New Low

I’m not sure why anyone reads my blog. Maybe it’s like watching a train wreck as it occurs – it’s just so hard to look away. I had thought things were going so well recently. In the weeks since I posted This is my story, new levels of communication have opened up between my wife and me, and some new friends have helped me to shake some of the destructive patterns of thought and emotion that I’ve learned over the years. Thanks to these friends, I’ve noticed signs of past progress that I hadn’t seen before; and I’ve also experienced new breakthroughs in my journey to fully embracing who I am. You know, I still can’t quite fathom how it has taken me so long to accept the utterly obvious fact that “I am gay.” I know people my age who came out in high school or shortly after. They grew up in the same world and culture that I did, and yet somehow they were able to make peace with who they were decades ago; and here I am… still slogging along.

So the last couple of weeks have been punctuated by the highs of embracing new friends, finding new depths of communication with my wife, and experiencing new milestones of self-acceptance. But those new highs were precarious, and one painful conversation was all it took to topple the scaffolding beneath me and send me plunging. It was just before bedtime last night, and my wife and I were revisiting things that had come up in prior conversations over the past week. I should say from the outset that my wife didn’t do or say anything wrong; the conversation wasn’t painful because she had been malicious or cruel. But in the course of our talk I suddenly realized how utterly I have failed to communicate to her what I am feeling and experiencing. Despite the fundamentally queer dynamic of a mixed-orientation marriage, for better or worse, she has been with me and for me more than anyone else, and more than I could have expected or imagined. So to suddenly discover how much of my experience she hasn’t yet grasped left me feeling lonelier than ever.

We were discussing wants and needs – a perfectly reasonable and even critically necessary topic for conversation. What do we each need to survive and to thrive? What are the things that we want over and above that. I have shied away from using the term need to describe how I feel about having an intimate relationship with a guy at some point in the future, reserving that word for things like air and water and food. We clearly NEED those things; without them, we will undoubtedly die in the very near future. So I haven’t felt like that. Like if I don’t sleep with a guy in the next week or month or even year that I would literally DIE. So I’ve always stuck with the words want and desire to describe what I’m feeling. But in the course of our conversation it suddenly struck me that she was thinking of wants as being things like “I want to go to Europe in the spring! I want to learn Chinese! I want to buy a new car with a 5 speed manual transmission! I want to complete a triathlon!” All of these things are wonderful and would bring me great pleasure. I want them. But I may or may not do them; and I could still live a perfectly contented and healthy life nonetheless. So if things like that are the point of reference for understanding my desire to pursue relationships with men, then it would seem impossible to grasp why I would jeopardize our family and our marriage just for that.

So I struggled to find a better analog. Air, water, food – let’s call these fundamental needs. They are clearly in a class of their own – necessary for even the most basic continuation of existence. And then we have vacations and hobbies and social relationships – call those wants. I want them, I enjoy them, and they make life better and more fulfilling. But I won’t die without them. So it feels like there’s got to be some intermediate category – things less urgent than the fundamental needs, but nevertheless substantially more important than the wants. Healthcare? Nutrition? Meaning in life? I think it could be argued that these are higher priority than wants, even if they may not rise to the level of needs. But for me, even these fall far below my desire to pursue relationships consistent with my identity as a gay man. If I never saw a doctor again in my life, I could still get lucky and might have a long and healthy life. But every fiber in my being tells me that if I forego emotional and relational and physical intimacy with guys, for the rest of my life, that I will be bitter and miserable and lonely.

I’m not sure that there’s anything comparable that a straight person could relate to. Nothing that adequately conveys the feeling of being a 50 year old man who has, for my entire life, turned away from the intimacy I’ve so deeply desired, all because of stupid and damaging beliefs I embraced, at an age when I couldn’t have known the consequences. And then, to experience the glorious healing of throwing off those oppressive beliefs, and for the first time seeing myself as an OK person – not despite being gay, but because of the totality of who I am – a part of which is gay. Screw that – I’m not ‘OK’ – I’m pretty damn awesome! And then, having experienced this liberation from a lifetime of self-recrimination and regret, to be asked to, nevertheless, continue to forego that intimacy that I’ve desired. It feels like death.

I suppose that most of my blog posts aren’t written for the readers. They’re just a way for me to clarify my own thoughts and to express my emotional turmoil. I’m really not looking for answers – I feel like my wife and I need to write our own narrative; find our own path forward. But god, how I long for someone to just understand what this feels like!

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7 comments

  1. That’s a very interesting concept. I think I’m gonna contact some of the other people I know who are in mixed orientation marriages and see how they handle those feelings. Also, I would say that the terminology you’re looking for is something that you don’t need to survive, but that you need to flourish. Live can be an ambiguous word sometimes.

