John

Mixed Orientation Marriage – A Personal Experience

As I continue to write this reflection, I’m reminding myself that these are memoirs; I can’t help but write them in hindsight. I can’t go back and redo my life but it is my hope that as I continue to tell this story not only will I learn, it is my hope that someone else will know they are not alone and that some may use my experience to prevent making mistakes of their own. It is also my desire that some will understand the conflicts and confusion of living through a mixed orientation marriage. Regardless of how one chooses to respond to the experience, it is so important to know that there are others who get it.

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I married my first wife when I was just 19 years old. I hoped that through being married I could escape some very uncomfortable relationship struggles. I had a friendship that was emotionally exaggerated and miserable. I was jealous of his girlfriend and wanted more time with him. He later moved out of town and I wanted to die! I truly had no clue that my struggles were connected to homosexuality. I was sexually a virgin and deeply naïve.

I tried everything I knew how to in attempting to connect with my first wife. I was young and admit that I didn’t have very many tools in my resource kit. But after several serious attempts to find a way, I began to give up. As I looked up and down the street where we lived I felt so isolated. I felt disconnected from the other men on the street. I made all kinds of assumptions about their marriages being far better than ours and I believed mine was a sham in comparison largely due to the lack of success in connecting to my wife in an intimate and satisfying way.

It was 1979 and after having been married six years and having two children, I came out as a gay man! I admitted that I was gay and this was my opportunity to truly discover more of myself. I really wanted to know more about who laid beneath the skin of John Smid.

I began to meet other gay men. I felt more connected to life than I ever had. I was invited to go to some of the local gay bars. The men I met were men that found community through bars and clubs. We would meet, dance, drink, and eventually I found men that I had sex with. It seemed that for most of the men I was meeting, the way to get to know someone that we hoped might become a partner was through a one-night experience with them.  I was only 24 years old and sex was exciting and adventurous for me having since I had just opened up the doors to my true sexuality for the first time.

My relationships fit into two categories, friends, and sex partners. Some of my sex partners became more than one-night stands. Throughout the next couple of years I got really close to four men. Each time I thought surely this was the man that would become a life partner for me. I was more interested in a long-term relationship than the one-night stands. But I was also looking for close friendships.

I met Daryl who had also been married and recently divorced like I had. I was so glad that someone understood what I had gone through. Daryl had two kids that were slightly older than mine. He introduced me to his ex-wife and shared that they were trying to have a friendship. This was my first experience in knowing someone who was also from a mixed orientation marriage. Lydia, his ex-wife, seemed to be very understanding about her husband and was accepting of me as his friend. She was friendly and welcoming. At one point, Daryl said he was considering getting back together with his wife. I thought that was strange and even though they tried, it actually never happened.  Lydia and I formed a friendship following that meeting that has remained through today and we exchange Christmas letters each year. She got remarried a few years after our meeting. I lost connection with Daryl after he and one of my former partners got together in a relationship that lasted until, sadly, Daryl died from AIDS. They were together for about fifteen years and I never saw Daryl again.

Along the way, life got really complicated. I experienced several breakups that were heart wrenching to go through. I had found people and circumstances that were less than noble. As I moved more into a gay identity and friendships I wanted so desperately to find that one true love. I really didn’t like the way my life was going but I didn’t know what else to do.

At one point some friends of mine suggested that I might find a better quality of people if I connected with the AA community through al anon. So I went to a couple of meetings with them. One particular meeting really touched me and set my life on a search for a deeper spiritual walk.

I began to pray and found that God seemed to be far more personal than I had thought. With a Catholic background, I attached spirituality with only going to church. I had a friend that I worked with that kept inviting me to her church. She said it was more exciting than her experiences with a Catholic mass and that I might really like it.

