What if you discovered your husband was gay or your wife was a lesbian and you realized that you may not have a lot of time left? What if your spouse of 30 or 40 years one day tells you that for most if not all of your marriage, they have been struggling with sexual feelings toward the same sex – and now they want to fulfill those desires, while they still have time?
When we experience disappointment, grief, loss, or heartbreak, we are often told that time heals.
Time heals all wounds. Time wounds all heels, so the saying goes.
My how time flies.
Yes, there are many people who find out that they are straight spouses in their 60s, 70s, 80s. Some have known for a while. Some have suspected something. Many are completely surprised.
At this time of your life, you thought with the kids gone and retirement here that you would spend more time together, take the trips you always wanted, and enjoy your life together. Instead you discover that you are married to someone who doesnt want to be married to you – at least not for the same reasons that you wanted to be married to them. And now, your remaining time is spent recovering financially and emotionally from a marital lifetime of lies.
Divorce isnt always the best option for older people. There are pensions, benefits, supplemental health insurance policies, which may or may not continue for an ex spouse. Dating is different. The older you are the more difficult it is to find someone you would enjoy dating, and the online dating world seems to be full of strange people.
Sometimes the family takes sides. And sometimes they are not on your side.
When asked “Why did you marry me?” some LGBT people tell their heterosexual spouses that they wanted children, wanted someone to take care of them, didnt want to grow old alone. But now that they are retired, the kids are grown, and they have a new relationship, they feel they need to move on, while they still have time.
For the older straight spouse, time can seem like an enemy. Instead of a vast ocean spreading out in front of us, it can feel like the walls are closing in.
Here are some of the most effective things older straight spouses have found work for them:
1. Get solid legal advice. Even if you are not going to divorce, you need to know what your rights are, and what you are entitled to. You may qualify for legal aid if you are dependent on social security or disability.
2. Get solid financial advice. Find out about what you can expect from social security, medicare, pensions, annuities, spousal support.
3. Get credit cards in your name only.
4. Tell your doctor what has happened. Find out if you may need medications, or if there are other things you need to do to take care of yourself physically.
5. If you separate and it is safe, tell your family. Don’t do so in anger. Explain the reason for the separation, and the need to live separate lives. Let them own their own reactions.
6. Join a support group, such as those sponsored by the Straight Spouse Network.
7. Join a social group. It may be a church, a community group, a senior center, a hiking group with people half your age. But socialize. You need the affirmation and the healthy activity. You may meet someone you could have a relationship with, or enjoy dating. You might not. But join.
8. Some straight spouses have found that it is financially necessary to keep working. There can also be social benefits to working with a group of people, having those interactions. Even when its difficult, you are not feeling sorry for yourself – you are out authentically in the world.
9. Plan for fun. Go on vacations if you can afford it, even if it is just for a day or weekend. If you can’t afford time or money for a vacation, find a pleasant thing you like to do, preferably outside of your home, and do it. See a movie, visit the park, attend a free concert, take advantage of the blue plate special at the diner. Some senior centers host breakfasts and dinners for a nominal cost, to encourage good nutrition and provide social opportunities.
10. There is a poem by Jenny Josephs, entitled Warning, and it begins “When I am an old woman, I shall wear purple”. Give yourself the permission to be honest about your feelings. If someone makes a joke about gays or about your situation in your presence, and it bothers you, tell them. If someone says they cannot believe that you did not know this for 40 years, tell them how you feel. If someone tells you that the gay one is the poor victim in all this and you need to get over your anger, set them straight on what your experience is. Its not like you have time to just get over it, get used to it, or suffer fools gladly. Take the approach of the ladies wearing purple dresses and red hats. It doesn’t matter what others think as long as you are happy. There is no time for it to matter what others think.
We cannot get back the years that our gay spouses took from us. We can make the most of the rest of our lives, with or without them.