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The confusion of sex/love

My marriage to a gay man was marked by emotional dryness and a complete lack of physical affection. I am an affectionate woman; it was natural for me to touch him – his arm, his shoulder – in nonsexual affection. But he would cringe as if struck, and often say, “Stop! You know that bothers me!”  It wasn’t long at all before the only physical contact we had was during sexual intercourse – which we had for most of our years together because, quite frankly, I wouldn’t take “no” for an answer.

I’ve been told by several women that they (or their sisters, or their friends) went for years without any physical contact whatsoever – and I often felt that DH would have preferred things that way, himself.

Longing for emotional intimacy – for him – I was occasionally given sex: dispassionate, mechanical sex. Sex that might have been dictated by some sort of user’s manual: touch this, stroke here, kiss now… insert Tab A into Slot B… (dear God can we please just get this over with?)

Sex and love become highly confused in such a situation. Where physical affection takes on exaggerated significance, either as the substitute for love or the associated expression of denied love, then all sorts of warped sexual response can develop in us. I don’t suggest that ex-wives of gays are the only women who might be able to go from 0-60 in 1.3 seconds, if you get my drift… or who are so hyperresponsive to physical affection, but we do face a real danger of mistaking sexual interest (which we didn’t get from our gay husbands) with authentic love (which we also didn’t get from our gay husbands); and the glorious euphoria of being treated like a desirable woman, when we resume dating, can become a high-risk opportunity to lose one’s head and become incautious in our relationships.

Being used for easy sex is as bad as – maybe worse than – being denied affection at all.

How to find balance? Honey, don’t ask me. I decided to remain celibate after one particularly humiliating dating experience. I’ve had my “Do Not Disturb” sign out, now, for several years. Life’s easier and more tranquil this way.

Just be aware, okay? And decide before you date what your limits are going to be – and what you really want – and don’t want. And be cautious, too. A good man with honorable intentions is not going to try to press his advantage on your vulnerability.

The Friendship of Men

In my last two posts, I’ve addressed particular issues that arise as women who’ve been married to gay men re-enter the dating process. But there’s another arena of relationships with men that also needs some consideration, and that is the value of friendships with men.

I’m not going to call them “platonic” relationships, because good ol’ Plato was a thoroughgoing misogynist. The friendships I’m talking about are built on chastity, yes, but also on mutual respect and affection.

Several friendships with good men have been immeasurably important to me, as I’ve gotten over the trauma and the destructive influences of marriage to a homosexual. These men have demonstrated enjoyment in my intellect, found me an attractive and companionable conversationalist and comrade in our various shared interests (usually religious or political). Each in his own way has helped to restore to me some of the sense of my value and worth that the DH’s rejection and contempt had chiseled away over the years.

Friendships with men are wonderful things, but let’s face it: they’re loaded with dynamite and so must be handled carefully, prudently. And we’ve got to get it straight right off the bat: men cannot be the sort of emotionally intimate companions our women friends might be.

The reasons for this are twofold. First, sexual tension is an ever-present possibility in all relationships between men and women. It’s an especially huge factor for those of us who’ve lived in the affection-less environment of marriage to a gay man. As I said in my last post, sex and affection become terribly confused when we’ve been without affection or sexual love, and it’s terribly easy for us to lose sight of the boundaries between the two.

There are some pretty common-sense ways of reducing the risk. Avoiding talking about sexual topics and making sexually-charged remarks are two of the most important ones.  You see, making sexually charged remarks too easily get translated as come-ons; they entice us into wanting to push the parameters just a little bit further…  and then, you’ve compromised your principles, you’ve compromised and probably lost the friendship (for a while, at least, but probably permanently) and you’re still alone and trying to figure out what the heck real love really looks like.

Yes, some people will think you’re a prude – but better to be thought a prude, wrongly, than to talk yourself and a friend into a sexual relationship that will inevitably damage your friendship.

The other problem is that our men friends are frequently married or they have girlfriends. In this case, the risk of sex is simply not to be entertained in any way, shape or form. We want our lovers to be faithful to us, emotionally and physically; therefore we OWE it to other women to keep their husbands in line – at least, in line with us.

There’s another aspect to the problem. In order to keep the integrity of the friendship, we want to include the wives, so we’re friends with the couple, not just the husband. But…

Often,the wives (or the girlfriends) are suspicious and resentful. We become, we are, in a very real sense, “another woman,” an emotional and social connection with their husbands that reminds the wives they aren’t the be all and end all of their husband’s world. They resent another woman taking a place in their husband’s life that rightly is part of their own spousal territory. Girlfriends are always afraid they’ll be found less interesting, less important, and dropped in our favor.

