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.
STAYING WITH YOUR HUSBAND, Part 3
by Laurel Peterson
This month we’re discussing different topics related to late life lesbians who choose to stay married to their straight husbands, either temporarily or permanently. This week, we’re discussing the very sensitive topic of affairs. This week’s question is:
If you had a lesbian affair while you were still married to a man, how did that come about and how (if at all) did it end?
Each of the responses I received to this question were very real and raw. Rather than try to find a common theme in them, I thought it best to relay these stories as is. I share these experiences not to glorify or excuse infidelity, but to shed light on the reality of having an affair when you are struggling with your sexuality. Despite the morals, beliefs and best intentions of these women who firmly believed they would never cheat on their husbands, once they started to question their sexuality, what would seem on the outside to be a black and white issue became confusing, surprising, murky, intense, and of course, deeply personal.
I married at 20. A year and a half later, I developed strong feelings for a female coworker. Feeling guilty, I told my husband, reassuring him that I wouldn’t act on my feelings. To my surprise, he encouraged me to spend time with her and said he wouldn’t mind if she and I had a physical relationship. I was with her for four months. I spent all of my spare time with her, both because I had rapidly fallen in love and because my husband had increasingly less time for me. Eventually, he told me he wanted a divorce, and that it was my fault for being with this woman. I found out a short while later that he had actually been seeing another woman for a few months before I even told him about my feelings. I can only guess that he gave me his “blessing” in an effort to relieve his own guilt over cheating. My affair ended when she broke up with me a week or so after my husband announced he was leaving me. She didn’t want to be the reason for my marriage disbanding. I found out from many people that my husband told everyone that he had caught me in bed with another man and that I was a liar and a cheater; despite my honesty and his dishonesty from the start. – Melissa
My husband and I had been separated living under the same roof for a month before I started seeing anyone. I remember freaking out because I was meeting a woman for lunch and I still did not technically have my husband’s consent. At that point I made it very clear to that woman that we were not on a date. Soon after, I had a conversation with my husband and we both agreed to see other people. Since that time, I have become involved in a relationship with a woman and my husband has become jealous and accused me of cheating despite his initial approval. I never planned to jump into a relationship. It just happened that I developed an incredible connection with a woman. – Helen
When my daughter was 7, I left my husband and moved 1,000 miles away. I met a married woman who would become my catalyst* and sparks flew instantly. Neither one of us had ever considered for a moment that we were gay, and a year later when our affair began we still didn’t. It was very intense for the first 3 years, which coincided with my very difficult and ugly divorce. I had moved to a place where I knew no one and her family became like my family. We stayed best friends for 10 years during which time I gradually pulled away and she got mean and ugly at times. I can see now that she liked me needing her, but as I grew and became stronger and more able to stand on my own, that was a threat to her. I regret the affair as I do feel it was a lie since she was married. But on the other hand, I know it brought us both immense happiness at the time and I learned so much about myself. It’s a mixed bag, but I guess that’s life isn’t it? –Nancy
I’d gotten a cancer diagnosis with a grim prognosis and was about 8 months into traditional treatments of chemo and radiation. I searched out “alternative” treatments and decided on a beautiful facility in California. It was there that I met her. It was just an immediate, undeniable connection. We spent every available moment of the next 4 weeks together. It was magic. Things that I’d never understood about my life, myself, my marriage, now made perfect sense. It didn’t last. We wanted to believe it could have worked, but living on opposite coasts, it really never could have. Many things have happened since, not the least of which is that I’m in full remission and have been for almost 3 years. My husband doesn’t know about the affair. We have separated, however, and I’m out to him and in my life. With the gifts of time and hindsight, it’s clear I’ve always been gay. But before this affair, I had no urge to come out. This experience led me down the path of living inside of my truest self. I have zero doubt about it being a pivotal piece of my recovery, and I live with tremendous gratitude for that. – Patti
