Monday, December 6, 2010

The Decision

A month ago my wife Gabbie told me that she was going to move out and leave our three kids with me to raise.

In the two weeks that followed, she changed her mind on a near-daily basis. Some days she was going to move, some days she was not. By the third week I was getting impatient with her indecisiveness. I felt stuck in no-man's land with no idea what might happen next. If she was going to leave, I wanted to begin preparing for that. If she was going to stay, I wanted to be clear about my expectations. Unable to wait any longer, I decided to push her for a 'final' answer by the end of that week. Then, a few days later, I changed my mind because I'm not ready to start dating men yet.

I've been hoping that she would come to a decision without any pressure from me, and this past Saturday, that is exactly what happened.

She began the conversation by saying, "I don't think it would be fair to you if you had to raise the kids yourself."

Then she added, "I really think that Rose [our youngest and only daughter, 11] needs me now. She needs a lot of attention. And she'll be hitting puberty soon. I'm sure you don't want to go through that alone."

No, it wouldn't be fair for me to raise the kids alone.

Yes, my daughter would probably prefer that her mother coach her through her first period.

"So I've decided that I'm not going to move out." She paused a few seconds and waited for me to respond. When I didn't, she said, "That's it.... OK?"

"OK. Yes. That's good." I answered, somewhat dazed.

Gabbie still had a lot to say. She told me how we'll "see how things go" as the kids get older; how she would never want to be married to anyone else - because she doesn't see any point in being married; how, even if we did separate, she'd keep me as the beneficiary on her life insurance and 401K (Gee, thanks.); how, if she moved out, Charlie - the alcoholic she's been having an emotional affair with - would assume they would be moving in together, yet, she didn't want that because it would be a one-sided arrangement.

About Charlie she said, "I could never live with him. Every day I would go off to work and what would he be doing? Maybe working, maybe not? He can't keep an apartment or a car now so what would be different if we lived together? All I would do is work to support him and that is never going to happen."

She spoke almost continuously for about twenty minutes. She paused sometimes, to see if I agreed with what she was saying, and mostly I did.

I was thrilled to finally hear conviction in her voice. At last, an answer!

And I knew it was a final answer because, well, I know her.

She delivered the news in her 'happy voice' which is always music to my ears. There's a certain lift in her voice when she's happy and unstressed. Good news always comes when she's using the happy voice.

And yet, her words did not fill me with much happiness.

Can you guess why?

She gave me two reasons for staying, both had to do with the kids. Not once did she say that she wanted to be with ME.

Also, in addition to the reasons to stay, she gave me a reason not to leave: Charlie would expect them to live together and that would not work for her, because he is so unreliable.

The more I thought about what she said, the more a certain phrase came seemed to accurately describe what she said.

A shit-filled Twinkie.

Have you ever heard of that?

A Twinkie is a sponge cake that comes with a tasty cream-filled center. Kids love them.

A shit-filled Twinkie is a euphemistic term that describes something that is delicious looking and sweet on the outside, but once you bite into it, you realize you've been fed a load of shit.

I took a deep breath. I wanted to keep my cool. And, regardless of how unsatisfying I found her reasons for staying to be, there was one crucial issue she had not addressed that I wanted an answer about, Charlie.

So I asked her, "What about Charlie? ... You know, I'd be perfectly happy to never see him again."

I had said exactly the same thing a month before when I began The Conversation about whether we should split up or not.

Of course, I've never liked him and I sometimes burn with an intense hatred for him. But dealing with him and the way Gabbie feels about him - there is no easy solution.

Some, including Gabbie's sister, say that the answer is clear: give Gabbie an ultimatum and obviously she'll pick me. But it's not that simple. First, Charlie can be a dangerous man. He's served time for a variety of offenses but the worst one was for involuntary manslaughter. He has never once backed away from a bar fight. He's physically very strong. And, Gabbie is the most important person in his life. Without her, he has nothing to lose. Is that the sort of man I want to anger? No. Restraining orders are wonderful things - if the cops get to the scene before the violence has been committed.