    Another thing this makes me think of is a conversation I had a few years back with one of my straight friends. I was moping about how, being gay with a traditional view of marriage, I’d never have the type of relationship I always wanted. He countered that, though he was married, he still had desires for other women which he couldn’t fulfill. I contended (the pitch of my voice rising a bit), that at least he got some fulfillment of his relational and sexual desires through his marriage. At this point, he said something that completely changed the way I think about these issues. He told me that his desire for his wife and his desire to sleep with another woman were totally separate. That no matter how good their emotional or physical relationship was, it didn’t have any effect on that other desire. So, I guess what I’m saying is maybe there will always be some desire that we can’t fulfill and maybe that’s OK. Not saying this is necessarily your situation, but just thought I’d share.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Matthew for your thoughtful response. Re: not needing the terminology – I finally came to that place within the past couple of months. It used to seem like such an important thing to me, as if categorizing it as a ‘need’ made everything OK; but if it was ‘just’ a want, then I was being selfish. I’m totally over that, within my own mind. First of all, I think – there’s no way to differentiate ‘want/need’ with 100% accuracy – they are just labels we use. But more important (in my own development), I realized that even if it is ‘just’ a want, it is a want that is very important to me; and it’s not wrong to want it.

      Re: your friend’s analogy, I’ve heard that before, but it still breaks down for me. To me it seems analogous to him saying “I want a meal; but I also want cake. They are two separate desires!” and meanwhile I’m over here with no food whatsoever. Fine – call it two totally separate things, but the fact remains that he is experiencing sexual intimacy in a context that is consistent with his desires. Restraining yourself is not the same as denying yourself. Not over-eating is not the same thing as not eating.

      I hope that doesn’t sound like I’m criticizing *your* views! I totally appreciate your sharing, and I get the sense that you ‘get it.’ I think I would have a hard time with your friend though. (Primarily because I have a friend who says the same kinds of things, and I feel that he DOESN’T ‘get it’). So again, thanks for sharing this.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I understand! Totally and completely understand. I said it long ago, and I’ll repeat it now; it feels as if I’m reading the journaling of my own thoughts. It’s relieving in some way to know that I’m not alone and gut-wrenching in other ways, knowing that another person is feeling the same pain I experience. You continue to write what I struggle to articulate to those around me. Please don’t stop sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I do understand. I understand completely. The big difference is that I did not have an understanding wife. Telling her ended up being a huge mistake. 28 years of a sexless marriage left me with what I probably called “needs” … that were not being met! And at age 57, I found myself starting to meet men… looking for a need for male intimacy to be filled in my life.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Greg, we’re about the same age, I’m 51. Same situation. I finally accepted I’m gay five years ago and told my wife. I’m out to almost everyone, which makes it sometimes awkward for my wife who feels like she lives in a fishbowl. Yet she has the same mindset your wife does, that I can be monogamous. We’re sexless right now, and she hates it. I have alternated between feeling guilty I’ve put her in the position of getting no intimacy and then feeling vindictive and essentially like, well if I can’t get any physical/emotional intimacy consistent with my own orientation, then you won’t either. It’s a bitter mixed set of feelings. I guess I find that the straight spouses in these situations always expect that the gay spouse will continue in a sexual relationship, i.e., their needs are quite important, but they expect we can simply continue on our path of denying our own needs. I’m not sure I get the whole mindset but it’s frustrating. My wife feels her needs are very important but I guess ultimately she feels mine are irrelevant. So I set out and did the DL thing. Which is frustrating because like you it took me decades to finally accept who I am, and then I’m told to keep on going anyway as if it were irrelevant. I just wanted to tell you that your blog could be mine. And the things you say are the same things I see said on a couple message boards I follow (“Husbands Out to Wives” and a Yahoo board about making mixed-orientation marriages work”). Thank you for this timely post. I was talking about this very topic on the boards just a week or two ago. Wish you all the best.
    Dave

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Dave – thanks for sharing from your own experience. Sometimes I feel so alone, and then I hear from someone and realize that, even though we may be small in number, we’re not alone. Every connection like that helps fight those feelings of loneliness. I totally understand that feeling you describe as ‘vindictive’ though maybe I’d choose different wording. Using ‘vindictive’ makes it sound like *you* are somehow in the wrong for feeling that way; that if you were a ‘better person’ you wouldn’t feel that way. And I disagree – it’s NOT wrong for you to feel that way. How could anyone not feel used when it seems like we’re being told “you must meet my needs, but your needs must go unmet.” That’s ridiculous.

      But I do want to clarify – my wife isn’t demanding that of me at this point. She understands and even supports me in my desire to find intimate relationships with guys. It’s just that she’s experiencing a kind of cognitive dissonance (maybe emotional dissonance is a better descriptor?) since it conflicts with other beliefs/values that she holds dear. I suppose it’s one thing to embrace our idealized beliefs; but it becomes something different when those beliefs are actually tested. Maybe the best way I can describe it is that she highly values monogamy in marriage. (Which – I do too!) But for both of us, that value is in conflict with my desire to experience intimacy that is in keeping with my natural orientation. So the question we have to answer now is how important these conflicting values/desires are to each of us.

      I guess for me the sign of personal progress is that I can finally answer this question: how important is it for me to pursue/experience intimate relationships in keeping with my orientation? And I can answer it now honestly without feeling guilty of the answer. It is very important to me. I’ve expended soooo much effort over the years trying to convince myself that it wasn’t important, that it shouldn’t be important, that I could somehow make it not important. But in the end it IS important, to me anyway. And that’s all I’ve got to work with.

      Peace to you Dave, and thanks again for sharing. If you ever want to connect in a less public forum, feel free to email me at gregadamyork at gmail dot com.

      Like

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