Saturday, January 29, 2011

Coming out to the Kids

I think many people would agree that the very worst kind of kid to raise is a rebellious teenager. Fortunately, I don't have one of those. I may have the second worst kind, however. I have a sassy, snotty middle school girl. You know the type. They are often found in packs at shopping malls, over-dressed and full of attitude.

My daughter is 11 which means she has not yet arrived at the ultimate prima-dona age of 13 or 14. But anyone who talks to her for a few minutes can see what may be coming. Often she's a joy but sometimes she's just a bratty pain-in-the-ass.

You may recall that my wife and I decided to keep the kids in the dark about our split, at least for a while. The idea was to give them time to adjust to Gabbie's regular absence as she divided her time between her new place and home. You may also recall that the kids learned of our plan when Rose, the sometimes bratty 11 year old, eavesdropped on a very heated phone call between Gabbie and her mother. I didn't witness the eavesdropping first hand so when I learned what had happened I wrongly assumed that the reason Rose picked up the phone was because she wanted to know what Gabbie was yelling about. Wrong. The reason Rose picked up the phone was to call me. She wanted to complain about how Gabbie had cut the cable bill by eliminating a slate of channels.

Ah, complaining. One of the life skills my daughter has already expertly mastered.

You may also recall that after Gabbie and I confirmed with the kids that we are splitting up, they all were unhappy that we had planned to hide the truth from them for a while. Their concerns were echoed by quite a few readers here who commented and said, in essence, "Don't lie to the kids!"

Don't lie to the kids?

Well that puts me in an awkward situation, doesn't it? That actually puts every gay or bisexual person with kids in an awkward situation. Don't lie to them? Ever?

The fact that the kids don't want to be lied to either would seem to make for a very obvious answer to the question of whether I should come out to the kids now or later.

But wait a minute...

Isn't it human nature to always want to be told the truth? There aren't many circumstances where most people, in all earnestness, wish to be lied to.

So when my kids said, "We don't want to be lied to," isn't that a natural, reflective action? Or is it a commandment every parent should live by?

I expect that many people would argue that talking about anything related to sex before a child is of an age to understand sexual attraction is not appropriate. They're too young. Because children mature differently it's probably not wise to set a hard and fast rule about the age where sex-related conversations should begin. However, in public schools sex education can begin in the fourth grade when some kids are as young as nine. Does this mean every closeted person should come out to their kids before the kids turn 11? Or 12?

Maybe it does. But I'm not sure.

As a parent of three imperfect children I see things differently. I see an often bratty 11 year old. I see a sullen, somewhat reclusive 13 year old. I see a 17 year old, who, despite his good nature, still has a long way to go before he consistently makes good decisions. In other words, I see a clash between the idea of always being truthful and the reality that kids are not adults. Kids are often motivated by the simplest of emotions. They can have poor filters and they generally find it impossible to resist any chance for instant gratification, regardless of what the long-term consequences might be.

Kids don't want to be lied to, but do they really have the emotional and intellectual maturity to handle an unsettling truth?

I think the answer all depends. It depends on the truth, it depends on the circumstances and it depends on the kid. Also, I think it's way easier for a 20-something to look back and tell a parent they should have come out sooner than they did. They've survived adolescence and have already forgotten the daily anguish of their early teen years. Kids are trying to find themselves at that age. They're often engaged in multiple levels of emotional and social turmoil every day. Add a divorce AND a gay parent and it could be very overwhelming.

My experience with kids is that they are very resilient. Mostly, they are able to quickly adapt to change. It's when they don't adapt that life-long problems can develop: the parent who walked out, the move that ruined their life, the death in the family that permanently affected them. As a parent, I feel like I must protect my children from too much change. Yes, most of the time they will be able to cope, but isn't it better to be safe than sorry? Is waiting a year or two to come out to them really that detrimental?

At the moment, I don't find the idea of being honest reason enough to come out to my kids. If was leaving my wife then I'd feel it was important to explain my behavior and make it clear that my wife was not to blame. That's not the case. If I was dating a guy and he was already an important part of my life, then I might want to explain our relationship. At this time, there is no such guy.

