We worked hard to buy our first home, had two children, and were the "perfect American family" for 25 years, working through good times and bad, but always together. We rarely argued and usually agreed on most everything from what car to buy to how to discipline the children.
Ken came out to me in January 1996, but our story goes back decades. In 1978, while visiting his brother in San Francisco, we went to a party attended by 25 or 30 gay men, but left after an hour because I was uncomfortable. The next year, while cleaning, I came across some gay books and films. Ken explained, "I just want to understand my brother and his lifestyle more." This made sense since his twin brother had come out, so I dismissed his answer as the truth.
In 1995, I began to wonder why Ken spent so much time seeing clients on weekend nights. When asked, he replied, "I have to be available when they want to see me." He also joined a gay bike club. I snooped in his briefcase and found a notice about a weekly support group for men and "How to make it through the holidays." I did more snooping and found notices about events at a gay center in NYC and a book, "Is it a Choice?" Inside was a note to Ken and our children, saying, "When the time is right," signed "Chris."
Our relationship deteriorated. When I asked what the problem was, he said there was none. When I asked why we no longer were intimate, he said, "Everyone loves in a different way." I accepted his answers because I wanted to believe them and didn't want to lose him or my marriage.
One Friday evening in January, the weather was terrible. When I finally reached him on his cell to see if he was okay, he said, "Yes, I'm out with friends who enjoy the same things as I do and no one is going to make me feel guilty about doing this."
The following weekend, he went with some members of the bike club to scout out hotels between New York and Boston for an upcoming spring event. When he returned home, I asked, "What is going on?" He broke out in tears and said, "I'm gay and we need to talk."
Neither of us got much sleep that night, but we talked a lot. The one thing Ken said then and still says was, "I don't know where this path is going to take us, but I do know that somehow I want us to always be a part of each other's life."
After that night, we took life a day at a time. I went to work and never mentioned anything to anyone, thinking, "How stupid could I be, not to have known this," embarrassed because, of course, no one else out there was going through any of this. My doctor gave me tranquilizers and a blood test and recommended I see a therapist, who recommended, "Divorce and move on." Divorce was not in the picture, so I stopped going and handled it on my own, mostly keeping quiet and by myself, telling no one, fellow workers, friends, or family.
Finally, I told Ken we needed to talk to our children, by then 19 and 24. When we did, they were both concerned about what would happen to the family. We assured them the family unit somehow would stay intact.
Soon afterwards, I found rental receipts for an apartment in Manhattan. Ken said he needed some space of his own and would be spending some time in this furnished apartment. He then came and went on no regular schedule. He took our son and me to see the place and gave our son a key so he and his friends could stay there if they were in the city. A week later, I took the key, went to the apartment, and looked around. I found a small box on the coffee table with notes inside, "from Ken to Chris" and "from Chris to Kenneth," one saying "Finding love for the first time in my life," (Ken to Chris), others about places they had been.
When confronted, Ken finally admitted there was someone in his life. He began to spend more and more time in the city, three or four nights a week. I became more and more confused and upset. Eventually, he gave me two months' notice that he was moving to the apartment permanently and would share it with Chris. Ken wanted me to meet Chris, saying, "When I move, I can spend more time here because he will be able to come with me." I said okay and he arranged our going to dinner.
As he left to pick up Chris for dinner, he said, "By the way, Chris thinks we're divorced and I live in Ft. Lee," not Wyckoff, where we lived. It was difficult to get through dinner because if I mentioned anything about our home or our son or his school, Ken kicked me under the table.
The lie that Ken couldn't bring Chris over to his house because our son was living with him went on for months. Finally I had it and told Chris the truth, that the kids had lived in our house through high school. "You and Kenneth need to talk, and he will explain."
Our life continued pretty much the same for the rest of fall and winter, and I assumed Chris had been told the whole truth. We spent the holidays with our daughter in New Mexico and everything was friendly on the surface. The following April, I called a local PFLAG group which led me to Straight Spouse Network and Amity. Amity pointed me in the direction of two support groups. One fit me better than the other. (Eleven years later, I still go to it when I can.)
From the support group, I found a wonderful therapist, who helped me process and accept all that I had been through on my own. Ken and I had three joint sessions, too. At one, she asked him, "If you had to decide right now, who is number one in your life, who would that be?"
Without hesitation, he answered "Chris." It was the first time I heard those words come out of his mouth. I cried all the way home on the subway, but it was a turning point. I could focus on ME and move forward.
I sold our family home and moved into a townhouse, my own space to decorate and live in rather than the house of memories with Ken. Then we divorced. After I was laid off from work some months later, I became Ken's Office Manager/Bookkeeper, work I'd done informally for a while.
We keep our personal and office lives separate, but maintain the family as we wanted, sharing vacations, birthdays, and holidays. On a recent vacation, all of us, including Chris, went to a gay piano bar with entertainment. At one point, the emcee went around the lounge, asking, "Are you gay?" When I answered, "No," he called me over to find out why. I told him about the importance of family to us, whereupon he turned on the mike again and announced, "This woman is here with her husband and his partner. She knows where they are right now. Does your spouse know where you are?" Everyone laughed - except me, thinking of the wives who didn't know.
Our relationship continues on a very positive note, different from what it was eleven years ago in that we don't spend as much personal time together. He has his life, and I have mine. But we are there for each other whenever we need one another. I don't foresee this changing any time soon.