What would you do if your husband of 20 years told you he had been having FANTASIES ABOUT MEN? And admitted that he had acted on them? For OLIVIA MADDEN*, this came as a DEVASTATING SHOCK … Here, she shares the monumental hurt, confusion and betrayal she felt when THE TRUTH BEGAN TO UNRAVEL
It’s funny. As he came out of the closet, I felt like I was being forced in. No-one understood. No-one really knew what to say. When he came out, he was greeted with encouragement and affirmation. There were support groups for gay married men, forums where he could discuss what he was going through. He was finally being true to himself, forging a new identity, taking his destiny into his own hands. I was left alone to pick up the pieces. Unseen. Unheard.
We met in our late teens and the attraction was instant: he was very cute, and always had a bevy of adoring women hanging out of him, but he seemed to only have eyes for me. We had the same sense of humour, liked the same things, and six weeks later, we hooked up and were one of the first couples in the gang to marry and settle down.
The first question everyone asks me is, did I have any idea back then about his sexuality? Any inkling? And the answer is no, I didn’t. But then again, I don’t think he did either. Not really. We were young and fairly innocent. I, for one, didn’t have much to compare it to. Our sex life was normal, even though it was usually on his terms, but I didn’t know any better. I realise now that there was something lacking. An intimacy maybe, an urgency. If there were occasions when it wasn’t great, I thought it was my fault. Maybe I wasn’t giving enough, relaxed enough; or not inventive, exciting enough.
Eventually, after a few too many glasses of wine one night, he admitted to having fantasies about men. Sexual fantasies. I was stunned, baffled, confused. What was he saying? Was he gay? He got quite angry with me for suggesting this and refused to talk any more about it.
On our first wedding anniversary I was seven months pregnant, and within two years was expecting our second child. We moved from our first, small suburban home to something slightly bigger, with more space for our expanding family. Life was full of the usual: school runs, playdates, dinner parties with other happily married couples just like ourselves. The years passed by uneventfully.
When we were about seven years married, I began to worry about my husband. He had become anxious and withdrawn, sometimes angry and defensive. I thought he was stressed at work, maybe a little depressed. I tried talking to him but he shut down and cut me off. Eventually, after a few too many glasses of wine one night, he admitted to having fantasies about men. Sexual fantasies. I was stunned, baffled, confused. What was he saying? Was he gay? He got quite angry with me for suggesting this and refused to talk any more about it. The next day, it was swept under the carpet, and I went into a state of shock and denial: he was a good father, my best friend and he loved me; life was good. He never mentioned our discussion again, and so I convinced myself that it was all in his head. I was so in love that I refused to hear the alarm bells, muffled though they were. A standard joke of ours was that we would end up like the proverbial “Darby and Joan”. Actually, we looked forward to it!
The children continued to grow and flourish. We moved again, this time to our dream home, a place by the sea. We were in our mid-forties and while some of our friends were experiencing difficulties, I felt lucky – almost smug, that we had such a great relationship while other marriages floundered. But gradually, he retreated into himself again. He spent many late nights at the office, or stayed up late at home, surfing the internet. Long periods went by without sex, and he was once again withdrawn and angry. We seemed to be spending less and less time together.
A dating site for gay men popped up. I couldn’t think straight. When I confronted him, he suggested that he might be bisexual. There were lots of tears, both his and mine. We clung tightly to each other. He begged me not to leave him and swore that he loved me.
I still had faith in the relationship, though: I suggested we go to couples counselling, which we did for a while, and things seemed to improve a little. But there was still an atmosphere of tension, a feeling like there was a ghost in the house, a shadow of secrecy. When I turned on the computer in the morning, the history page would be worryingly blank. Were the children watching stuff they shouldn’t? But no, they weren’t the last ones on the computer. Then once, a dating site for gay men popped up. I couldn’t think straight. When I confronted him, he suggested that he might be bisexual. There were lots of tears, both his and mine. We clung tightly to each other. He begged me not to leave him and swore that he loved me. He admitted to having had encounters but promised that it would never happen again. He truly wanted to be with me.
