I’m an artist. Being an artist is my salvation. I decided on that path when I was 7 years old. It allowed me to escape when my sisters were screaming, and pleading “Daddy please stop! Please stop.” When it wasn’t me that time. There was only once when he broke into that secret world and raging he threw a scissors at me. It stuck me in my face. My early marriage was supposed to save me. My young husband was my white knight. Instead he married me to save him – I just never knew what I was supposed to save him from. So I buried myself in my own little world of art and poetry and my children. And I didn’t dare ask myself if I was happy.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Ten years post divorce and still
He trolls my dreams,
nearly breaking me again, time after time.

At dawn of day the insufferable questions arouse,
not always abiding my attempts
to push them away.

Questions chiseled deep within my heart,
the ones that are the residue
from nearly forty years of gas-lighting

when the questioner is made to feel crazy
by the one who hides the truth.
He molds your psyche like putty in his hands.

He fools you into believing that was love
rather than the gay-lighting it really was.

He squeezed all the life out of that lump of clay
then tossed it aside to wither and die
along the way,
without the answers he secretly hoards.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Understanding a Straight Wife

                          Copyright - 2016 Maureen Kavaney Tillman

January 2016 - Ten years ago this month I was in court for my divorce. I was with him for 39 years. In truth marriage for me was lonely, confusing and neglectful, yet I could never admit to myself how unhappy I was. It took years after divorce to understand why.

The past decade involved six years of therapy with three different therapists. I am convinced that no one can understand what a straight wife goes through except for another straight wife. Family and friends, although well meaning, have no idea. If I hadn’t found my straight wives group online I would not have had anyone who understood to talk to about the pain I was feeling.  Family and friends long ago decided I should have just moved on. Everyone told me to get over it. Would anyone have said that to a widow who had loved her husband unconditionally for many, many years? I don’t think so. And yet my husband is dead to me. The man I was married to for almost four decades, whom I gave my youth and my life to, never really existed.  The man who was the father of my children and whom I believed would be there for me in our old age never drew a breath. I have struggled to reconcile the loss of my husband with the fact that he was a fraud.  Our marriage was a fraud. And I was in mourning as every other widow but grieving a phantom. It was crazy time.

Upon acceptance, a straight wife slowly comes to understand she had been living with a complete stranger. For me there came along with that an overwhelming dread. The potential for abuse is real at that stage, at least it was for me. As with any stranger anything could be possible especially in a period as volatile as fighting over a divorce. Hatred boiled over.

A cheating husband, a straight one, betrays his wife with his affair.  But I doubt he ever married her under false pretenses. He probably did not wed her with the intent to be unfaithful.  A closeted gay husband marries his wife knowing he cannot love her like a straight man could. Maybe he hopes she can cure him, or save him, but when she can’t or as he sees it she won’t, he begins to hate her. He comes to resent her presence and his confused wife feels it but does not understand why. Her husband knows he needs her in his life to hide behind so the circle of crazy takes root.  The wife of a closeted gay man slowly begins to feel that something is “off “ but she does not understand what it is. If she looks to her husband whom she loves and believes loves her for an answer – he tells her nothing is wrong. He tells her it is all in her head even though he rejects her sexually night after night. Little by little he drags her into the circle of crazy. He needs to keep her there so that she continually looks to herself for being the problem and does not look to him for the answer. Something must be wrong with her. The longer he can keep her there and the crazier things become assures him he is safe hiding his clandestine life.

My husband shut me down countless times over the years by saying he had no problems. He would repeatedly say that he had no problems except for me – I was his only problem. It became his mantra and my unrelenting ridicule. That was one of the most insufferable insults to come to terms with after the extent of his revolting, promiscuous issues came to light. He was secretly so flawed and myself so blind, it was appalling. Unforgivable.

As it turned out, he had locked me out of his increasingly compartmentalized life ever since we exchanged our vows – those empty promises. Being a na├»ve 20 year-old-bride I believed it was my duty to get him to open his heart and allow me to enter.  I wanted more than anything to be a good wife. I believed if I could just find the right key we could find the happiness that was waiting for us. I committed myself to urge him to let me love him. I trusted that he loved me - after all, he married me.

But after five years of sexual rejection, night after night, with only the rare successful consummation, I felt the last of my sexual self-esteem die one night when I was just 23 years old.  I would never feel desirable or lovable. The constant sexual rejection proved lethal. But still I loved him and clung to the belief that he loved me. Anything else was unthinkable.

Never did I understand that what he kept me locked out of was a closet – his closet.  I just understood we were never in the same place. He was cloistered in his own self and I was always somewhere outside of him. It was where he wanted me. I used to compare it to the nursery rhyme, Peter, Peter Pumpkin Eater. “ Peter, Peter Pumpkin Eater, Had a wife and couldn’t keep her, So he put her in a pumpkin shell, And there he kept her very well.”  All I knew was that I was never where I thought I would be with him.  Where I should be, but lost. Lost in the circle of crazy as it turned out.

For four decades he continually stuffed all the garbage from his secret life into that closet with him. I could never identify the source of the stench. He denied ever smelling it. After all that time the filth spilled out and obliterated the family I had spent so long building and trying to protect. I had come from a dysfunctional family and it was foremost in my life to create a stable, happy family. What had been a dream suddenly looked like a dung heap because of him.

