Late Life Lesbians: Our Stories, #8

Here is the next article in our series where we share our stories gathered from the online support group for women coming out later in life. For more information on this support group and how to request to join, go here. You can find the earlier posts and topics in this series here.


by Laurel Peterson

Now that we’ve covered the things that we wish our straight partners understood about our experience as late life lesbians, this week it’s time to get down to the big question – is it possible to stay together once you’ve had a realization about your sexuality? This week’s question was:

How did you and/or your straight partner decide whether to stay together or split immediately in light of your attraction to women?

Both wanted to stay together

For some, even though the realization of their sexuality was real, splitting up simply didn’t seem right or desirable for the late life lesbian or her husband/partner:

The first time it came up, there was no question whether we would stay together. We would no matter what. Eight years later, we decided I’d go to therapy to work through all my issues, but we said we would not split unless it was a mutual decision. A year and a half in, we chose that we would be better off separated, that we could support each other better this way and keep our relationship intact but in a different way. So that’s what we are doing. We’ve been separated three months, living in separate rooms but in the same house. It was never discussed about leaving immediately, neither of us wanted that. – Bonnie

Open relationships explored

Other women tried to manage their same sex attraction yet stay in their marriage by exploring open relationships. Although open marriages can work, as these two quotes illustrate, it can be very challenging and complicated:

We tried having an “open relationship” for about three months. It was very hard. I stopped sleeping, stopped eating. Adrenaline flowed and I was emotional all the time. I knew that it wasn’t going to work long-term, but it took time to get the courage to say, “I’m not bi enough for this. I’m just gay. And I can’t stay married.” I couldn’t keep having sex with him. More importantly, I wanted to be WITH my girl. I wanted a real partnership. I wanted to have a sexual relationship with her, yes, but what I really wanted was a LIFE with her. – Anna

We had plans to co-habitate and co-parent until all our kids were out of high school. We opened our marriage, and disaster ensued. We hadn’t established enough boundaries, and our lives just turned into a mishmash of anger, resentment, blame, and hurt. When we finally ended up in separate homes, we were all much happier…including the kids. – Katrina

Marriage of Convenience

Many other late life lesbians find themselves wanting to move on, but not being able to immediately for financial or other reasons, so they find themselves living in a marriage of convenience. This, as these quotes illustrate, is usually a only a temporary solution:

When I realized I was gay & admitted it to myself, I wanted to split immediately. I was so enlivened by the possibilities of a new life, my new understanding of myself & starting afresh. It wasn’t possible because of finances. I was a stay at home mom, with our youngest being only 2 years old. After a while, we tried co-parenting under the same roof while seeing other people. I hated it – it made me feel frustrated, angry, sad, confused and split between two worlds, but not completely in either one. I finally landed a great job a few months ago & eventually found my voice to suggest selling the house & moving on. It didn’t go as well as I’d hoped, but we have agreed that it needs to happen. – Kerri

My husband and I are separated, but we haven’t told anyone. We live under the same roof, but have separate bedrooms and bathrooms. It feels odd, like when you superglued something back together the wrong way! Ugh…for now we don’t have a better “fix” for the situation. We’re stuck. – Joh

Splitting was the only answer

For others, even though they loved their husbands/partners, they immediately knew that they would have to move on from their marriage:

For me it was only a few weeks after I realized I was gay that I knew an open marriage would be too complicated. My husband wanted this; he wanted for me to always come back to him, but I knew how complicated this would be for me – to always be in the middle of my husband and a lover. I knew it would be unfair to everyone. It has been incredibly painful for him, but I remember him saying how he understood… how if he were gay he would want to walk down the street holding hands with another man and wake up to this man every morning. Though he has never said it again, I cling to this notion when I am feeling guilty. – Rachel

I knew that the only way to be true to myself was to live fully and authentically, and that meant separating and eventually divorcing. He tried to offer opening up the marriage, but I knew it would never feel “right.” I’ve held on to my guilt for a LONG time, knowing this would change our family forever. I didn’t want to give myself any reason to feel guilt or shame in a future relationship with a woman by starting it under circumstances that didn’t feel right for me. It’s not what he wanted, but I think he knows it’s the best way for us to move on, be happy, and live our lives fully. – Kristin

Some relationships were already irrevocably broken

Although a same sex attraction can be a major problem in a straight marriage or relationship, often times this realization isn’t the true cause of the demise of the relationship. Sometimes, there were other issues pulling the couple apart for years. In these cases, same sex attraction is the final straw more than the cause:

I was already in an unhealthy marriage. It looked good from the outside – deacons of the church and their wives are good at the masks. I believe the decision to split up was about three quarters an unhealthy relationship and a quarter because I met someone else. A healthier relationship with my ex to start with might’ve encouraged a more open though discrete marriage, staying together for the kid’s sake, allowing us each an outlet for intimacy without judgement. Or, if I had not met the one who helped me wade thought my sexuality questions, I might’ve lived miserably the rest of my life. – April

As you can see, same sex attractions do not necessarily mean your straight relationship is imminently over. In most cases, however, our members find that the only way to truly live authentically is to find a way to move on and end our straight romantic relationships. In our next blog, we’ll start a new series of questions regarding how our members have tried to make things work and find a way forward.

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