There will be a day when I come out to my kids. That day will probably come sooner rather than later. For now, I am not convinced that their desire not to be lied to requires me to come out to them. I'm going to take the chance that they won't hold the delay of a year or two against me.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Lying to the Kids

In my last post I talked about how parents often lie to their kids and how Gabbie and I were going to continue that tradition by lying to them about our split.

Boy did that post generate some comments!

Apparently the twinges of sarcasm that I tried to add to the facts didn't come through clearly. Yes, the plan has been for Gabbie to move out and to spend every other night at home. Yes, the plan has been to explain Gabbie's absence as being work-related. (Which is somewhat true, actually. They're doing a huge computer conversion this month.) But let's be real. How long is the every-other night scenario going to last before it becomes tiresome? And when Gabbie hits that point, clearly we're going to have to do some explaining.

My best guess is that it will be less than three weeks before we have to tell the kids. The thing is, we both see that short time as an important adjustment period. It's supposed to be part of a gentle transition that, in retrospect, will not be remembered, but at the time, will make the changes easier for them to take; it's our attempt to make the news of our split as undramatic as possible.

Also, in my last post, I wrote about how well my mother-in-law took the news of our split. Her calm reaction was a big surprise to both Gabbie and I.

It turns out, she didn't think we were serious.

That changed two days later when Gabbie told her that she had found a new place and that she would be spending every other night there. The reality of renting a place made Mom realize that our split was not idle chat.

The shit hit the fan.

Fortunately I was not home at the time and I missed all of the horrible things her mother said about us. Gabbie spared me the details. Still, I am aware that it was one of those landmark conversations where her mother said many horrible things that Gabbie will never forget.

One thing that hurts, but I shouldn't be surprised about, is that I have made it to the top of Mommy's shit list. I have no idea what I've done that has made me the villain but apparently that's what I am. Mommy cannot understand why Gabbie has not already filed for divorce, that's how awful I am. As I said, I shouldn't be surprised. Blood is thicker than water so of course her mother is going to blame me.

Anyway, this whole loud and nasty conversation between Gabbie and her mother went on for nearly an hour over the phone. The two younger kids, John (13) and Rose (11), were home at the time and when Gabbie emerged from the bedroom following the telephone brawl, they asked her what was going on. I'm not sure what she said - it was nothing significant - but I do know she asked them what they heard. "Just you yelling at grandma." I wish it was otherwise, but Gabbie and her mother frequently fight and the kids are used to their bad behavior. To them, the argument was more intense than usual but still nothing shocking.

The fighting between Gabbie and her mother has been a life-time dynamic (Mommy wants absolute control, Gabbie desperately wants to be free of all control) but three decades of it gets tiresome. More and more lately Gabbie has tried to get her mother to relax so the two of them can patch things up quickly. That's what happened this time. A few hours after the first conversation Gabbie called her mother and begged her to be supportive at this difficult time. Mommy took those words to heart and calmed down. By the time I got home, the whole situation was as resolved as it was ever going to get. Mom even came over for dinner and we all played cards together afterward.

I no longer try to understand the love/hate dynamic. I just try to stay out of the middle of it.

***

Yesterday I came home from work to pick up Conrad (17) and take him to karate. He came running out of the house. Apparently he was in a big hurry.

As he got in the car he said, "Dad. I'm not happy about something. Rose and John just told me something really awful and I want to know if it's true or not. Are you and mom getting a divorce???"

Oh shit.

***

To make a long story short...Rose picked up another phone in the house during Gabbie's big fight with her mother. She overheard a piece of their conversation. She told John that same night what she had heard. The two of them told Conrad when he came home from school the next day, which was only an hour before I picked him up.

When Conrad ambushed me with that question I literally did not know what to say. What did he know? What did the younger kids know? Did I want to have this conversation with him now, in this way?

