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

ON THE SECOND floor of a building on Walnut Street, the women eyed each other nervously. No familiar faces, at least. Dana, a petite blonde with straight, shoulder-length hair, was relieved to see that the women looked just like her. Like women you’d see at the PTA. With nice clothes, jewelry, makeup. Not like lesbians. Fleisher had had them sign confidentiality agreements when they walked in. She made them feel safe. The 26 women sat in a circle, and took turns introducing themselves. A 35-year-old sailing instructor stood up. “I’m married with two kids, and I had no idea it could happen. I fell in love with a friend. Then, years later, it happened again.” In her tight-knit bedroom community, this would never fly. Her eyes welled up. “It’s the first time I’ve said it out loud.”

The rest of the women were teachers, medical professionals, hospitality managers, a prosecutor, and three therapists, from all over the country, ranging from their late 20s to late 50s. Their stories differed a little: One couldn’t leave her husband for economic reasons; one was separated but hadn’t come out; several had just come out; some were in the early stages of discovery; some couldn’t imagine ever leaving their husbands; some had been dumped after leaving their husbands. All knew the same pain. A half-hour into the weekend workshop, they’d bonded through tears and hugs. “We were all carrying this alone, thinking something was wrong with us. It was so freeing,” Dana says.

By the end of the first day, which they spent thinking, writing, meditating, and listening to the advice given by Fleisher and two other counselors, the women were drained. They had dinner and talked some more. Then they stopped at Sisters, marking Dana’s first visit to a lesbian club.

The final exercise of the weekend was to write a letter from your future self. The articulate, well-dressed California prosecutor stood up first.

“Please get me out of this. Please make it end,” she cried, initiating a sobfest. “We know what you’re feeling,” one woman offered. “Like it’s way too much to bear.”

Driving home on Sunday afternoon, Dana realized she’d come pretty far. Before the workshop, she’d sunk to her lowest place, from feeling too much to feeling nothing. Numb. The workshop changed her life. She’d made 25 new friends. (They’re all still in touch.) And she could face herself again. She wasn’t a bad mom. And Fleisher inspired her. She’s decided to go back to school for a master’s in social work and sink the rest of her time into being the best mom she can. She doesn’t know much else. “It’s like you’ve planned and planned for Italy, and you were taken to China,” she says, “and you realize it’s a beautiful place, but you don’t know how to dress, or speak the language, or where to go once you get there.”

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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.