Hello, Dr. Olson.
I am a man in my early thirties, and I’ve only recently realized I’m gay after having unexpectedly fallen for a man who rocked me to my core. It was incredibly hot, sexy, and intense, but we connected in so many other ways too. I am not currently seeing him because I must work some things out. I’ve now come out to my wife whom I love. She believes that if I work hard enough on this, I can change, but deep down, I know I don’t want to change. How can I help her understand that being gay isn’t something I can change and because of it I can’t ever give her what she really needs?
Imagine being in a jail cell and standing at the door looking through the bars, wondering how you can escape. After struggling at the gate for a long time, you look to your left and then to your right. There are no walls there, only ones you imagined. You discover you can escape, but only by changing the directions through which you’re trying to escape. That is where you are now.
You have a wife and a family that you love, and you are living the life that society has told you was the only acceptable life to live. By all external measures, your life is a success. Then you discover you are sexually attracted to men, but you had thought you were too masculine to be gay. You’ve turned toward your religious faith, but it has told you, “Don’t look to the left or right. You will surely go to hell.” You’re standing at the bars of that jail cell trying to figure out a way out, but you’re looking only straight ahead.
Coming out to your wife was undoubtedly one of the most difficult things you have done. You had thought about it for a long time, and the secret was like an abscess, growing more and more painful. Now the abscess has been ruptured and you’re feeling a great relief, but the pain for her is just beginning.
Because you still love her (as I wrote about in “I Love My Wife and I Love My Husband”), you want to help her through this. Sadly, you can’t. Your compassion, empathy and love will only be confusing to her as she thinks, “If he really loves me, why would he be putting me through this?” She’s standing on the other side of that barred jail cell wall, trying to pull you through it.
Now you have fallen in love with a man; he has shown you that you don’t have to escape through that barred door; but you can escape another way. But you are frightened about leaving behind what you know is so familiar, and you can’t see clearly into the distance. And walking to the left or right leaves your wife alone, still standing at that barred gate. If you walk away, you leave her there, hoping that she will find another way but uncertain if you will meet again in the future.
The issues with your extended family are bound to be difficult, at least for some time, but can you ever be happy just trying to be the person they want and expect you to be rather than the person you really are? They want to pull you through that same gate.
I cannot tell you if you are doing the right thing. What I can tell you is that you have discovered a part of yourself that you didn’t know existed, and now that you have witnessed it, you can’t unsee it again. You have found feelings inside yourself that you didn’t know you could have, and you will always have a wish to recapture those feelings.
You may wish to resolve this dilemma by trying to make it work with your wife, but the essential question is this: Can you move forward in your relationship with her without betraying her again? Which would be more painful for her: leaving now because you know you cannot contain these feelings, or making a commitment to your wife that you likely will not always be able to keep? I think all of this is too new to her for her to be able to understand what this conflict is like for you.
The only thing you need to do is to tell her how sorry you are to have caused her such pain. Full stop. Since you’re only now beginning to understand this, I do not think you will be able to help her understand it, nor do I think she is emotionally ready to accept any explanation you might try to give her. And any explanation you try to give will make it appear that you want only to escape the blame for having hurt her.
So, my friend, stand at the bars at that gate, shouting, “Let me out!” for as long as you like, or choose to walk to the left or right, hoping that what you want to find will be somewhere down that new, unexplored path.