Brokeback Marriage

You are a happily married wife and mother when suddenly you find yourself attracted to … another woman? It happens more often than you think, which is why one Chestnut Hill therapist is busier than ever

AS SHE HEADED east on the Schuylkill, Dana* couldn’t stop her hands from shaking on the wheel. I can’t afford a setback, she thought. Every step forward had been such a huge undertaking. She flipped on the car radio to calm herself. George Michael’s baritone was crooning: “I gotta have faith, faith, faith … ” Thanks, God, you’re really having fun with me here. Dana hadn’t told a soul where she was going, and navigating the Expressway on a dark Friday night made it feel like a secret mission.

[sidebar]The journey had begun five years earlier, after Dana turned 40. She found herself feeling strangely attracted to a female co-worker at the store she managed. The way they laughed so easily together, the way the woman affectionately touched Dana as she talked, flooded her with strange sensations. What is wrong with me? she thought. Am I crazy? I love my husband. I love my kids. I love my life. What is this? She’d never looked at a woman that way. She’d married a man she was madly in love with — a law-enforcement officer who had brought her breakfast in bed every day of their 15-year marriage. They’d had kids, bought the house of their dreams — a three-bedroom colonial on a peaceful tree-lined street in Yardley — joined a Catholic church, attended PTA meetings, and fallen neatly into the framework of their small community.

Dana never told her husband about her Sapphic attraction. Instead, she quit her job and made an appointment with him for marriage counseling, convinced she was just missing their earlier intimacy and passion. He worked for the city by day; she sometimes logged 70 hours a week working nights to cover private-school tuition for their two boys, who were then eight and 10. After some joint counseling, she suppressed her feelings for her co-worker and went on with her life.

Two years later, Dana met another woman at work whose presence hit her so powerfully that she could no longer deny something was happening. The two talked in the car for hours after long shifts. One day the woman — a lesbian, it turned out – stole a long, sensuous kiss in the bathroom. “I couldn’t move. I couldn’t speak,” Dana says, her blue eyes widening. The electricity consumed her. “We started meeting in broad daylight in parking lots, getting half-naked in the car in the community where we both lived and worked. We were willing to risk everything for those stolen moments.”

The affair infused her with new life. Being with a woman, this woman, felt more right than anything she’d ever experienced. But it was also killing her. For a year, she hid the affair from everyone. Her girlfriend came over often, but it appeared the two were just friends. Finally, wracked with shame and guilt, Dana left her husband and moved in with a friend. A month later, on a cold February day, she sat her husband down and told him the truth: She was in love with a woman.

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  • Colette
  • Anonymous

    As a husband of a woman who came out in her 50s i can tell you that it is a devastating experience to discover that your life as you knew it has changed completely overnight. I would urge woman to be as honest as possible and to deal with their husband;s before they enter into affairs. The more honest and understanding they can be the friendlier the process of divorce and coparenting. For spouses of gay women I would recommend that they go to for support. It isn’t only the gay spouse who needs help with this crisis although that side of the story tend to be more attractive to journalists.

  • Janet

    I’m the straight ex wife of a closeted gay man, & I don’t think he deliberately lied, but since he lied to himself so well, he lied to me. Straight Spouse Network has been a real help. I just don’t understand how someone can go their whole life and not know who they are. And I got real tired real fast of being told that I was the crazy one because “everyone is a little gay”. I call that kind of thing being Kinsified. I do not understand why gay sexuality is celebrated while mine and the sexuality of straight husbands I know is eviscerated in counseling, sneered at, laughed at, and blamed. Now this appears to be “glamourous” and kids think is is no big deal, but when they get married, they find out that it is more than any of these so called open minded people will let anyone talk about. Why is there never any emphasis in these coming out stories on the true effect on the husband? Is the last word on being married to a lesbian a Howard Stern joke?

  • n/a

    Finally an article which covers this sensitive topic without judgement or drama. Joanne and basically saved my sanity. Robyn, Thank you for sharing Dana’s story and acknowledging Joanne Fleisher’s good work.

  • Maureen

    It is painful for everyone when a married person comes out. The closeted person feels guilty, the left spouse feels betrayed and rejected, the children feel abandoned and confused. I hope that the responsible media begin to cover the whole story.

  • Geoff

    Doesn’t the possibility exist that they were straight at some point an sexuality isn’t completely DNA-based?

  • Andrea

    Amazing, how completely accurate this article is. Thank you!

  • Anonymous

    It was so unacceptable to be gay back in the 80’s that it could be completely repressed. As a middle-aged married mother I can tell you that it is not easy to live your life in denial; and frankly, it’s kind of shocking when you come to realize that you have. I’ve made a life with my husband of 20+ years but in the introspection that one is wont to do with age, I’ve come to realize that I am gay. I love my husband very much but am not “in love” with him. What kind of life do I choose to live going forward? What will this realization do to my kids? Will everything feel like a lie to them? It really is not easy.

  • Kathy

    These woman are no different than Tiger Woods. Cheating, is cheating.

  • JP

    How can you compare them to Tiger? Tiger has money and power. Which can not and will never buy you the love of another and certainly does not give you the joy of being a father either. Because the maid changes the diapers 24/7. Instead Tiger has his bithches. Which makes that way different then a woman or a man who have struggled to pay the bills, make a good life for their kids. And, during that time tried to keep an intimiate relationship. Some survive, some stay stuck, and others realize that they are missing something. And, yes, maybe they should just divorce first before they cheat. But, honestly, who knows what makes you happy until you try it or it smacks you right in the face one day. Another person, right in front of you, making you laugh, making you feel things you haven’t felt in years. Another individual fulfilling all those needs. Happiness is what you make it. And, everyone has a right to it, even if it causes you to make a few mistakes along the way.