Several invitations later and no freedom from the challenges in my relationships, I decided to become more connected with the singles ministry at the church I had been checking out. I needed something more positive in my life for sure. I attended a couple of weeknight meetings and found a pretty amazing group of people. This led me to make a serious decision. I decided to separate from my gay friends. I also broke up with one boyfriend that I had gone with for several years. I found that relationship to be mostly painful even though I really loved him.

I was interested in what the singles pastor may have to say about my life so I set up a meeting with him. I talked very openly about what I had been involved with and how painful it had been for me. In our meeting he talked about how the Bible spoke against homosexual behavior. In my desire for a better life I realized I didn’t know much about the Bible and I was interested in hearing more.  I had struggled so much that I believed what he was saying was right. I came away convicted that my struggles and pain had come due to me living in what I heard others call the “sin of homosexuality.” I left the meeting and set my mind in ridding my life from even more things that connected to my life as a homosexual.

I enjoyed the following meetings and the people were wonderful. I met several friends that I connected with. I told those I became close with about my homosexuality and it seemed not to shake them up too much. Some of them were honest with me as well about their lives and involvement with sex and other things that we all considered to be sinful activities. I found community and lots of things to keep my life busy in the wake of breaking off my relationships within the gay community.

I now identified myself with the single Christians. Moving forward the pastor began to give me things to do and eventually I became the emcee of the weekly meeting consisting of about 80 people. I had always been fearful of speaking in front of people but he believed in me so much that I went around my fears and became comfortable in front. I was seen as one of the key leaders of the group, which felt really good to me. I believed I was doing something positive and found talents and abilities I had never explored before.

Homosexuality was less and less of an issue for me, meaning I didn’t focus on it much. I felt lonely and really wanted an intimate connection. Friendships were great, but some of the people in the group had dating relationships and I didn’t want to be single my whole life!

I met someone that was new in our singles group. Charles was divorced and had two kids so we connected with each other on being single non-custodial dads. After knowing Charles for a while I suspected he might also be struggling with homosexuality. At a retreat I sat down and asked Charles if that was true? He admitted to me he was gay and that it was a struggle for him.

Knowing Charles brought many questions to my mind that I had no answers for.  What would one say about homosexuality and the Christian faith? Were there places that I could ask those questions and get answers? It seemed that no one around me really knew much other than they called it sinful. I put those questions in the back of my mind hoping to find some of the answers.

Since having an intimate relationship with a man was considered sinful in my community, I figured I’d best figure out how to get along with women. I believed I was in a healthier place to try this again. I thought surely my Christian faith would help me to be more successful in marriage to a woman a second time around. I really didn’t understand the mixed orientation marriage issue very well.  I believed my homosexuality was a sin struggle and that I could overcome it the way I would overcome other sin struggles. I didn’t consider that I wasn’t sexually attracted to women. It would have been considered sinful, and tempting for me to ponder sex as a single man.

I found one lady who was kind, attractive, and seemed to enjoy being with me. But she wasn’t interested in any kind of a dating relationship. So we remained friends and I moved on to date a couple more of the women in the group. I did learn some things, but none of the ladies I met were a match for a long-term relationship. One of them was considered one of the prettiest girls in the group. It felt good having others see that I was in a relationship with her. I remember walking in a public park one day holding her hand. I was more focused on what others may think knowing I was dating such a pretty girl. But I wasn’t sexually attracted to her in the least bit. I did enjoy the companionship. I ended the relationship abruptly largely because I couldn’t see it going any further. She was devastated and never returned to the singles group after we broke up. Another woman had two children and after a couple of dates it was clear to me that I didn’t want to be a stepparent. So I moved on from her as well.

Then I met Vileen when she came into our singles group. She was friendly, active, and was involved in all of the same things I was. I wasn’t interested in dating her at the beginning. I had other interests so she became a friend. We began to lead a home group out of the singles ministry together. I enjoyed being around her and she showed a lot of interest in being with me. Some of my friends suggested I might consider a more serious relationship with her. I was open but fearful of what that might mean.

