Thursday, August 10, 2006

Falling in Love
Still Staying,
a follow-up essay to "Staying In" and a response to some of the ideas being thrown around lately

Last week, just a few days before the Salt Lake Tribune article came out, the New York Times ran a piece called "When the Beard is Too Painful to Remove," about men who either choose to stay with their wives or simply have a hard time leaving them despite the fact that they're having gay relationships on the side. I don't identify with everything these men experience, but I do identify with the reasons they stay (or want to): because they are truly in love with their wives, and because they have invested a lot into that love and the family they've created together, regardless of what they feel for other men.

It's not as simple, though, as the way I phrased it a couple years ago and was quoted on last week in the Trib article--a choice between one's heart and one's libido. The part of the Times article that most struck a chord with me was from the final paragraph, talking about a man who was struggling with the decision to stay with his wife or leave her to be with his male lover: "John said he had no moral choice but to leave his marriage once he 'let the emotional aspect' of his attraction to men into his life. 'That had been the realm of me and my wife,' he said." In other words, once he realized the thing with men was not just a libido thing, but also a heart thing, that's when he realized he was in trouble. The decision was no longer a simple one between love and sex.

About a year and a half ago, shortly after I wrote "Staying In," I made a new friend. He and I immediately hit it off because we had so much in common. Besides some other more obvious commonalities which had led a mutual friend to introduce us, we both love literature, writing, and intelligent conversation. We have our differences, surely, but when it comes down to it, we both value a quiet, peaceful sort of approach to life. Very quickly, I felt a connection to him on a level that I had never before experienced with another guy. As I was at a point where I had been particularly craving some kind of male emotional intimacy--and was fully aware of that craving--this friendship was heaven-sent. I felt excited about life as I had not in quite a while.

Don't misunderstand me. There was never anything about our relationship that was not in line with my intention to be faithful to my wife. In fact, something about those first few late night instant messaging sessions with New Friend made me more content with my life as it was, happier each night to go to bed and fall asleep next to my wife. The danger was never that my relationship with New Friend would pass the line of propriety, but rather the danger to my marriage was what this friendship made me realize: that I could have this kind of emotional connection with a man. What, then, would it be like to have that in a relationship with a man who was more than a friend? What if, after all, I could have what both my heart and libido wanted?

The truth is, of course, that I could. Contrary to what I once believed, homosexuality is not strictly about sex. Gay couples are just as capable of loving each other as straight couples are. Coming to this realization, especially as it came at a time when I was in the middle of questioning long-accepted doctrines of the LDS church, was difficult for me. If I was not married to a woman because it was the only viable option for me, why then was I married to a woman? If, potentially, God might approve of a gay couple as much as he approves of straight couples, why was I trying to make a straight relationship work?

There were a lot of factors that went into my decision to stay. One was another good friend of mine who had recently moved away but I was keeping in touch with via email. It was not his logical arguments against my reasons for wanting to give up, nor even the sincere testimonies he bore that helped me to make the decision I eventually made. It was the motivation behind those arguments and testimonies, the fact that I could experience this love and this connection in a friendship with a straight man, at the same time that I was developing an equally-strong friendship with New Friend, that made me realize that yes, love plus sex is surely wonderful, but love without sex is nothing to bite your thumb at.

I'm not quite making my point here, so I'll let Old Friend make it:
Your thoughts on needing multiple relationships to make it through life reminded me of About a Boy. Have you seen that movie / read that book? I love the movie--it's one of my favorites, one of those that can be seen in whole or in any part and thoroughly enjoyed. And Marcus has an epiphany that drives the story--two people isn't enough; you need more, three at least.
See, I was realizing that I was happier at that point in my life than I had been in a while because of a combination of the always-wonderful relationship I had with Foxy J, plus the friendship with New Friend, plus the friendship with Old Friend, plus all the other important relationships in my life. I was realizing that what I wanted even more than sex with a man was love with a man, and I could have that without giving up on my marriage, or on the love I had with my wife. The fact that I had my wife's love and still felt a need for something else was not indicative of any lack in our relationship, but rather of the fact that humans need intimacy with many people on many different levels in order to be fully happy.