23 years into my marriage, I met her at a church camp where we both worked. The attraction was immediate and we spent most nights up late talking. We kept communicating by email after that and our emotional attachment grew. We met the next summer and shared our first physical encounter. My world exploded into a multidimensional existence I didn’t know could exist. Eleven years later, we are both still married to our husbands. Both of our husbands found out early on in the affair, but we refused to give up the friendship. The affair still continues once a year and it’s the best time of the year, every year. My husband knows it has continued. I have just “officially” come out to him as lesbian. And now he and I are working towards a separation. She has not come out to her husband. – Grace
I was married for nearly 15 years when I met her. It was like a lightning bolt struck me. We started an affair that lasted two months until I left my husband. We’ve now been together for two years, and there are days that I still feel like a horrible person for leaving my husband the way I did. But I couldn’t control the pull towards her. It’s just something that I need to work through daily. – Jennifer
I fell in love with a woman when I’d been married for nearly 9 years. She was married to a woman. We got to know each other and I had a thing for her from the start. Within a couple of months, I was a mess because I was falling in love with her but didn’t know how to handle it. Eventually we kissed after 4 or 5 months of friendship and flirtation. The guilt was immense, but I genuinely felt like I had no power to stop it.We had an affair and fell completely in love. My husband found out a few months in. I ended it with her and tried to make it work with him. I did my best to stay away, but I couldn’t. I am still having an affair with her. I want to be with her. I feel so guilty and bad about my husband because despite how it may seem, I love him dearly and would never have slept with another man behind his back. – Jasmine
I am currently in an affair and my husband does not know. He knows she is a very important person in my life and has made comments that make me wonder if he knows just how important, but it remains unspoken. She shares a house with her ex and has not told him about me and her, although he also has made comments. What I have with her blows any other relationship I’ve had out of the water. Still, I’m reluctant to break up my family to be with her. There is so much fear and guilt when I think about it that I can’t move forward. Both of us are focusing on raising our kids and are fully immersed in their lives, so we put ourselves on the back burner. We keep talking about growing old together, but the work required to get to that point terrifies me. – Carrie
In my early 20s I was in an intense, emotionally abusive relationship with a woman. In my late 20s, I drummed up the courage to leave and vowed to close that chapter of life, in every way. Fast forward several years later – I was married to a man and gave birth to my daughter in 2011. I slowly began to realize that I did not love my husband and there was very little left of my marriage. I wanted to keep it all together for my children until they had finished school. A while later, I was going through a particularly difficult time with my husband, and I was introduced to my son’s swimming coach. I remember the feeling of “knowing” when we were introduced – that knowing that you can’t un-know once you know it. I tried to ignore my attraction to her, but I couldn’t. We started an affair and eventually I told him about her. He chose to go the route of gaslighting and emotional abuse, outing me all over town and going to my friends to try and get them on his “side.” He used the children as weapons against me, blamed me for everything that had ever gone wrong, hacked my phone and read my personal writing and diaries all the way back to before I had my first child. He broke me down into tiny pieces and I ended up in a clinic. The manipulation and abuse continued when I was discharged, but I started with a wonderful therapist and embarked on a life-changing journey of self-discovery and personal growth. I finally divorced just over a year ago, and I am slowly rebuilding myself and clearing up all that rubble. It has been the most difficult and traumatic years of my life, but I have grown exponentially. I wouldn’t recommend the affair route to *anyone*. I have to deal with the guilt of what I did every single day. Will I ever forgive myself? I’m not sure. The children have struggled, but we have all come a very long way. I have regrets – but I stand by my right to be happy, and be truly and authentically me. – Bronwyn
Thanks to all these women for sharing their stories with us and providing a real, human perspective toward the possibility of having an affair when you are figuring out your sexuality later in life. Next week, we’ll be moving on to a new series of questions that relate to the late in life lesbians who chose to divorce their straight husbands.
* – “catalyst” is a term frequently used among later in life lesbians to describe the woman we credit with “awakening” our true sexuality – either through a crush, a friendship or an intimate relationship. Not everyone has a catalyst.