Just as often, they prove a terrible disappointment to me. -Most of my men friends, I knew from work or church (or more recently the internet), and when I finally met their wives, with whom I’ve been eager to be friends, the dynamic just wasn’t there: I’d grown close in camaraderie to these men because of the dynamics of our shared work or political or religious views, because of our similarities; they had chosen wives who were good women, but not of the same passionate disposition or quickness of opinion, who are more complementary rather than comradely – which meant that the wives often struck me as… disappointing, often uncomfortable and rather insipid.

It’s been much easier to develop friendships with a couple of married men after I’d become friends with their wives. But in both those cases, the wife is my friend and the husband is adjunct – a different scenario than the one I intend to address in this post.

Frankly? I don’t know how to get around these difficulties. Right now, I’m blessed with several delightful friendships with men, but these friendships are rather limited in scope because of the sphere of life in which they were developed. I’m not interested in pushing the parameters beyond those specific and limited spheres. It’s comfortable and there’s a degree of safety there.

Others might disagree with me, but this is where I am right now, and I offer it to you not as a rule for life, but as an option to evaluate for your own use.

Next up: Chastity.

Ah, men – Part Two

After a few dismally disappointing attempts at dating, and after watching some other women go through the seek-a-man process, I have a few observations to offer:

1. Women who’ve been married to a gay man are scared to death of having to go through that trauma again. For years, I looked at every man I met as “gay until proven otherwise,” and I’ve discovered I’m not alone in this reaction.

2. Women who’ve been married to a gay man have a hard time figuring out what is “normal” (whatever the heck that means) heterosexual male behavior and character. After all, we completely missed out on our ex-husbands’ homosexuality! Bad “Gaydar” and all that.

3. Women who’ve been married to a gay man agonize over #s 1 and 2. Agonize. As if our lives depended on it.

4. Women who’ve been married to a gay man are sexually vulnerable. Because our husbands were so stingy with affection, we become programmed to equate physical attention with affection. With Love. When a man shows a bit of sexual interest in us, we’re so damned affection-starved it’s really hard to recognize that he’s interested in sexual pleasure and not necessarily in us as human beings, as living souls. Sadly, there are some men who will exploit our vulnerability for their own pleasure, just as our husbands exploited our trusting nature in order to provide some sort of front for their own sense of inadequacy.

5. Women who’ve been married to a gay man have a hard time recognizing “Players” from serious men, in consequence of #4.

6. Women who’ve been married to a gay man appear to fall into one extreme or the other: either we marry quickly to cover up our loneliness and fear of not being good enough (and not always well or wisely), or we get scared of our own inability to recognize “healthy” or “normal” men from the jerks.

7. Related to several of the above observations, women who’ve been married to a gay man tend to be adapters, people-pleasers, accommodaters. A girlfriend and I spent two hours on the phone, one night, talking about a man we both knew, who was making overtures to her, dissecting some of his quirks and trying to figure out whether they were “normal” or danger signals. “Is this something I should just put up with?” she asked. We just do not know the difference.

We also struggle with basic friendships – the topic of my next post.

Ah, Men

So, why don’t you talk about men? a friend asked me. Dating, finding someone, that sort of thing.

I’m not a good person to ask about that. I haven’t figured it out.

Several years after the DH and I divorced, I remarried. He was a serious drunk (but, hey, he was straight!) and we didn’t last long. During the good times, he taught me to shag (the coastal swing dance, not the English version), we went camping and fishing, he made me laugh (and I still toss out some of his funny sayings, from time to time). But in the end he wanted someone to take care of him – to rescue him, if you will – so he wouldn’t have to take care of himself.

I sense a pattern, here: men who wanted to marry me so they wouldn’t have to face responsibility for the unpleasant and difficult realities of their lives. hmmmm…

and I’m a serious Rescuer and Fixer, hard-wired since childhood to put up with all sorts of foolishness in order to be “loved.”

I finally decided that I’ve grown comfortable in my independence, and we’ll let it go at that.

But men are a quandry. In the early years after the divorce from DH, I used to beg God to bring a good, Christian heterosexual man into my life so my kids could see what healthy married love looks like. It didn’t happen as I had outlined it to God. He has His own ways of doing things, it appears.

You see, I couldn’t be a good wife to anyone because I hadn’t figured out how to be a good me.  All those years in the contortion act, reading Relationship Books and trying this, that, and the other to try to win DH’s love, affection and respect… All a complete waste of time, not because they were lousy programs (I’m sure some of them were) but because he – as he admitted to one of our marriage counselors – just didn’t want to be bothered.

Plus, I didn’t have a strong enough sense of who Elisabeth was, under and behind and through it all. I’d been so busy trying to please, and to win his affection (which he couldn’t give me, anyway), that I had no idea what was real and honest and true about me. It’s taken a lot of years to sort out that issue, and I had to make a geographical change of scenery for a few months and discover some things about myself in a new and unfamiliar cultural milieu in order to begin – to begin! – to discover my own integrity.