As I silently freaked out and scrambled to think of the best reply, Conrad took my silence and puzzled expression the wrong way. He assumed that I didn't know what he was talking about. I didn't correct his error but I didn't confirm it either. Instead, I asked him exactly what happened and who told him what. By the time we got to our destination, he was seemed satisfied that I was going to call Gabbie and talk to her right away - which is exactly what I did.

She was, obviously, very distressed. But then she told me something that really made me panic. She told me that her mother and she had talked about EVERYTHING during the fight on the phone. That's shorthand for "My mother and I discussed your sexuality at length." Oh wow. Having the kids find out about our split by eavesdropping was bad enough. Now they might know I'm gay too?

As soon as Conrad and I returned home from karate, he cornered Gabbie and the two of them began 'the' conversation. I kept the other two kids busy so that Gabbie could question Conrad and find out exactly what the kids already knew.

It turns out, they didn't know much. After a few minutes I brought the other two kids into the room with Gabbie and Conrad and we all talked about what Rose had overheard. She could only recall specific words and phrases: "divorce" and "mommy's own place" and "keep it a secret from the kids." Thankfully there was no mention of sex. As we explained the situation, the younger kids didn't seem to be especially distressed. Conrad, however, was beside himself.

Once we got him calmed down we tried to emphasize a few key points: that we still love each other; that Gabbie will be home very often; that we'll continue to do many things together as a family; and, that other than Gabbie being away a few nights a week, nothing in their lives is going to change.

They seemed to take the news reasonably well. But the next few days will be the real test - who knows what unspoken fear, anger or resentment might come out.

After it was all over and the kids left the room, Gabbie and I both took a deep breath. What a stressful nightmare. We hugged tightly and exchanged 'I love yous'. Gabbie then said goodnight to the kids and left to spend the night alone in her new place.

I knew that keeping the kids in the dark was a short-term solution. Three weeks at the most, I figured. It turns out that thirty-six hours would have been a much more accurate guess.

***

Neither Gabbie nor I personally experienced divorce as children.

When I decided to have kids with Gabbie I made the firm commitment to myself that I would not bring children into a marriage that I knew was doomed from the start. It was only after we broke up and reunited that having children was something I wanted to do. When I think back to that commitment from 18 years ago, I feel sad and sickened to be in this situation. Truly, splitting up is not something I want to do.

Gabbie, on the other hand, has shown a quiet but steady determination to make our split permanent: she insisted on moving out; I wanted her to stay. She quickly found a new place; I was in no hurry for her to go. She wanted to tell her mom very quickly; I would have waited. Gabbie is relieved that the kids know; I feel like telling them has made the split irreversible.

It also makes me feel like a failure.

To say that I have mixed feelings is an understatement. It's good that Gabbie has been so determined to make this happen. If she wanted to cling to me as much as I want to cling to her we'd never get anywhere.

Making this change has been on-and-off stressful and depressing. It's so tempting to think about the future because that will (hopefully) be positive and uplifting. But on a rational level, I know that it's too soon to start dating. The month I've given myself to adjust and prepare really is essential, even if I often feel like I'm stuck in no-where-land, with nothing to motivate me to get out of bed every morning.

Ah, well.

A month isn't such a long time. I need it. I just have to be patient so that everyone can adjust. Brighter days are ahead, I'm sure.

Thanks again for your thoughtful comments.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Maybe Breaking Up Isn't So Hard to Do

When you think about it, parents lie to their kids more often than almost anyone else:

The Tooth Fairy, Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny.

"You're not hurt!"

"Mommy and I are just wrestling!"

In the spirit of 'good' parental lying, Gabbie and I have decided to delay telling our kids that we're splitting up for as long as possible.

Instead we're going to say that mom's job has become so intense that she must sleep away from the house several nights a week.

Think they'll fall for it?

Fortunately they are all self-absorbed teenagers...and we all know how dumb they can be. Also, to make the lie seem more believable, Gabbie has decided to sleep at home every other night. (Any bets on how long that will last?)

With the kids temporarily handled, the dark cloud hanging over Gabbie and I has been the fear of telling her mother that we're separating. Mommy is so involved with our daily lives that she's like our third spouse; she expects to be consulted about every decision.