After just a couple of months knowing her, an opportunity came up for me to talk about my past experiences with homosexuality. She came to my house with another female friend. I felt the leading to share my whole story so I told the unabridged version. After I told her my story of being divorced and having gay relationships she didn’t seemed to be shocked at all. Her response was to tell me about her own relationship history. She made it clear to me that she believed her life to be not much different from mine. This made our being together even more comfortable. She accepted me as I was.

Shortly thereafter, we began to have a dating relationship that was different from the others. There was a mutual desire to spend time together. There was an honest joy that was developing.

As we began spending even more time together it felt good to have someone significant in my life. We enjoyed talking, walking, and sharing our lives. We would rub each other’s feet as we sat on the opposite ends of the couch talking. I wanted to do this thing right so I was very careful about going further with kissing or any other physical connection. I believed my restraint was a godly factor in building a good foundation for our relationship. I didn’t realize that underneath my seeming morality was a deeper fear of that connection. It was easier to cover it, though not intentionally.

But just a few months after we became serious something inside of me shut down. I started to close off and not talk as much. I felt very threatened by our closer connection. I felt genuine anxiety about the relationship and became fearful that I had failed once again at having a healthy relationship.

I told her about my concerns and shared very openly what I was going through. This didn’t help much but at least I was being honest. I just couldn’t figure out how to fix this dilemma and looked for answers. Spending time with her began to be a problem for me. I feared I’d hurt her if I separated and at the same time, I didn’t want to break up. But the struggle was negatively affecting our time together.

What would transpire over the next few months was very revealing about some deeper things going on but it wasn’t until many years later that I would finally understand them.

After some counsel, and a whole lot of denial, I moved forward with the relationship as a dating relationship. Several months into spending one on one time together I experienced once again the emotional anxiety and I decided to break up with her. She seemed to be feeling her own confirmation that this was the right thing to do.

About a year later I experienced a rekindling of desire to be with Vileen. I asked her to rejoin me in our pursuit of each other. Several months later, I asked Vileen to marry me. It was a very romantic proposal with a beautiful Northern California ocean side sunset. I was deeply insecure but believed I was doing the right thing.

As I talked with my spiritual leaders about the relationship they reassured me that sexual intimacy would not be a problem. They encouraged me with the simple answer, “Don’t worry, when the time is right the plumbing will work.” I believed them and figured I wouldn’t have any difficulty with that.  What my counselors failed to talk about with me was the emotional intimacy barriers that I experienced. It seemed we all focused on the potential physical parts of the relationship so any questions I had about the emotional connection went underground.

In 2015, I went to see the Imitation Game. It was quite provoking in many ways due to the nature of the story being that of a persecuted gay man in the 1940’s. But one thing that stood out to me was the situation with Alan Turing and his engagement to Joan Clarke. I can’t quote it exactly, but when he spoke to her about breaking off the engagement seemingly due to his homosexuality, she said something like, “We can make it work. We have our minds to connect with one another with. We can have a marriage that is unique to us.”

I thought back to my own engagement before my second marriage. What would either of us done if we had been able to have been totally honest with each other. Oh, she knew about my homosexuality. I knew I was still overtly attracted to men. But what I didn’t take into consideration was the impact of my ongoing attraction to men and my totally lack of sexual attraction to women and how that would impact our marriage in the long term.

The Christian culture I was part of and the ExGay movement that surrounded me emphasized the power of God to do anything. Since I believed God was against me having a homosexual relationship and that God was totally supportive of my desire to be married to a women, I believed God would move heaven and earth to heal my broken sexuality as long as I did my part by living a moral life committed to my relationship with God and faithful in my marriage.

But what would have been the case if I’d begun my marriage with the reality that my sexuality would never change? What would my wife have done if I’d said, “I’ll always be gay. I’ll always be attracted to men. I will never be sexually attracted to you and you will never feel that intense love from a man for you as a woman from me?”