The next piece of the puzzle was New Friend's value of, nay, obsession with commitment. As far as New Friend is concerned, once you've committed to something, there is no turning back. And the more I thought about that, the more it made sense. What is the point of making commitments if you're going to bail at the first sign of difficulty? Isn't the purpose of commitment to carry you through the times when you don't want to be there, so you can get back to the happy times that led you to make the commitment in the first place? True, sometimes people commit to foolish things and the wisest choice is to break the commitment, but the more I thought and prayed about it, the more I felt this was not the case with me and my marriage.

Another reason I decided to stay is that I learned how much my mind plays tricks on me. For a while I had tried to convince myself of something I've seen a lot of people say in the last week--that it is literally impossible for a gay man to fall in love with a woman. I adjusted my memories of my relationship with Foxy J in order to convince myself that I had never felt anything more than platonic love for her, that I had married her only because I thought I had to. As I was honest with myself, though, I remembered not only the strong spiritual confirmation I'd felt that I should marry her, but also the excited, tingly feelings I'd had the first time I'd held her hand, kissed her, listened to the mixtape of love songs she'd made for me, and how satisfied I'd felt those first few nights on our honeymoon. I remembered how we'd prayed together and felt undeniably that it was time for us to have a child, how I'd watched as she carried our baby, first in her womb and later in her arms. There was no denying that not only did I love Foxy J; I had on several occasions been in love with her, and no doubt would be again if I stopped trying to convince myself that it was not possible.

And I did fall in love with her again. Ultimately, it was Foxy J who convinced me to stay, and not because she told me to. In fact, it was when she mentioned that she'd told someone that she and I would remain best friends, "no matter what happens," that the first spark returned. I knew that she wanted to stay married, but I saw then that she loved me enough, that my happiness was important enough to her, that somewhere in her mind she was willing to consider the possibility that my happiness might necessitate something that would make her very unhappy.

Then we decided to have another baby and it was all downhill from there. I was in love again.

As it turns out, staying married is a much easier decision to make when I know that it's not the only possible option, but rather one of many. I know that, in theory, Foxy and I could probably make it through a divorce without destroying our lives or even our kids' lives. I know that, in theory, I could probably find some wonderful gay man and have a wonderful relationship with him. I know all this, so it doesn't freak me out when I see a gay couple who are genuinely happy together. Similarly, I think gay couples who are secure in the fact that they have made not the only possible decision, but one of many, don't freak out when they see me and Foxy happy together. They are happy for us and we are happy for them. I choose to stay with Foxy because I'm content with my life, with the various good relationships I have and especially with the relationship I have with her. I stay because the capacity to fall in love is not a black and white, either-you're-gay-or-you're-straight sort of thing. I stay because I love Foxy J and because I'm in love with her. Again.


Master Fob said...

And, as Alanis Morissette points out, even educated fleas do it.

Anonymous said...

The analogy that I've always used is a puzzle. We spend a lot of time trying to find the pieces that make up who we are. Everyone has their own place, though some are bigger than others.
I think you beautifully expressed the things that keep us in our relationships/marriages. The option to go makes my desire to stay so much stronger. The trouble comes when you decide that you are tied down and look for an escape....that's mostly perspective I suppose. And perspective changes from moment to moment. Thanks for such an eloquent reminder of the realities of it all.

kirsa said...

That's one of the things about love that I really just didn't understand when I was younger--that good marriages work out more because people fall back in love with each other over and over again than because they are in a state of constant lovingness for each other. It's one of the things my marriage prep teacher said, also, "Prepare to fall out of love with your spouse, but be prepared to fall back in love with them again" making some mention of the importance of focusing on falling in love with the spouse again instead of someone else.

Anyways, not sure what the point of this comment is...your post just really made me want to comment.

amyjane said...

Dr. Barlow, an MFHD prof at BYU teaches similar lesson regarding all marriage. He says it's important to recognize every day that you ALWAYS have the option to leave, that no one is forcing your hand in marriage. He says it's important that each person choose to stay every day, in any marriage. That way, you have no one to lay blame on when things aren't perfect.

Chris said...

This was a beautiful post. Thank you.

Th. said...


I would just like to point out that Amyjane and I have the same hometown and I've known her since 2000 and only last month did I learn that tidbit--from her brother, no less.

