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We Time

My Husband Was Hooking Up With Men

The signs I missed. The shocking discovery. The courage it took to leave, heal and find love.

My husband kept a secret from me for 16 years. And I never once suspected it.

I met *Kyle in high school. We were thick as thieves in college and married by the time we were 26. But after six happy years together, things started to go south. Our sex life had always been low-key. But when I went off birth control, my sex drive suddenly soared. Kyle’s? Not so much. He’d push me away when I wanted physical contact, claiming that couples eventually lose their drive over time and assuring me that nothing was wrong. In retrospect, I realize his lack of interest in sex with me was a sign I’d missed. But there were others.

The second was a growing emotional distance. Kyle had always been quiet, but it began to seem as if, even when we were together, he wasn’t really there. He spent more and more time on his phone, gradually withdrawing from me.

The third sign may seem obvious: gay porn in our browser search history. It happened early in our relationship and, perhaps foolishly, I didn't think of it as a red flag. We were both so young when we started dating; I know that sexuality can be fluid, and he’d always presented himself to me as straight man. When I asked about it, taking care to do so in an open and nonjudgmental way, Kyle shut the conversation down. After I’d asked him the same question in many different ways, I chose to believe him.

But gradually, our communication devolved into gaslighting and emotional abuse. I blamed myself, and my plus-size body, for his lack of desire. Over time, I just stopped talking to him about it. I was too embarrassed to tell my family what was going on. I kept thinking, What’s wrong with me? Am I broken? I genuinely thought I was the problem.

While driving to a business dinner, Kyle gave me his phone to navigate the GPS. In the middle of doing so, he got a text and dictated a response for me to send. Then an email notification popped up and I clicked on it without thinking. It was a Craigslist m4m (male for male) personal ad. The photo didn’t show a face, just a shot of a man’s midsection and genitals, but I knew it was my husband. I saw all the responses to it and the plans he was making to meet up. My stomach hit the floor. Kyle, the man I still considered my emotional home, was cheating on me.

As we pulled into the restaurant parking lot, I chose my next words carefully. Some of my earliest memories are of my father verbally and physically abusing my mother, so even though Kyle had never laid a hand on me, I was cautious. “Listen, I know about the other email address,” I said, much more calmly than I felt, as panic spread over his face. “I know about Craigslist. It's OK. We’re here now, so let’s just go inside and talk about it later.”

There were about 20 other salespeople at the dinner, so luckily we weren’t forced into close contact. We sat across from each other, chatting with the client and other spouses as if nothing had happened. But I was on the verge of a panic attack and diligently managing my breathing was the only thing that kept me from succumbing to it. At one point, I needed a moment to be not OK so I dipped into the bathroom to call my best girlfriend for support. After we spoke, I touched up my makeup, went back to the table and calmly finished dinner. No one would have guessed anything was awry.

It wasn’t until the next morning that I asked him what it all meant. He paused, took a breath and exhaled as if he’d been holding it far too long. “It means I'm gay,” he said.

The months that followed were a fog. We continued to live together but I moved into the living room and started therapy. Those sessions were a godsend, giving me the physical and emotional space I desperately needed to grieve our relationship. Kyle and I were civil to each other but we both knew our relationship was over. And six months later, behind my back, he accepted a job across the country, giving me a month's notice to untangle 17 years together.

When Kyle announced his move on Facebook, things got worse. He controlled the narrative of our story, presenting our parting as an amicable one and receiving congratulations and support from friends and family while I drowned in shame. I consider myself an LGBTQ ally — I’d even encouraged him to find an LGBTQ therapist — but I was also a heartbroken wife. The more people he told, the more support he received and the more I felt my own pain was being erased. After he left, I became withdrawn, paranoid that our friends were talking about what felt like my failing even though, in moments of clarity, I knew it wasn’t me.

The next few months were hard. I moved into an apartment and tried to put my life back together. My friends and family were supportive. Through a lot of therapy, reading and reflection, I finally realized it was my responsibility to create the life I wanted.

Slowly, I began to appreciate my body. For years I’d felt emotionally disconnected from it and never thought of my curves as appealing. But I took up weight training and realized, Holy smokes, I’m sexy! I experimented with sexual self-pleasure and the realization that I could create joy for myself was a game changer. Living alone was scary, but it allowed me the space to find out who I was, not who I was in relation to someone else. Just as Kyle was attempting to live his truth, so was I.

Gradually, I settled into my new life, my new normal. I cautiously started to date again. But it wasn’t until three years after my breakup, when I’d almost given up on finding someone, that I met a man I could consider a potential partner. On a dating app, something about the photo of *Tommy and his sweet pit bull, Clementine, appealed to me. During our first dates, I was on high alert. I asked so many questions, convinced that some secret would emerge or that he’d ghost me. He didn’t.

It took a long time to trust again, but I reminded myself that Kyle and Tommy are two different people. Unlike Kyle, who’d avoided conflict, Tommy wants to calmly discuss any misunderstanding. He hears me, even if he doesn’t always understand or agree with me. He’s comfortable in his own skin and supportive of my personal and career goals. In moments of stress, he kisses me on the forehead and reminds me, “Babe, you've got this.”

Tommy and I have been dating a little less than a year now. We love each other but I don’t know how our relationship will turn out. What I do know: My past doesn’t dictate my future and I am deserving of love. Even in the shadow of infidelity, I’ve learned to love without fear or expectation, and I give that love freely to him and to myself. I’ve realized that it’s no one's job to be my emotional home. I am my own.

*Not his real name.

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