The loneliness of being gay in a straight marriage
Updated: Nov 16, 2021
To be a gay man in a straight marriage is
to be disconnected from self.
Very few gay men seek out and then read articles about loneliness unless they’ve come to the realisation that they’re lonely. The stigma and shame we feel is real, and it takes a lot of courage to even engage with the subject.
I’m so proud to present this article to you. I’m proud of my friend Andrew for his courage in writing what you’re about to read. This is not an easy thing to do, but he agreed to both write this and share it here so it may help someone like him – and me – who is working through the thoughts and feelings of having a same-sex attraction while in a heterosexual marriage.
I want to honour Andrew’s courage and say that I know that this will help someone, somewhere at sometime to work through their situation. I can say this with confidence, for I know that Andrew’s words would have helped me when I was in this situation before my marriage ended.
I’m also proud of you for opening this article. I recognise and admire your courage. Now that you’re here, let’s start getting you connected to yourself, those most important to you and to your community.
Let’s read Andrew’s powerful words now.
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How do I explain the loneliness as a man, a gay man, in a hetero relationship – not even a relationship, a marriage. A marriage that lasted just short of 14 years?
Well, for the most part, I didn’t feel lonely. I didn’t feel that I was in situations or environments where I was alone or isolated. How could I be? I had a wife, who I loved. I have three children who needed and relied on me, and a business which is taxing of my time and energy – so how could I be lonely?
Well, I, like any other gay guy knew I was gay from a young age, and like many other gay guys, felt completely unable to come out and be honest with myself and those around me. To keep the spotlight off myself, I made myself become irrelevant. I didn’t want to have any attention on me and have someone discover that I was gay. In my mind, I felt that I would be ‘outed’, and I always felt that people assumed that I was gay. The thought of having someone ‘out’ me was terrifying… all I could do was remove any potential of this happening, so I became invisible.
Cut to now when I am 43, and I have been an open and honest gay man for nearly two years. I look back at my marriage and my life within that marriage and as I have previously said, I never thought I was lonely – but the fact is that many (if not all) of the people around me, knew that there was something wrong – something a little off. Of course, no one knew (which still surprises me to this day) that I was hiding myself as a gay man, but they knew that I was unhappy. The main person that detected this unhappiness was of course my wife. Throughout our 14-year marriage, I was her everything. I was the person that she wanted and needed, and for the most part – it was vice versa. As time went on, my wife noticed more and more and more withdrawal. She knew something was wrong but didn’t know how to help me. I didn’t know how to help me, so how could she?
I found myself lonely – not physically alone (sometimes I had too many people around me) but I found myself completely alone and allowed myself to believe that no-one understood me or could appreciate who I was inside. Now I know in my logical mind that I’m not the first married gay man to come out, and I certainly won’t be the last – but in my irrational mind, I felt like I was the only one. I was the only person on God’s green earth to experience this and I had to navigate it myself – with no support.
Funnily enough, I feel that this loneliness was also sought after and whilst debilitating, it was also my solitude. It [the solitude] went hand in hand with the gym, the long days, and the work I threw myself into. It was an escape and the avoidance that I needed, but it was also the most destructive thing I endured.
I built myself a home gym – it was what I always wanted, a little over the top, a little showy and very much the envy of others. My wife let me do this and spend the money on this because she knew it was my escape. Little did she, or I, realise that it was also the reason for my unhappiness. I called the gym ‘my happy place’ – it was the place I went to alone, and trained alone, and took selfies alone and flexed alone.
It was this very ‘happy place’ that I sat in one day and burst into tears.
I couldn’t stop. I didn’t know why I couldn’t stop. I knew I was spiralling down some kind of mental rabbit hole, and the only way I knew how I could save myself this day was to pull out my phone and record myself crying. I recorded a video message talking to my wife (who was at work at the time) and crying. While I can’t remember exactly what I said, I knew that what I did say was enough for me to pull myself out of what I was going through. I did not send this to my wife.
Not long later, maybe a few weeks or months, I was driving home from work, and again, burst into tears… obviously these events don’t ‘just happen’, they occur after many conversations in our own heads, but when there are so many conversations and discussions up there, we tend to lose what the words and sentences are or mean – so to say that I am unsure what I was crying about is true.