Neither Gabbie nor I have been expecting mom to take the news very well. In fact, before we told her we each guessed what her reaction would be. We both agreed: Angry!

It turns out that our fears were unfounded. Mommy did not freak out. There was no yelling, bitter recriminations or guilt-laden criticisms. For whatever reason, mom took the news in stride. I guess she wasn't surprised.

Without any major objections from Mommy and with the kids sent on a mental trip to Fantasyland, both Gabbie and I feel some sense of relief. Breaking up, so far at least, hasn't been that awful after all.

There's still plenty of people to be told, but to insulate the kids for as long as possible we're not in a hurry to tell anyone else.

Both of us are simultaneously excited and afraid about the change we're making. Gabbie seems to be a little more excited and I am a little more afraid. After spending my entire adult life with her it's hard to imagine not having her as my partner. Yet, being able to openly date men...it's a life-long dream that's about to come true.

Part of me can't wait to post my first on-line ad or to attend my first gay social event. Another part of me does not feel at all ready to let go of my old life. I'm trying to find an equilibrium between those two opposing forces.

I think I've done that by creating a plan:

Gabbie is moving out on Sunday. From then until the end of the month, I won't do anything differently. I need to take that time to adjust. Starting in February I will turn my focus toward the future. In anticipation of dating I'll buy some new clothes, maybe get an expensive haircut, take some pictures, write a dating profile, and figure out some ways to make gay friends. In a month, on February 15th, I'll take the plunge.

Who knows...maybe by mid-March I'll have had sex with a guy for the first time in eight years.

Wish me luck.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Breaking Up is Hard to Do

In my last post, I said I was going to try to emotionally distance myself from my wife in order to begin the process of separating.

Well, she tolerated my "bad mood" for a few days and then started badgering me with questions like: "What's the matter with you?!!"

Because I didn't feel ready to talk, I resisted her questions for as long as I could. Eventually, of course, I gave in and we began our fourth major conversation in two months about our future together.

Conversation One happened in early November. It began when I asked Gabbie when she planned to be done with her loser 'friend' Charlie. It ended when she decided to move out, which was something she had repeatedly threatened to do over the previous two years.

Conversation Two happened a month later, in early December. Gabbie started that conversation by saying she had decided not to move out. The kids need her, she said. She thought we could make our mixed-orientation marriage work if we had a "best-friend" (aka sexless) marriage, and, if she got to keep Charlie.

Conversation Three happened on December 26th. I tried to explain to Gabbie that staying married for the sake of the kids was a bad choice. It was only delaying the inevitable and ensuring that we'd both be much older by the time the last kid left. I also tried to get her to understand that sex is an essential part of a partnership for me. She didn't get it. "It's just sex!" she snapped.

What bothered me most was that I viewed her decision to stay as being temporary and not related to any romantic interest in me. Her answer? "We don't know what will happen in the future. Besides, what's wrong with what we have now? Don't we enjoy spending time together?"

What she said was true and that made me doubt myself. The conversation ended when I gave up and said, "OK, you're right."

In the days that followed I tried, tried, tried to accept a best-friends marriage, or even to relax and enjoy each day as it came. But I failed miserably. Her solution, I felt in my gut, was the wrong answer. Yet I couldn't figure out what the right answer was either. Then, thanks to a comment from Austin, it became clear to me that my wife and I were scrambling to make an unworkable situation work.

The fourth conversation about the future of our marriage, which happened a few days ago, went on for quite a few hours. Early on I felt that I had successfully proven to her that our mutual good-intentions were indeed a path to hell. A number of financial examples from the past sealed the deal on that idea. But even as she seemed to agree that a best-friends marriage was a bad compromise, she still thought that splitting up was the wrong answer. She had three big objections.

First, she said we can't afford two households. My answer was that we would remain in the same house but still separate. "I can't do that! I can't be out with someone else and then come home and sleep in the same bed as you!"

