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.