Apparently I'm a bisexual mom

I had lesbian flings in my wild girlhood but thought I'd settled down. Now, after six years of marriage, I'm thinking about women again!

Published October 11, 2007 10:04AM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

Over time, I have seen that you tend to be a strong defender of marriage, especially when children are involved. I appreciate this, and generally agree.

But I have a sort of, well, weird and embarrassing and difficult question, regarding my marriage. I'm sure your readers would probably think this is fake.

I'm a mid-30s woman, married six years now to an absolutely wonderful man. He is kind and funny and smart and, for the most part, we get along. (Of course, we each have our faults and idiosyncrasies, but I think we do a decent job overlooking them in each other and controlling them in ourselves.) We have two young children, ages 5 and 6. Our sex life is unspectacular, but I knew that before I married him -- there were certainly men who did more for me in that way, back in my wild life, before I settled down and got married. Still, we get along in that way, more or less.

And yes, I was wild in my (ahem) youth. I slept around a bit, did a few drugs, definitely drank too much tequila, etc. My husband knows my history, both my substance issues and my sexual exploits. Those exploits do include a 10-year friendship with a woman who was, from time to time, in various stages of drunkenness, something more than a friend. By this I mean: On two occasions, we had sexual encounters together -- nothing serious, nothing that happened again the next day, and, truthfully, nothing that I remember with much clarity due to wine consumption. During those years, there were several other "crushes" I had on various women, none of which ever came to anything.

My husband is not one of those men who has any particular pornographic fantasies about two women together. Despite knowing of my relationship with this woman (who was also a good and dear friend, then and now, although she has since moved across the country), he has never suggested a "threesome" and if he did, I might smack him. I believe in marriage. I like being married. I like my husband, and respect him.

So, despite my sort of wild sleep-around past, I've been entirely faithful to my husband, always in body, although periodically I sin in my thoughts, as I'm sure he does, as I'm sure we all do. My problem: I only sin in my thoughts around women.

That is to say, I find myself -- from time to time, and in particular recently -- insatiably attracted to women. And, I find myself really unhappy that despite all kinds of sexual adventures in my past, I never did -- in a sober, mature, rational way -- explore the side of me that is very definitely bisexual. I recently spent a day (work-related) with a woman who absolutely made my skin tingle to be near her. She is gay. She certainly never made any advance, as I do not at all present myself to be anything other than a heterosexual, married-with-kids woman. But I could hardly think straight the whole day. If she had offered, I really don't know what I would have done. I find myself wishing I could call her. Just to chat, you know.

So, yes, of course it would be cheating if I did it. Obviously. But is it any different with a woman? I'm inclined to think not. My kids deserve a stable home and my marriage really is good. So what do I do with these vague longings that have no outlet, even in memory?

Apparently I'm Definitely a Bisexual Mom

Dear Apparently Definitely Bisexual,

I fear that I do not have a very good answer for you, but I will do my best. Deeply idealistic people might, with the best of intentions, suggest you create an arrangement to fulfill these desires and fantasies. And maybe you can, within your current situation. Whatever you decide to do, it is certainly not a question of one pat answer.

That, of course, would be an oversimplification, but ... so ... oh, damn, I smell burning rubber! No, seriously, I had this little electric heater on and it was cooking my tennis shoes!

Am I serious enough to help you come to grips with your bisexuality, if I can barely keep my tennis shoes from catching fire? This troubles me -- though it is thematically appropriate: We face the things that are before us whatever they are! Even if they are burning tennis shoes!

Anyway, I would certainly bore both of us silly if I simply said, "Go see a therapist." What is a therapist going to do? Help you see more clearly what you already know -- that you are attracted to women but you're married already?