Would I have been willing to walk down the marriage aisle with full commitment if I’d known that I would never have an emotional and physical fulfillment with her as my wife? Would she have been willing to have married me if she’d known I would never love her as a heterosexual man would and be intimate with her in full attraction and love for her as a woman?

When we got married, the facts were on the table since she fully knew of my gay background, but they were filtered through a false hope that we would not have to live our total married life with the disconnect that was so obvious to us both from the very beginning, even though we never talked about it. I know that I based much of my desire to marry on the hope for change and the potential for a deep and intimate connection some day.

Much like what was shown of Alan Turing and Joan Clarke, I loved and deeply respected her as a person, as a companion, and as a woman who loved God. We could see that we would be compatible companions. But there were deeply seated emotional struggles that  presented themselves due to my anxiety about being intimately connected to her. The anxiety was connected to more than just the sexual intimacy. I had anxiety about allowing her to totally know me and to release my soul to connect with hers.

Alan Turing seemed to deeply respect and love Joan Clarke. They were compatible in so many ways. Joan seemed to see someone in Alan she was willing to love and marry. She admitted in the movie that she saw their minds were something they could rely on in their marriage even if their sexuality was incompatible. But it seems Alan was more realistic than that. He was unwilling to continue with the marriage plans.

Honestly, when I was 34 years old and excited about being married and stepping into a culturally acceptable married life, I had my head in the sand about some very important things. I was romantically attached to the idea of being married and more compatible with Christian culture. I wanted so much to continue down the path of healing and deeply wanted to be free of what I internally referred to as “this damned homosexuality.” I believed it was a terrible problem that I wanted to go away. I trusted in what I was taught about God’s healing power and a belief it was God’s desire to remove my homosexuality and I considered that I could then be a whole person. I determined that to be a whole person, I also had to allow God to heal my broken sexuality.

So I believed to be married would provide a healing place to work with God on my goals. My fiancé’ and future wife believed as I did and I think she was likely as caught up in the romance of marriage as I was. She was a woman who desired to be married to a man that she believed she could respect and love, just like any adult woman would.

As I look at those years today, I do not believe I would have forgone my desire for relational intimacy. I don’t think I would have wanted to live as a celibate married man, which is where the relationship ended up after about ten years. I certainly would have not wanted to bring a woman into my life that I knew I could never fulfill in terms of intimate love.

Sadly, it took 24 years to reach the courage to bring to the surface something that was always there but we were unwilling to really face. My sexuality throughout my tenure of over two decades of ExGay ministry didn’t change, nor my intense desire for intimacy with a man diminish, at all. The anxiety I felt towards intimacy with my wife continued to be problematic and increased over the years. I learned how to stuff it and attempt to ignore it just to survive my own marriage reality.

After twenty years I began to allow myself to be more internally honest and to bring forth the courage to bring that honesty to the light. I can now say I do not regret our marriage, nor do I minimize the positive things about our 24 years together. But, frankly, I do regret that I was unable to discern for myself the reality of my life and that I based an entire marriage not on the reality of what was, but the façade of what I hoped it could have been.

As the Bible says,

Hope deferred makes the heart sick; but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” Proverbs 13:12

My heart became very sick. Through some wonderful life coaching I discovered a way to navigate towards a life with more integrity. Yes, it included a divorce and rebuilding my life on a more honest foundation. My former wife was not supportive of my decision to end the marriage. She was deeply hurt by it all.

I cannot speak for her, but I believe the lack of honest discussion about our struggles along the way was a codependent relationship and probably more than anything else what caused our marriage to end.

But thankfully, today I have a longing that has been amazingly and wonderfully fulfilled and have found a tremendous life!

The movie, Imitation Game, revealed to me many truths that were profound. I’ll be thinking about them for some time.

Please feel free to contact me with any questions or just a place to talk.

jjsmid@gracerivers.com

 

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