Which could be turned into a metaphor and made relevant to your post, but I'm too lazy at the moment.

But I'll start by thanking you for the post, as it was excellent and true and about sums up many things I wish I could have said and thus take the credit for.

I'm always astonished at how unwilling so many are to allow others their bliss--and I know you have bliss because I've seen you swim in it too many times to doubt its existence.

As for refalling in love, I just had a thought. But watch out, kind people, I'm about to compare love and poop. (This being the sort of thing I do.)

Let's start this ugly analogy with a what if:

What if love is like poop? You know how when you step into a smelly restroom--not overwhelmingly smelly, mind you, but something is lingering...? And after a while, your olifactories adjust and the smell disappears? And then you take your crap and are struck anew by the unpleasantness of that old poop smell?

Maybe love is like that.

Maybe it's not that we're falling in and out of love. Maybe it's that we are getting too used to being in love, and it takes a further drop into the Abyss of Love to remind us how it feels.


Shoot. That would have made a great svithe.

And it proves why I will never make much money with love poetry....

Nice follow up to the original pair, by the way.

I do feel left out that I didn't get to offer editorial advice before publication this time though....

amyjane said...

Okay, this is a total aside from you lovely post. Sorry.

th. We need to chat about that hometown stuff. Did we go to elementary school together? Cause I don't remember that, only Tanner and I tried to do the math and it seems we would have. All I really remember is when you were engaged and we knew each other through the lovely Miss Nem and your cute bride. Why don't you visit my blog and enlighten me. I sincerely hope that you were not one of the many fifth grade boys I married on the playground when I was eight. Cause that would be awkward.

JB said...

Master Fob, I'm so glad you share your story. It's a beautiful one.

Queen Zippergut said...

Beautiful. And reassuring. Wonderful post...

Melyngoch said...

I have nothing useful to say except that this post made me happy, which actually isn't useful. But I'm happy.

(It also almost made me cry, but that's not useful either.)

Robert Millward said...

Ben, this is a beautiful post. I hope I don't distract from its beauty and power in any way.

Attractants are just attractants. I have about 30 attractants in my being. For example, my body jumps when I see a lean cowgirl in an older model pickup. My spirit leaps when a powerful spiritual woman speaks. My mind wants the company of a man or woman who is able to discuss deep subjects. And the list of attractants goes on.

I have loved three men and five women (not counting my children) in my life so far. The attractants focused my attention but I made the decisions. I deeply miss the men and women whom I love but distance and time separate us. I deeply enjoy the company of my Sweetheart Forever. I remain true to myself because I choose, in spite if attractions and distractions, what my path is.

Very best wishes to you and your family,
Bob Millward

TK said...

Beautiful! Your best writing yet! It also evidences your maturity, wisdom, and good taste in friends and companions!

Cardinallaw said...

The man I married is quite different from the one I'd always envisioned (in fact, I clearly recall vowing on many occasions NEVER to marry a cowboy). I loved your post because, even in heterosexual relationships, you can look outside the relationship you have and dream of what you think you want.

For example, my husband has zero interest in literature, and I often wonder what it would be like to review and critique books with my partner in life. I long for that, but must acknowledge that, with this man, it's never going to happen.

There are compensations, however. Though he doesn't understand many of my motivations and I don't understand his (since we got the DVR on the TV, we rarely watch the same television shows), I've never met anyone who I relate to better, who is so accepting of the person I am. Even more, the gaps in what I know or can do are filled up by his own experiences--so together, we can do anything.

I chose my life with him and, though there are other lives which may have also made me happy, I wouldn't trade what I have with him for the supposed thrill of trying to find myself in another life.

Anyway, thanks.

skyeJ said...

Ben, you made me cry in in the cyber today. I like this post because I know it's all true, I've seen it in action.

Anonymous said...

Being gay is not only about sexual feelings, it's also about who you fall in love with. A gay man can love a woman, but a gay man is not going to fall in love with a woman, no matter what. A gay man's mind and feelings just won't allow it to happen. So if you are in love with your wife, you are not gay, you're bi. The fact that you have two children prove that as well.

Master Fob said...

Okay, Anonymous, if it makes you feel better, I'm bi.