The second, bigger problem is that Gabbie loves him. Some people don't understand that telling someone not to love is not like waving a magic wand. Powerful emotions like love are not ruled by the logical mind. It's completely ridiculous that Gabbie should love a homeless, jobless alcoholic. She knows that. But she can't stay away from him, even when he says and does terrible things to her. The situation reminds me of Brokeback Mountain, when Jack says to Ennis, "I wish I knew how to quit you." When love hits you hard, quitting a bad situation can seem impossible.

Third, I see an ultimatum as a losing proposition. Because I will be imposing my will on both Charlie and Gabbie, I can expect to be challenged by one or both of them. I will win an initial challenge but that won't be the end of it. Keeping them separated is likely to require the police and is almost certainly going to create some nasty arguments. To this point, the kids have remained clueless about what's been going on. In a confrontation, I don't see how they could remain that way. So yes, ultimately she may cave and he might disappear but the kids will know what she has done. And then they will have no respect for her. When teenagers don't respect you, what do they do? Fight with you at every opportunity. Basically, the house would fall into total chaos with the kids on one side, Gabbie on the other and me trying to keep the peace. Some have said that my situation is dysfunctional. I don't believe it is, at least so far as the kids are concerned. But if they learn the truth, that will change. In the short run I might "win" but in the long run, I think we are all likely to suffer. Gabbie would not be able to handle the kids' hostility and she would leave.

Basically, I see an ultimatum as a way to blow the whole situation up and make everyone miserable. The only alternative, therefore, is for me to be patient. Charlie is a loser and a mess. It's only a matter of time before Gabbie gets sick of him and kicks him to the curb. At least that's what I think.

Back to my question to Gabbie: "What about Charlie?"

"Well, uh, what about him? We're friends and that's it. That's all he will ever be, I've told him that."

"Uh huh."

"He's doing really well you know." She was referring to his pledge to stop drinking. Charlie is 50 years old. His father was an abusive alcoholic who gave him his first drink at 9. Charlie has been drinking ever since. The only times he has quit drinking have been involuntary - he's been in jail. By coincidence (or not) Charlie went to his first AA meeting ever right before Gabbie and I had our breaking-up conversation a month ago. He's been on the wagon ever since, which is quite an amazing feat for a man would drink at least 20 pints a day, every day. I'm not sure exactly where his motivation to stop drinking suddenly came from, whether another alcoholic encouraged him to go, or whether being evicted from his apartment at the end of October had an impact, or maybe it's an attempt to win Gabbie over. Whatever the reason, Charlie has been 100% sober for a month.

Although his sobriety and friends-only status should make him less objectionable to me, a Charlie I never see again is the best kind of Charlie I can imagine. Gabbie knows this and so, in the last month, she's gone to great lengths to minimize his presence in her life, at least so far as I am aware. She seldom talks about him. I used to hear the two of them on the phone multiple times each day, now I might catch one brief conversation every other day. And best of all, I hardly have to see him. I think I've seen him four times in the last month, which is a huge improvement because I sometimes would have to see him four times a day.

What do all these details about Charlie mean?

They mean that Gabbie has told me she is not going to done with him any time soon.


In fact, what Gabbie's decision to stay actually means is that absolutely nothing has fundamentally changed in our situation. She staying for the kids, not me. Our future after the kids is uncertain. And, she's not giving up Charlie.

Give me a fucking break! You mean I'm supposed to be happy she's staying so that everything will stay exactly the same as it has been????

Clearly, I am not happy with her decision. But to what should I object? That she's not going to dump the kids on me? Or that she has a friendship with a recovering alcoholic?


Now that it's been two days since Gabbie told me her decision, I've calmed down - somewhat.

