When a gay spouse
comes out, the typical result is an angry, risky split that is quick and
traumatic.  The common estimate is that
85% of mixed-orientation couples separate in this way after disclosure.  (See “Letting Yourself Fall Apart” on this
site for one example.) But circumstances may dictate a different decision for
others.  The following guest post shows
one woman’s compelling reason to stay married to her gay husband and
demonstrates that solutions are never simple.  

don’t know what I was thinking.

that’s a lie. I do know. I was thinking that I was unlovable, and that no one
else would ever want to marry me. So I married my college boyfriend.

you know, thinking back on it now, I’m not sure he ever actually proposed. It
was just an unspoken thing. He would graduate from law school, and we would get
married. That’s how these things worked.

wasn’t particularly handsome. And the sex wasn’t particularly interesting. But
we were best friends and never fought, and that sounded like a good basis for a
marriage. I knew what I was thinking, but I didn’t know what he was thinking.

couple years into the marriage, I started to understand. A good friend from
college called to talk to my husband. I was in the room, and heard the
conversation from my husband’s end. Our friend was career Air Force, with a
high security clearance. He was going to be taking a polygraph, and was going
to be asked about a sexual relationship he had in college. A relationship with
another man in the 1970s was rarely talked about, and for a military man in the
Reagan years, it was likely career-ending. My husband told him to tell the
truth, and that was the end of the conversation.

few months later, the conversation with our friend came up. I said something
about having always assumed he was gay, and that it must be hard to deal with
in the Air Force. And then I listened to my husband backpedal in a spectacular
way. No, our friend wasn’t gay at all. The conversation had been about his
having known someone in his dorm who was gay. The Air Force was concerned that
he was a security risk because he had lived in the same building as a gay
student. Really? That’s not the conversation I heard.

know that phrase, “out of the blue”? That’s how it was. One moment I knew
everything that was true, and not true, and real, and the next, out of the
blue, I knew our friend had called to tell my husband that he was going to be
named during the polygraph test. Things that I had chosen to overlook suddenly
made sense. My husband was gay, and I was stupid, or naïve, or some other name
I chose to call myself.

did the only logical thing. I never said a word about it. We were best friends,
and loved to spend time together. I overlooked unexplained behavior and
spending. He worked hard and supported me when my business was slow. We loved
each other in our way, and I decided that would be good enough. No one else
would ever love me, and what we had was working, so why would I leave?

of course it wasn’t working. It just looked that way from the outside. And
after a weekend trip with a friend, I decided to ask for a divorce. Before I
could say anything, my husband was diagnosed with stage four esophageal cancer.
I was told that he would die within three or four months. As much as I wanted
to run away, get out of the marriage, not have to deal with cancer, I couldn’t.
He was my husband, and we loved each other the best way we could, and you don’t
walk out when someone is dying of cancer.

I never mentioned divorce. I stayed and cared for him night and day for four
months. He rarely slept, which meant I rarely slept. He couldn’t swallow, and
hated the smell of food, so I would often go days without eating. His body
wasted away to nothing, and his bodily functions didn’t always function as
expected. I took it all in stride, and just handled it. That’s what you do when
your husband is dying. You forgive the past and do your best in the present.
It’s the best way to have a future without regrets.

passed away at the age of forty-three, two weeks after our eighteenth
anniversary. His lover came to the funeral, and the look on his face broke my
heart. We were three good people who hadn’t been able to live the lives we
should have had, because of the way we saw ourselves, and what society expected
of us. But I know that all three of us loved the best way we knew how, and that
counts for a lot.
Karen Jackson


Karen’s story demonstrates the pain of
many straight spouses, whether they choose to stay in their relationship or
separate.  Low self-esteem is evident
in her self-talk:  I’m unlovable, No one else will want me. I was stupid, or naïve.  She settled for marriage based on friendship
and called it good enough.  She overlooked unexplained behavior and
unusual spending, and her outer life became a façade, an unspoken lie. All these
patterns are common in mixed-orientation relationships.

Karen’s husband’s cancer diagnosis changed
her mind about separation and she showed selfless understanding and
compassion.  The key was this
recognition: We loved each other the best
we could.
 Karen demonstrated her own
basic goodness and willingness to look clearly at reality as she unflinchingly
cared for her husband until he died.  You forgive the past and do your best in the
present.  It’s the best way to have a
future without regrets.

Every gay-straight relationship has its
unique challenges, though most are less dramatic than Karen’s.  But her account is a lesson in mature
judgment and the ability to stay present in the moment, even under duress.  Her history of grief is a poignant
illustration of the vow “till death do us part."


3 Responses to “TILL DEATH DO US PART”

  1. Mandy says:

    We show our true colors under stress and pressure. Karen demonstrates compassion and love to which we can all aspire. I imagine her acceptance and love was a tremendous comfort to her husband and to his lover. I hope she's now living the life she's chosen for herself, free from the expectations of others.

  2. Jackie says:

    I'm touched by how she said, "We loved each other in our way, and I decided that would be good enough." That's exactly what I did with my own husband. Karen seems like a wonderful and accepting person. I hope freedom has been a blessing.

  3. Gail Storey says:

    What an amazing account of Karen's marriage, and what compassion she showed to care for her husband during his terminal illness. I sincerely hope she has found new love, and is loved as she so richly deserves.

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