In one sense I was relieved. He had these feelings, but he had chosen not to act on them; he was opting for me, for our marriage. I swallowed my pride, battened down the hatches on my anger and hurt, and tried to resume our relationship and live as normal. But it was eating away at me inside and I became clingy and suspicious. It wasn’t long before I found texts on his phone making arrangements to meet men. After a brief trip abroad, I found his stories didn’t add up and he couldn’t meet my eye. Then one day I received an explicit text from him to some random guy. He had sent it to me by mistake. All hell broke loose. I just remember screaming: “Why can’t you just tell me the truth? Why can’t you tell me the truth?.”
We agreed to a trial separation, but he was miserable and pleaded with me to take him back. I wasn’t convinced, but for the sake of the family and everything that we had together, I went along with it, albeit with a heavy heart. I loved him. I could see he was struggling, coming to terms with his sexuality. He believed I should give him the space to have his crisis. So I did. I didn’t blow it out of the water. I didn’t tell anyone, bar a few close friends of mine. So, in a large sense, I protected him. For two more years I protected him, but it took its toll on me. I was living a conspiracy of silence. The children knew that something was up but not what it was. He kept telling me he could make it work exclusively, and yet I kept finding evidence on his computer that belied this.
For them it was black and white: he had cheated on many occasions. With men. A no-brainer. I should leave him, start living my own life again. But they couldn’t understand the love that I still felt for him.
The few friends I told were supportive, but they were also very frustrated with me. For them it was black and white: he had cheated on many occasions. With men. A no-brainer. I should leave him, start living my own life again. But they couldn’t understand the love that I still felt for him. We were both clinging onto our Darby and Joan fairytale ending.
It took a long time for us to come to the final point of separation. We told the children, both now in their twenties, and we sold the family home. This was extremely traumatic, for both of us. I still find it difficult to drive by and see another family in our space, doing family things.
He has finally and fully come out of the closet, and I am heartbroken. It’s very hard not to be angry. I gave up 20 years of my life to this man, to this marriage. I gave it my
all and now I am exhausted from holding it all together. One thing I find really difficult is that, now that he has come out, he has been accepted into this community of like-minded people with open arms. I, on the other hand, am left in the closet, trying to heal. Abandoned. Alone. Wondering if the last 20 years of my life were all a sham. Wondering if I will ever be able to trust again. I daren’t think about the future. It’s too scary. But I’m learning to focus on the present. I am trying to do little things to help rebuild my self-esteem, my self-confidence. I’ve taken up singing. I take long walks by the sea. And I’m talking about it – in the open. No more secrets.
It’s time there was an open discussion about this matter. I have a friend who recently discovered that her husband was having an affair with a younger woman. People sympathise with her, comfort and console her. They understand what she’s going through. But there’s so little discussion about the issue of straight people married to homosexual partners, though it’s more common than most of us realise. There are no support groups or guidelines. There are no maps. We have to struggle alone with loss, grief and mountains of self-doubt. Now I’m facing a life I didn’t plan for, never anticipated. In some ways I wish this whole business had been sorted out years ago, when I was younger, more energetic. It has sapped me, left me exhausted and brokenhearted.
I’m often asked if I have any advice for those who find themselves in a similar situation. It is this: speak up. Do not go through this alone. If your husband thinks he might be bisexual or gay, listen carefully. He probably is. And get help for yourself: I have had some counselling and am beginning to feel that I can make some sense of it. At least now, I don’t think I was crazy, as I tried to hold his issues and mine. Now I’m going through the process of grieving. Grieving for the loss of the husband that I love, the marriage that I invested so heavily in, the future that I thought was ahead of me. But at least, now I know, I am not alone.
*Name has been changed
In conversation with Justine Carbery.
Love THEGLOSS.ie? Sign up to our MAILING LIST now for a roundup of the latest fashion, beauty, interiors and entertaining news from THE GLOSS MAGAZINE’s daily dispatches.