The priest, his wife, and her girlfriend

I am having a hard time dealing with my wife's new lesbian lover.


Salon Staff
April 7, 2004 11:25PM (UTC)

Dear Cary,

I am an Episcopal priest, and a couple of years ago my wife informed me that she is a lesbian. She had struggled to understand this for years and it had finally become clear. We are still very much in love. I was accepting of homosexuality before this happened, so I am accepting of hers as well. But at times it has been very confusing. She has insisted that while she is not generally attracted to men, she is attracted to me -- that I am the exception. And I have every reason to believe her, finally. We have a child and we are very much a family.

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The challenge is that last year she met a woman and they have fallen in love. The other woman is also a lesbian in a committed relationship with a man, but not married. Just recently they bought a house very near us, so the opportunity for my wife and the other woman to see each other is quite frequent.

The other woman is also a woman of good character, trustworthy and kind. I like her. My wife is flourishing with happiness. Our marriage has never been better. We all talk very openly about how to hold this all together. Everything is "on the table" between us, but none of this is public knowledge.

I seem to be the only one who is freaking out at times. Both my wife and she are very happy. The other man doesn't respond with much feeling about this situation -- as long as he feels things are balanced and they are still together and it is good, then he seems to be OK. But I have moments of intense insecurity when my wife and she are away together for an event. It feels like I am watching my wife go on dates.

I know how hard it has been for my wife to come to the realization of her sexual identity, and I know how much she wants me and our child to be happy with her, keeping the family intact. As I said, our marriage is very intimate and kind. She is very honest and forthcoming about her feelings for this other woman and about what is going on, so there is no appearance of secrets. She is trying her best with what has come to be, and I want to support her. It is hard to say how I could want more except fundamentally I wish that none of this was happening and I did not have to share my wife emotionally with her.

I seem to be unable to arrive at any lasting peace about this. It seems to fall apart regularly every so many days. My wife does not know what to do for me. And I do not know what to do either. I have a counselor who is steady and thoughtful -- and that helps -- but there are no breakthroughs yet, so I still hurt terribly most anytime they are gone together for any significant length of time. Sometimes I wonder if I am just a fool, supporting my wife in what anyone else might easily call an affair. It is hard to feel like I have any choice but to endure it. I know my wife deeply loves us both.

Any thoughts?

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I Love a Woman With Two Loves

Dear Lover,

There's a kind of desolation that falls like a shroud when the lock in the door clicks and the car drives off with your lover inside. Then you're alone, and the succor and loyalty, the warmth and support that you thought were yours, that in fact you had a big ceremony in a church to celebrate, that you signed on the dotted line in a government office for, that parents paid big sums to publicly proclaim, that friends and relatives gave their blessing to, are going to somebody else. It's tempting to say that watching a lover drive away down a tree-lined street in the car of someone else is like a little death, but I think the French are right in calling orgasm a little death -- a little death is a good thing, a happy bursting of attachment, a freeing of the ego. But this, this is life at its hardest and most concentrated; this is the self in all its knotty neediness and hard, dry, thirsty wants. It's a bitter pill to swallow, a tough row to hoe, a hard thing to endure. It's the wound of solitude.

We seek to know what we're suffering. It's a human thing. Knowing what we're suffering makes it sufferable. You're suffering the loss of the one you love. But I still love you, she says, just as much as before. Just as much, perhaps, but not just as often. Let's not be lofty and large of heart, let's not pretend we're ministers in the house of love, because I think even Jesus would say we're just men, flesh and bone, tears and desire. We're not all that lofty when it comes to women.

I must admit it threw me at first, you being an Episcopal priest and all, and your wife having a lesbian lover who is also married to a man who seems to think it's all OK as long as he gets his share of face time. It would make a great headline for the New York Post, and, for that matter, here at Salon we like to work a lesbian into a cover line. But when I thought about what you were going through, it didn't seem that different from your wife meeting a cowboy who does something new to her she'd never had done before, and she thinks it's a revolution in her sensibility or, this being spring, even a whole new life. In fact just last week I got a letter from a woman whose husband told her that his unexpected love for another woman came with such a force it was as if he'd discovered he was gay. That sounds like the new "It's not you, it's me" routine: I'm so surprised by this new development in my evolving self! I hope it doesn't hurt you, but I never saw it coming!

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So I think it's admirable that you are working it out, but it's foolish to expect it not to be painful, or to give undue weight to the fact that it's another woman and not a man she's sleeping with. I think it's wonderful what you're doing, I really do -- the deliberate, principled communication, the acceptance of your fate, the extending of understanding to another being. I'm just saying that your pain is real, too, and not a character defect to rise above. She's a part of you cut off, and it hurts, and you feel the absence. What else could it be?

Does that mean you grab your shotgun and call her out on the porch, drag her home, and lock her up? Of course not -- anymore than you could compel a limb to reattach itself to you. You're going to have to learn to do things a little bit differently, which you're doing, and naturally it's going to hurt.

What's the difference if it's a lesbian or a steelworker who takes her away in a car at night when you'd prefer to have her next to you? What's the difference what sort of self-discovery she's had? Is one form of self-discovery more noble than another? Is one kind of outside love more deserving of pardon? In truth, given how children are raised to be straight and not gay, given how we seem to say, Thou shalt not know thyself! yes, perhaps discovering you are a lesbian is different from discovering that the pool boy knows some secret spots in the woods. And perhaps it's less threatening to you, what with the distant dream of a threesome tickling your ivories, and no cock to compare with yours with dark dismay.

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Nonetheless the click of the lock in the door means she's gone and you're by yourself, and that long history of loneliness falls heavy just the same.

I wonder what it's like to be a priest, to have spent so much time calling out to God, if that's what a priest does. I wonder if it's fundamentally different from being a regular guy, or from being somebody who found God in a less orthodox and more desperate hour of the night. I wonder if God can fill the gap. I don't imagine so. I'd imagine you need people. I've heard it said that God works through people. What you need, while she's gone, is people to fill the void in your heart. Maybe God will send some your way, if you make your desolation known.

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Want more advice from Cary? Read the Since You Asked directory.


Salon Staff

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