3 words and my marriage was over


As a 23-year-old student in a graduate school seminar, we were discussing Madame Bovary — the scene where she licks the bottom of the glass to get every last drop of wine.

The professor was talking about her tongue and desire — the way this flick and suck of the tongue represents that she wants more — more than her husband, Charles, could give her. It represented her hunger.

One of the students asked, “What does hunger have to do with sex?”

I laughed — too loud.

The professor would become my husband.

The laughter of women is bawdy, sexual, perverse, audacious. How we cackle too loudly in a restaurant when talking about ex-lovers over lunch. How we squeal and can’t catch our breath when we’ve had some wine, and it’s late at night, and the husband is not home, and the deep truth is coming out.

Five days after admitting to myself that I was gay, I went to see a therapist. I wanted her advice on how to tell my husband. “It’s like I’m seeing clearly for the first time in my life,” I told her. “And I want to be truthful with him about this.”

She nodded, stayed silent.

And because truth lives right next to the place of laughter in me, I made a joke.

“For the first time in my life,” I told her, “I realize that sex has no point.”

I expected her to laugh. No point, get it?

She looked at me and took a deep breath. I had fallen in love with a woman only five days before, she said, so she advised me to take my time, end the marriage gently, and not tell my husband that I had fallen in love.

I looked at her and said, “You’re telling me to lie?”

“Yes,” she said. “I guess I am.”

It was just what I needed to have the courage to tell the complete truth.

The truth is that, for me, sex with boys and men was always at least partly an economic operation. If I did this, I said to myself, from the age of eight after having been sexually abused, then I might get that.

And after a lifetime of lying about sex — When was your first kiss? How old were you when you were no longer a virgin? Do you like this? Do you want to do it? –I was finally ready to tell the truth.

My husband and I went for a walk in our neighborhood after dinner that night. It was getting dark. We were not even to the end of the block when he said, “What is it?”

What he meant was What’s wrong with you? Why is everything I do wrong? Why don’t we laugh anymore?

I took a deep breath, stopped walking, turned to him and said, “I’m gay.”

He stopped, looked into my eyes, held the stare.

I did not blink. I did not look away. I said nothing.

Finally, he turned and started walking again. I could see the twin rivers of grief and acceptance flowing down through his still supple, basketball player’s body.

“Is it Susanne?” he asked.


“Are you in love with her?”


“Did you sleep with her?”


And with those three yesses, my marriage was over.

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