1999: I stumbled into this “chat room” innocently enough thinking how cool it was that I could talk to other people in my small part of the world right there on my work computer. AOL literally changed my life.
We found each other in this “room” and arranged to meet at a busy Shell oil station late one afternoon. I rationalized in my head that I was not getting the sex I needed at home. After all, my wife and I had one toddler keeping us busy and another kid on the way. Her feet were swollen, her back ached, and all she wanted from life was mashed potatoes and a good night’s sleep. Having sex with a man was not cheating. And, I was not gay because it was just a blow job.
After our initial first awkward meeting in public, we agreed to meet at a quiet restaurant across town, where we could talk privately and remain anonymous. I was shocked and terrified to find that he knew my family. He explained that our parents were friends and socialized together and he even thought his sister had been my day camp counselor some 20 years earlier at the local JCC. He knew all of my older siblings, details of our family business, and even mentioned my wife by name, as she had counseled his own troubled daughter during a recent challenging time. Had I not been sitting across the table from him, I would have hauled ass and not looked back. Instead, I lit one cigarette after another, trying to remain calm and keep my hands from trembling. This is it, I thought. I am going to be discovered as the gay Jew in small-town Alabama. The shame I cast on my family with the scarlet H would certainly kill my parents.
Although I was traumatized that he knew all about me, my attraction to him was undeniable. Thirteen years my senior, he was smart, handsome with a dark complexion, well-dressed, married with children, and a fellow Jew. Prior to that moment, I had never had any interest in men and certainly didn’t consider myself gay. This was all brand new and wildly titilating. We talked for a couple of hours that afternoon inside that dark restaurant on the west side of town. I learned how much we had in common and, in retrospect, that there was someone just like me and that I was going to be ok. He gave me that gift and for that I will forever be grateful.
As we walked out to our cars that afternoon, I grabbed his arm and said, “I am incredibly attracted to you. But, I am married to my best friend and I will never leave her.” Thus began our eleven-year affair.
We had breakfast and lunch together, Monday through Friday, for the next eleven years. We worked out together, we took “work” trips together, took fishing trips together, we even bought homes next door to one another. Our families became intertwined as we also had children the same age. As my father’s Alzheimer’s progressed, he became my rock and ultimately my business partner, buying my dad out.
At the time, it seemed the perfect solution to an age-old problem. After all, he was convinced that he was living the life his mother laid out for him….married with kids, lovely home, nice car, Shabbos dinners…the works. And, I was married to my best friend, with three beautiful, healthy kids, in-laws that loved one another and happiness o-plenty. We could have each other AND the other side…living two separate lives.
One early morning in 2011 he called me to say he wouldn’t be at breakfast. He had told his wife everything the night before over a bottle of wine. In between apologies and excuses, he assured me that she wouldn’t tell my wife and that I would be fine. He just couldn’t go on with the charade any longer. I hung up the phone, called my wife, and asked her to leave work and meet me at home. We met at the house and I spent the next two hours coming out to her. Howling. Sobbing. Terrified.
She was incredible. Supportive, loving, calming, and direct. She told me to call my therapist and explain that we were in crisis. We needed a referral and an immediate appointment. We began seeing Kathy that day and continued once-a-week for the next two years. I told my wife two things that day after coming out. First, no more sex. I was gay and the lying was over. Second, it took me forty-three years to figure out and admit I was gay. I would give her as much time as she needed to “figure this out.”
My lover and I took divergent paths at this point. He was 56 years old and decided he had let the first half of his life pass him by. He was not going to let the second half go so easily. He left his home within a month of coming out, moved into a one bedroom condo and began his gay life.
I kept my word to my wife, and remained with her until we determined that divorce was our only option. We went through many a challenge over those two years. I woke up every morning to look in the mirror at the man who cheated, lied, and hurt the one person in his life who taught him to love, gave him his voice, and shared his future. It was, and to some extent continues to be, a miserable form of torture. Those were years I am not proud of and will forever regret. In an effort to move forward, I have forgiven myself but only because she had the grace and generosity to show me the way.
In the end, my lover moved on without me. He didn’t want to wait those two years and I understand that. Our relationship ended in a very unpleasant way as we had to unwind our very messy knots…business partners, lovers, neighbors, etc… I think of him regularly and want to always remember him fondly because there were many, many good times.
I am 50 this year. My ex-wife is remarried and so happy. My kids are getting older and continue to be my support system and my reason for living. Much has changed and in many positive ways. I started a gay dad support group here in sleepy Birmingham, AL. Principally, because of how hard that period of time was for me and I want to help someone like my wife helped me. As my twin brother told me when i came out to him, “There is life on the other side.” – Marc Perlman