But nevertheless, for what it’s worth (probably not very much, which caveat you ought to have figured out by now – I am not an expert about men or about romantic relationships!), I do have a few observations …

(to be continued…)

We must get well

While it might be debatable, just whether, to what extent, and in what order of events homosexuality is a mental illness, I think it’s quite certain that our marriages were very sick.

Living with a gay man is not an easy task, or a pleasant one. The first manifestation of this is a dearth of physical affection and intimacy. It’s highly revealing that one of the first things ex-wives want to talk about, when we find one another, is sex. Rather, the utter lack of it. It’s as if we’re grasping for reassurance:was my experience unique? is something wrong with me, or did you go through this, too?

One woman told me she could count on one hand the number of times she and her husband had sex – although they were married for more than seven years. My own husband would flinch if i demonstrated the most benign and nonsexual affection by resting my hand on his shoulder or his arm: “Don’t do that!” he’d explode. “You know that bothers me!” When he would condescend to hug me, it was done gingerly, actually touching me as little as possible, as if he were afraid of catching something.

For a woman who is as affectionate in nature as I am, and who came from a family of very affectionate people, that hurt terribly. It hurts all of us.

We were ignored, rebuffed, as companions as well as lovers. Our husbands didn’t mind talking about their work – a topic in which they could dominate and control the topic and our participation was severely limited, but they didn’t want to really communicate with us. Our husbands have used a lot of mechanisms to shut us out, from television to workaholism to spending all their spare time with their buddies …

And did you know your husband’s friends? Because I never met mine. They were “some guys I know through work,” but I never met them, or learned their names, or anything else about them. He never liked the men we went to church with. He complained they were snobs, while I thought they were terrific fellows. Now I realize that he – so many gay men – have to cut others down because they’re so insecure in their own tenuous masculinity; the men in our church, straight men, were a threat; through them he might be found out for what he really was.

And, of course, for so many of us, all these issues had to be our fault.

We’re women – we are created to adapt and to yield. When we are said to pour our selves into a relationship, it’s true: we adapt to fit the mold we’ve chosen. So when the “mold” kept changing and pushing us away… what’s wrong with me? became the relentless cry of our hearts.

Discovering our husbands are gay doesn’t quiet that cry, as noted by the point, above, that we seek reassurance from one another that our situation was not unique, and therefore was probably not our own fault.

So now we must take stock, recognize that it’s not us – if we’d been perfect, it would not have been enough! – and begin the process of recovering our own serenity and wellbeing.

Perspective – Part One

(Language warning – but this is why I rated this blog PG-13)

I get pretty angry when I see/hear people talking about homosexuality as if it were all sweetness and light. The willful ignorance of the general population toward homosexuality is appalling.

I have a hard time keeping a civil tongue in my head when I encounter discussion about gay rights, gay marriage, as if homosexual “love” were just like heterosexual love… with certain… anatomical… distinctions.

Think that if you wish, but you’re not thinking at all if you do. The dynamic of homosexual relationships is not like heterosexual ones. There is a violence – physical violence in the sex act and emotional violence in the way gays treat one another and everyone else.

There is nothing sweet or normal about the anger and sarcasm and emotional violence and the general contempt for other people, the basic “F*** you” attitude that marks the gay community in regards to everyone else who isn’t a part of that community – or, in their language, all us heterosexists.

Look. In heterosexual relationships, there is a complementarity of being: masculine/feminine, both equally strong but in different ways. In the gay community, relationships are identified by dominant/passive-receptive. According to Queer Net, this is called the active-passive split: “–a mode of thought found in some cultures in which, in male-male sexual activity, the only one who is perverted is the bottom. In this mode of thought, a man who would allow himself to get fucked is thought weak and womanish, whereas the top retains his manhood because he is doing the fucking.”

Note that the male partner in the receptive or “female” role is the one regarded with contempt and derision.

The slang of the gay community is further evidence of this violence and contempt. It’s rude, it’s ugly to call a homosexual a “queen”? Guess what? That’s what they call themselves and each other. Is it ugly to call a straight girl attracted to gay men a “fag hag”? Well, guess what, again! The term was coined by gays!  Someone told me that my ex- is a “bitch queen” – a term given to a particularly campy or catty gay man. Do you really think I’m being nasty and ill-tempered to use these words, here? Would I be if I were a lesbian?

But the language is nothing compared to the physical acts. Do you know that gay men are likely to have a variety of gay-specific infections and medical complications, not including AIDS, that the rest of the population has never heard of? That gay men in the passive role lose the ability to have normal bowel movements? have to wear feminine hygiene products to catch the bleeding? There is nothing noble, heroic, beautiful or “sweet” about a man having his anal sphincter ripped open by another man’s dick. Okay?

And there’s nothing sweet, loving, or honorable about a man doing that to another man.