It will give me an excuse to be at the mall with her and point out all the boys who are glancing her way…but whom she does not need, even one bit, in order to be happy.