I feel like we've entered a trial reconciliation phase. Gabbie stopped leaving me at home every night a month ago and she's been trying to adjust to being a 'normal' mom ever since. It feels like she's trying too hard to make it work so it remains to be seen if she can stay domestic in the long-run.

Charlie's commitment to stop drinking seems destined to fail. He's not someone with a lot of self-discipline. I wonder: if he stays sober, does he become more appealing to Gabbie and therefore harder to get rid of? I tend to think, yes. But I don't worry much that he'll stay sober. Gabbie told me that she's not going to have another year like the last one; if Charlie starts drinking again she says she's done with him. I'll believe that when it happens.

Another big issue for me that Gabbie and I haven't discussed, at all, is sex. If I'm going to be married, sex on a regular basis must be part of it. The fact that I'm gay means my straight-sex expectations are low so it shouldn't be a huge issue for her. However, if she tells me that she's not interested in sex or not excited by me because I'm a fag, I will bluntly tell her that I'll be looking for someone else who is interested.

I don't think this trial phase is going to last too long. A few months at most. Within that time I think we'll both know if our destiny is to be a romantic couple - or a platonic one. In the meantime, I will continue to make myself more aesthetically pleasing to the gay world.

You might notice that what I want is conspicuously absent from this post. Actually, it's not. Here and in other posts from the last several months you can deduce what I want if you look at what I choose to talk about.

For those of you who are prefer a less cryptic answer, I will be explicitly stating what I want in the next post.

Thanks for reading.

Comments are both welcome and greatly appreciated.


  1. And I thought "shit filled twinkie" was a cute skinny boy who didn't know how to clean himself out properly.

    Sorry, couldn't help myself. Too soon? Too gross?

  2. Make it work, or end it. There really is no in between in my experience. Being stuck in between is misery.

  3. Sorry for your troubles man. Hang in there ok?

  4. I know you hate it when I say this....but it seems like there is a big element of convenience in this situation for both of you.

  5. Sounds like you want sex outside the marriage (with men). Are you going to be okay with her having sex outside the marriage?

    Also, do you want emotional relationships outside of your marriage? Are you okay with her having relationships outside the marriage? What say will one have on the types of relationship?

    There are many models for polyamory; seems like you should look into what will work equitably for both of you. Good luck, I'll keep reading :)

  6. Cameron- As you have so clearly described your situation and the analogy to the twinkie, it does seem like you have moved from one room in purgatory to the other. Certainly there is less tension if Gabbie and Charlie are behaving better, but that revelation of her not even saying anything about what you mean to her is pretty clear in its absence. You have had an absence of deep love for so long both of you seem to have adapted to that as the norm. What plan she laid out gives her all she wants, including having the right to feel like she is a good mom. But she is not a good wife.

    I know you will share more with us about your need and feelings in the next post, and hope you can assert how it is possible for you to continue to be the good father you already are and get those other needs like she is getting out of Charlie. Maybe you could stay together and have a marriage based on that kind of equal allowance for outside relationships - some couples do.

  7. Anonymous - You made me laugh!

    Joe - I completely agree with the misery of being stuck in the middle. We're transitioning. I don't think the being stuck part will last long.

    Loki - Thanks for the warm wishes.

    RB - It's true. The word "convenience" really irritates me. The biggest reasons we both remain is commitment and responsibility. We get along well. Why blow up a family if there are other ways to handle the situation to our mutual satisfaction? Maybe I don't understand what you mean but, to me, convenience does not equate to commitment and responsibility.

    Skok - Thanks for stopping by and commenting! My wife had a sexual relationship with Charlie. Details are in the post "May I have an affair please?" She's already having an emotional affair with him, and yes, I would like an emotional affair too - far more than a sexual one, actually. She's big on being honest. Me, not really. An agreement will probably force me to change my introverted ways.

    Jayson - As I mentioned, sex is an essential part of marriage for me. Without it, we're in a platonic partnership. If we're not going to be romantic, I will be seeking that elsewhere - either with permission or on a DADT basis.