I do not believe a cheating husband creates this express kind of damage. He does not make your marriage a fraud from day one. He does not make it impossible for his wife to trust her own perceptions for years after he leaves. He does not marry his wife without any intention of loving her the way a straight man would or by stealing any possibility  of a fulfilling love. He does not lie to her every day of his life, or turn all her happy memories into lies. He does not cover her world with all the waste he had hoarded in his closet for years and then just walk away, and yes saying he has no problems.

It took years post-divorce for me to break away from a lifetime of denial and allow myself to begin to see the truth. It was so much more than the admission he made to me of “minor” gay activity over the course of our marriage always denying he was gay. So many memories began to make sense. Two months into our marriage when he was continually rejecting me sexually, he said, in tears, that we were doomed simply because we got married. That was the only moment of truth in our four decades together until that one night when he dropped his control and opened the door just a crack. But he would never tell me what he thought doomed us. It meant that he knew he came into our marriage with a secret that doomed our marriage. It also meant he married me under false pretenses.

So the memory of the phantom husband is slowly fading. It has left me with a filthy residue that was once our marriage. I am grateful for my children and grandchildren. Together we are creating a new family, wonderful but wounded still.  I may never get over it completely but for me I realize this is what moving on looks like.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

How did I get it so wrong?

Someone asked in our straight wives group the other day, “How did I get it so wrong?”

Well I can speak only from my own experience but I have continually been amazed at how many of us had the same experiences and reacted the same way. I don’t
believe that was by coincidence. I think we were all chosen for a reason – because we all fit a certain type. Before we were even married my gay ex told me I was the “perfect woman”. We were still just teenagers so I didn’t understand how he could know what the perfect woman was like. It may have even been unconscious on their part, but I believe they knew early on what they needed or wanted in a wife for their unauthentic deceptive life. They seemed to learn early on what kind of woman would be a good cover. Maybe they even believed it was a certain kind of woman who could “fix” them however they believed that would happen. They seemed to have had a concept of what they would need in a woman to hopefully keep those gay desires at bay. It was all up to her – that perfect woman. And when these secretly gay husbands could not keep those thoughts and desires from their mind, they chose to see that as their wife’s fault for they could never accept any responsibility themselves. They believed their wife could not, or would not, do what was necessary to make them straight and they grew to hate her for that.

So what kind of a woman were they looking for? What qualities did we all possess in kind that they were all looking for in a wife? Maybe we could all write books on that one! Not what was it about us that made it our fault even though that might be how the gay exes would prefer to frame the question? But what good qualities in us were taken advantage of, usurped really, and drained of their potential to create our own happiness?  What was it that they stole from us besides our time and potential for our own lives? Maybe it was our faith in people, belief in our own perceptions or intuition, trust in our own ability to make good choices, or smart choices, belief that we deserved more, or questioning of our own sanity, or goodness. Maybe it was the ability to trust another man or your own ability to know a “good” one when you saw one. Because of that, especially with those who endured long marriages with these deceivers like myself with a 39 year relationship, 34 years married, it may be too late, recovery take too long, to ever experience another potentially happy union with a good and straight man. To never truly know how it feels to be loved by a straight man. Maybe it was all of those things that we lost… that were stolen from us.

Yes because they were cowards, we were allowed to accept all of the blame for the failure of our marriages and for our own unhappiness, and our gay ex’s unhappiness too. Maybe even for the entire family. Even when he continually rejected your sexual advances night after night you were made to believe there must be something wrong with you. I called it looking for the right key. It was my job, that plus carrying the entire emotional life of the marriage.  Because we were brainwashed, we accepted the complete burden of it all as our own, alone. We were made to own it at the same time they were disowning it, time after time. As my gay ex said so many times, he had no problems except for me – I was his only problem. We were all made to accept that as the truth of our lives together all so that our gay husbands wouldn’t have to accept their own authentic selves.

I believe early on that we let ourselves create a myth of the “forever husband.” We filled in the frequent silence with what we were sure they were really thinking, feeling ...making mental excuses for their "inability" to express their deep and true love which we just had to believe they really felt but couldn't express. I went so far as to tell myself he had some sort of disability somehow tangled up with his dyslexia and he couldn't put his love for me into words but I KNEW he felt it. And I went further to convince myself that if he had developed any other disability it would be my duty to accept it if I really loved him, so I must accept this one. But I was wrong, we were all wrong. It was all a myth and unbeknownst to us we all helped to create it. We made the mistake of believing in them. They didn't deserve it. They didn’t deserve us. They certainly didn’t deserve the lifeblood of our true and pure love, or all the other good parts of our selves that they stole one piece at a time over our lifetimes. We deserved more...so much more…but we didn't get it so now we have to give it to ourselves; we have to love ourselves and forgive ourselves for giving so much of ourselves away to men like them. We need to believe in ourselves! After all we are still standing, wounded maybe but still here. We have rescued what remains of our authentic selves and we must flourish. We cannot allow ourselves to give one more drop of our precious true self to such undeserving, narcissistic men.