At the same time, a therapist who is good at problem solving and who has some personal experience in this area may be able to help you. And visualizing a possible future may also be useful. Looking toward the future, perhaps you will keep your marriage together but, over time, with the right woman, settle into a discreet, middle-class, longtime attachment -- with benefits. Perhaps a person will come along who gets where you're coming from and won't be too demanding and will let you experience the things you so fervently desire to experience, and maybe you will be able to manage this day-to-day, and maybe your husband will sort of know and sort of accept it, and maybe he will even openly and concretely and fully accept it, and maybe in the haze of our humanity, where it merges into the mystery of identity and biology and fate, maybe in that hazy gray area where so much of our identity seems to fall, you can find some provisional peace and joy. Perhaps without too much lying and hiding but also without too much open conflict, without too much cliché but also without too much dishonesty with self and others, without too much gnashing of teeth and sleepless nights, without too much interfering in the lives of others and making unfulfillable promises to people who want you to change your life completely, without too much guilt and too much shame and too much recrimination for past mistakes, without too many urgent late-night inquiries directed at gods and goddesses unknown, you can accommodate this aspect of yourself, which is, like the rest of you, sacred, if we take ourselves to be sacred at all, without taking ourselves too seriously. And perhaps along the way, it will become clear that your marriage to this man cannot last. But let's take it one step at a time.

I say this because, you know, this is the complex territory of compromise to which your desires are leading you.

Here is the ethical and moral problem in a nutshell, as I, an amateur, see it. We are not completely responsible for the longings that arise in us, nor are most of us able to know them completely. For those of us who have the time to do a great deal of reading, talking and introspection, such as the upper classes who are not required to work for a living, and for those of us who can pay for the expensive attentions of highly trained and compassionate professionals, the intricate patterns of desire that shape our sexuality might over time become sufficiently clear that we could take responsibility for them. And we might then also have the resources to deal with the consequences of accepting them and trying to live by them. But how can most of us, who barely have time to complete the chores that keep our family fed before we fall exhausted into bed, how can we take responsibility and act ethically and morally and meet our own desires when we cannot even see clearly where those desires come from or where they might lead? Is it right, then, for those of us who are not rich enough to afford ample time for deep introspection and expensive analysis, to simply shut down any feelings that seem to threaten our status quo? That doesn't seem right. And yet is it right to disrupt other people's lives by disclosing previously unknown or repressed or unacknowledged drives that now threaten to cause fundamental changes in our living arrangements? That doesn't sound right either.

So this is a tough question and it seems to call for difficult compromise. Surely when we set out in life we do not know everything about who we are; we meet stark surprises along the way: Guess what, I'm bisexual! Or: Guess what! It turns out I'm actually a woman in a man's body!

There is some support available if you look for it, and I do suggest that you reach out to others who have been through what you are going through.

If you are in the Boston area, for instance, you might benefit from contacting Biversity Boston. And in Philadelphia, you might contact Lavender Visions, and consider reading Joanne Fleisher's book "Living Two Lives: Married to a Man and in Love With a Woman." An excerpt from the introduction seems apropos: "If you are a married woman discovering your attraction to women," Fleisher writes, "you are probably confused, upset, and excited all at the same time. You are not alone. I've traveled this path, and so have the many women who have contacted me through my therapy practice and the Internet."

I do not know too much, frankly, about the support available for married bisexual women, except that it is out there if you look for it. I do know this, though: True self-knowledge comes slowly. The facts are often buried. It can take months or years to undo our habit of pretending that we are not really what we increasingly appear to be, that we do not really want what it is increasingly clear that we do want, however surprising or disruptive our desire might be. ("Guess what, Dear! It is now clear as day to me: All my life I have really wanted to be ... an entomologist!") Time passes slowly, as we undo layer after layer of habitual "saying something other than what it is," as we begin to learn new habits of facing the way things are. We are complex creatures!

I will say, with a note of optimism, that you can show great courage and dignity in squarely facing yourself as you are, in accepting the fact that while you might not get everything you want, you do not have to kid yourself about what it is that you want.

That, it would seem, is a step you have taken: This is who I am. This is what I want.

Whether, and how, you attempt to get it, well, that is the question that now lies before you. I hope you can find ongoing help, support and comfort as you wrestle with that one.

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