I think I could easily live that way but she, apparently, cannot.

Her second objection was that she knows a multitude of women who are single and in their 40s or 50s. Most of them have no chance of ever finding a man. Why would she be any different?

I had to give her half of that point. In our area there are way more single women looking for men than vice versa. Of course, none of those women are as hot as Gabbie is. Besides, what about broke and homeless Charlie?

Gabbie's third objection to splitting up was very upsetting. She said, "How can I leave? All the kids will blame me. They'll all hate me."

She's right, they would blame her.

How can I ask my wife to 'let' her three children hate her because *I* can't live with a best-friends marriage? Does this mean that I have no choice but to come out to them?

I was about to ask Gabbie if that's what had to happen but instead she said that she was too tired to talk anymore. It was well past 1am. Before long, we both fell into a restless sleep.

I awoke about three hours later. As I replayed the conversation in my head, I felt like I was pushing her to leave. Yes, splitting up felt like the right thing to do, but I couldn't force her to leave.

If I didn't force her to leave, then what? Back down?

It took a long while, but I eventually fell back to sleep.

In the morning, it was slightly awkward. The conversation wasn't finished but we both had a lot to do in the morning; it was not a good time to talk. A big part of me wanted to tell her that we'd "make the best of it together" - but that would be giving in again.

We had been up about 45 minutes when out of the blue Gabbie said to me, "I'll move out. I'll find a small apartment."

Wow. That was not what I expected.

***

Gabbie made her decision to move out three days ago. In the first twelve hours that followed I felt really shitty, for a number of reasons. The biggest was that I worried that I had pushed her out.

But that night she made a few comments that seemed...slightly upbeat. The next day all of my guilt disappeared when, while saying good-bye to Charlie on the phone, she said, "Love ya" to him. I was two feet away from her and she knew it. She had never been that blatant before.

Apparently she honestly agrees that splitting up is for the best.

We've had no discussions about when she will actually move. Until she does, the whole idea is theoretical as far as I am concerned. And even if she does move, there's nothing that says she won't want to come back in a week, or a month. Eighteen years ago when I came out to her and I had my perfect boyfriend I had NO idea that we'd get back together within a few weeks.

And then there's the issue of my other wife, my mother-in-law. I suspect that a lot of the reason Gabbie decided not to move out in November was because her mother FORBADE her from doing so. We both know Mommy is going to flip out when Gabbie tells her. And, just as I have a near perfect record of giving in to Gabbie, she has a near perfect record of giving in to her mother.

Unquestionably, a monster battle of wills will take place. I don't have a lot of confidence that Gabbie will persevere, but we'll see.

Because the transition will take time and because I don't feel like anything is certain yet, I find that I am suddenly not at all interested in dating. For that to change, Gabbie will have to clearly have moved on. Only then will I be able to focus on someone other than her.

Still, it DOES feel good to finally make some progress, even it is very tentative.

As always, thanks for your support and kind comments.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Shoe-Horning

Austin said, "You seem to be trying to push and shove and shoe-horn your life and the people in it into the 'ideal marriage' you want."

Although others have made similar comments, Austin's use of the word "shoe-horn" caused me to stop and think about exactly what he meant.

Shoe-horn.

It's a very visual word. When you say the word an image comes with it - a hand manipulating a shoe-horn, with increasing frustration, trying, trying, trying to make a foot fit into a shoe.

The wonderful thing about shoe-horning is that it usually works. Almost always you can make the shoe fit. It's an uncomfortable fit, perhaps causing you to walk strangely or to ache with each step. But the damn shoe is on the foot!

Occasionally, no amount of shoe-horning works. Fight and curse all you like, the foot will NOT fit into the shoe. This can be especially frustrating when the shoe always used to fit in the past. Why should it suddenly not fit any longer??

Thanks to Austin and shoe-horning, I finally get it.

Even if I can get the shoe back on my foot, that is, make my marriage functional again, every step I walk in that shoe is going to ache. The reality is what everyone has been trying to tell me - the shoe just doesn't fit any more.

