Feelings Become Guides

Feelings Become Guides

I left my husband Dave, before finding answers to the crushing questions I wrote about in my last blog.  After months of vacillating between staying or leaving my marriage, I knew what to do.   Almost immediately my suffering lifted.  Learning about my complex emotions played a crucial role in reaching that decision.

Janine, the woman who awakened my passion, had helped me to appreciate my mind and body in a different way.   Her obvious comfort with herself and her beautiful, imperfect body assured me that she loved me just the way I was, and that’s how I loved her.  The open acceptance between us surpassed my previous experiences.

The first time we made love I told her I didn’t know what to do; I’d never been intimate with a woman.  She said, “Yes you do, just pay attention to what you feel when I make love to you.”  Even though we had our differences, she was right.  I learned to pay close attention to her responses and to my own.  Our physical love blossomed so naturally, it felt like coming home.

Although I stopped lying and eventually told Dave about my affair, I was overwhelmed by extreme and vacillating feelings.  When I was with Janine, I felt excitement, passionate love, and flashes of guilt, when I returned home I felt sadness, anger, and flashes of guilt, when alone in my thoughts­— fear, sadness and guilt.  I tried to sort out which were reactions to the way Dave, Janine or others felt, and which were purely mine.  In stolen moments of alone time I questioned who I was.  I learned that I needed to know and accept my emotions before taking action.  I had often acted impulsively as a way to escape discomfort.  Instead, I learned to pause and reflect on what I was thinking and feeling in order to get to my truth.

I wasn’t prepared for the deep depression I felt when Janine left me for a more promising unmarried woman.  Loss is a predictable part of life, but I surely wasn’t taught how to handle it.  The solid ground under me had fallen away.  Over months, I learned to look directly at my sadness rather than escaping through busyness, food, hanging out online, or other distractions.  I wrote about it instead of ruminating constantly.

I couldn’t rely on Janine to teach me about lesbian life or promise me a new life in the future.  I had no vision of what lay ahead. Talking to a therapist once a week wasn’t enough.  I began to reach out for support from friends.  Although it felt like an eternity, I realized I wasn’t going to reach a decision quickly. I had to find a way to forgive myself for hurting Dave and creating turmoil in our family.  I knew I couldn’t change the past, but I could learn from it.

My relationship with Janine ended, but the memories of our romance continued to haunt me.  It was time to see if I could let go of the past and work on the marriage.  My steadfast feelings of longing told me that I couldn’t.  I realized Dave couldn’t give me the kind of intimacy and nurturance I wanted, and wondered if any man could.   I needed to find out if I might find this special kind of love with another woman.




new questions, joanne fleisher

New Questions

Before my thirties, I secretly thought there was something wrong with me.  I had never fallen head over heals in love, the way that many of my friends and Hollywood movies portrayed it.  And then Janine entered my life and I knew this was it.  Yet I had a long journey to travel before I decided what to do.  My life was good with my husband and I had no desire to upend the lives of my children or him.

I didn’t know any other women who had questioned their identity at this late stage of life.  It was a common belief in 1978 that people knew their sexual orientation by adolescence.  I was at a loss.  In desperation, I not only asked near-strangers about how they came out to themselves and others, but I spent countless hours distracted by questions I never had considered before.  How can I figure out if I’m gay, especially if I’m living with my husband?  Can lesbians have a happy life?  Do they live marginal lifestyles without a man’s financial help?  Do all lesbians dress down, wear flannel shirts and no makeup?  My mind pestered me constantly, always secretly.  I don’t feel like a lesbian.  I don’t hate men.  I like wearing lipstick and getting dressed up to go out. 

I didn’t want to break up my marriage, but I couldn’t stay away from Janine. She was different from the other women in my circle of friends­—so self-assured, assertive and charismatic.  She’d been an open lesbian for seven years and knew nothing about married life or being a parent.  I was straight, married for twelve years, and knew nothing about the lesbian community or lifestyle.  I realized that I had lost my compass.  I needed someone to talk to other than Janine, an objective outside person.  I found a skillful therapist to help me out of this quagmire.

In some ways I consider myself lucky that Janine ultimately left me for a more promising woman, who was unencumbered by husband and children.  I fell into a deep depression for a solid three months, but eventually realized that deciding my future course of action was much larger than choosing between Janine and my husband.  I needed to decide whether I wanted to be with a woman or with a man.  In therapy I examined my relationship both with my husband and with Janine.  New questions arose: Did I want to try to repair the marriage or leave to seek a more fulfilling relationship?  Could I find the missing pieces with another man?  Was the intimacy I found with Janine characteristic of being with a woman, or was it just Janine?   

Altogether, It took about a year for me to come to a final decision.  I decided to leave my husband, not because I identified myself as lesbian, but because I couldn’t push the crushing questions out of my mind.  As compelled as I felt years later to write my book, I knew I had to explore my sexuality.  I determined I couldn’t do that in an open and honest way while being married.