***

I don't know if I have ever clearly expressed how emotionally bound I am to Gabbie. I grew up in an 'empty' household. Both of my parents are blank people; without color or depth or real emotion. I didn't have a bad childhood but I could not wait to leave them when I went to college. In fact, I only applied to colleges that were far, far away.

College was exceptional. Every moment was filled with color and depth and passion for learning and doing. I met plenty of superb people there, but when I met Gabbie on an overseas program at 20, she was different. She was extremely intelligent, yet nothing like the geeks I was used to. Most importantly, she had a vivacious zest for life that I found to be irresistible. She lived every emotion with such expressiveness that I felt alive like I never had before.

Even today, I find Gabbie's joy to be captivating. It's the drug of my life. I've needed to make her happy so that I could experience her joy, it was so much better than anything I could experience on my own.

For twenty-four years I have been wrapped up in Gabbie, without a lot of influence from others. I tried to escape from her once...but I found that I just couldn't do it. I have never wanted to escape since, even as I watched her fall in love with another man.

"Shoe-horn."

Both Gabbie and I know her love for me is no longer a romantic love. And, we both know she will never love me that way again, no matter how much I wish for that to happen. I must therefore accept the fact that our differences are truly irreconcilable; the shoe will never fit again.

Now what?

Neither of us can move ahead until we both recognize that the nature of our relationship must drastically change. Until I can make a permanent emotional break from her, I can't even handle being good friends. I think we both need to take a hard break from each other. I need to quit my Gabbie addiction, cold turkey. I can't make any progress if I can be seduced by warmth from her at any moment.

At the same time, I don't want to hide from her either. I need to develop a natural defense to her charms and I can't do that unless I am regularly tested. Plus, we have the children to rear.

Ever since Austin's comment caused my epiphany several days ago I have been trying to emotionally distance myself from Gabbie. Frequently I call her "my love" - I can't do that any more. When she lies next to me in bed, I want to cuddle with her and rub her back. No more of that. When she's out of the house I miss her. Not any more. All of this restraint is taking a lot of conscious effort right now and that's not easy. In time, I know it will get easier.

The most difficult task ahead of me is to explain all of this to Gabbie. I'm really, really terrible at putting my foot down with her. I worry that she's going to tell me I've got it all wrong; that what she wants will work.

But I know it won't, not for me. I have to be firm and resolute. Just as importantly, I have to get her to understand that we both must emotionally distance ourselves from each other. Neither of us can move ahead until that's done.

Telling Gabbie that we're irreconcilable...it's one of those ugly things I don't want to do. It would be so easy to drag my feet. But I have promised myself that the next time she starts talking about the future I'm going to tell her that we don't have a future together.

Some day, sooner rather than later, I hope, Gabbie will buzz into the house, say hello and tell me that she's going out on a romantic date with Charlie (or, better yet, someone I actually like) and I'll say, "OK." She won't feel guilty about leaving me at home and I won't be hurt or jealous.

In fact, I'll be happy because when that day happens because I'll know that our transition is over. No longer lovers frustrated that we can't make it all work, now friends who want nothing but happiness for each other, in our own separate lives.

I've always thought that I'd need the support of a partner to help me make the emotional break from Gabbie. But now I realize that I must handle the split entirely on my own. I need to be clear-headed before getting involved with someone new. Trying to do both at the same time is the wrong thing to do, for both him and me.

The kids. I hope to make our transition as transparent to them as possible. But at some point, they're going to notice. They've been oblivious to nearly all that has gone on in this year because they know that my emotional bond with Gabbie has remained strong. As we pull back from each other, they're going to notice the difference. I don't what I'm going to do about that yet. For as long as possible, we'll say nothing about the split. But clearly that's a temporary solution. We'll need to figure out exactly what to say, and when.

I'm sorry, ya'll, that it took me so long to understand. All this time people have been talking about fundamental differences; a gay man can NEVER be with a straight woman. None of that felt right to me. What did click was the mental picture of the shoe that *almost* fits, but never will.

Big thanks to Austin.