Anyway, when I arrived home, I walked inside [and I am now crying again typing this], my wife took one look at me, scooped me into her arms and held me. No words - just pure understanding that something was not right. She wanted to help – that’s all she ever wanted to do. After a while, I composed myself and joined in with my family. Later that night, I showed my wife the video I recorded in the gym that day. She cried and once again, held me.
As mentioned earlier, the gym was a great escape for me, but it was also an evil space for me too. It was a place for me to get the attention I wanted and felt I missed out on earlier in my life when I was in my teens and twenties when I tried to be invisible. I was on body building apps that would introduce me to other men that had perfect bodies and amazing levels of confidence.
This is what I needed, but more so, what I needed was these perfect people to notice me. I wanted to be liked, I wanted people to look and notice me, and I wanted people to be envious of me. What I didn’t realise was that I had that surrounding me EACH AND EVERY DAY. I honestly didn’t realise this at the time - I was so shut off to it all.
I made some great friends via these apps, so I don’t regret any of my dealings with the app, but it does sort of feel a little dirty and dark now, but at the time the popularity was liberating and for the first time, I felt like I wasn’t alone – but all these “friends” and “followers” I had were nearly all virtual. When I shut the gym door each day, or turned the app off my phone, I was back to being the alone me…. So, I couldn’t wait to re-open the gym door the following day.
My continued and escalated sadness reached the point where my mum felt the need to intervene. She made the two-hour trip to come to my home one day and sit with me to talk about things. As we sat and chatted, my mum made comments about homosexuality and asked (I’ll never forget the words) “have you been dabbling in the gay scene?” I was shocked and stunned – of course I said ‘NO!’. I asked her why she thought that – and response was pure gold – “well Andrew, you are changing your body at the gym and have big arms”! This makes me laugh still, but she continued;
“you know, if you are gay, I want you to know that I love you and always will”…
This was incredible. I knew she loved me and would always be there for me, but I don’t think I actually knew - knew! That night, I came out to my wife.
Insert highs / lows, more highs / more lows, higher highs / lower lows…. I want to get off this roller coaster!!
Unfortunately, the circumstances in which this happened (and through no fault of my wife’s) meant that within two weeks, my life was gone. My wife, my kids, my cat, my happiness, everything. I was alone – and this was a loneliness that I never sought. This was something like no other. This was physical loneliness and mental loneliness.
I was a gay man that just came out and had no support network in my small regional community. All these times in the past when I had sought solitude, I would give back just to have my family back with me. I managed to get myself some help via a psychologist in a nearby town, and while I didn’t ‘gel’ with him that well, I recall him saying something to me which I thought was so offensive… he said that I needed to “find my tribe”. I hated that. I thought “what the fuck?!” It made me feel like I was different.
Little did I realise that these words are so true. I needed to find my tribe. I needed to find other like-minded men that I could talk with. Living in a small regional area, this is difficult to do – but I was determined to find other people that I could relate with. As a person who has always felt very alone, the thought of finding other guys like-minded and being able to talk - I mean really talk – about things that were common was so exciting! I looked so forward to it and now that I think about it, I was going to finally have some actual / literal friends, not just the virtual ones on the body building apps!
After quite a while (and due to me not being publicly out) I decided to join the gay app ‘Scruff’. I can honestly say that I didn’t (and don’t) truly know what the gay scene can be like, but I joined this app in the hope to make some local friends. I wasn’t looking to ‘hook-up’ or enter a relationship… I was just looking to make some friends and ‘find my tribe’.
Wow, was this a difficult thing to navigate! I was very lucky that the conversations I had were all above the belt. The first person who contacted me on the app is a gentleman and I still call him a friend. He is younger than me but is a genuinely nice person. I recall one guy texting me and did the typical statements you would expect to read, but I kept the conversation going in a different direction to where he wanted it to go… eventually, to my surprise, he said, ‘you’re different’ and wanted to be friends, nothing more.
I was on my way to finding people like me… this was great!
Sadly, due to COVID, meeting other people face to face is not a possibility and I have removed myself from scruff so the attempt to find my tribe is put on hold – for the moment. I hope in the future that I will be able to get out and about and discover both myself and my ‘kind’ more. I believe that this will not only be satisfying and rewarding, but also fulfilling in my quest to find an end to loneliness.
Am I lonely now? I don’t think I can answer this with certainty at this point, but what I do know is that I am aware of how much I have around me. I appreciate all of it – more than I ever have before.
* * * * *
Each and every time that I read this, I cry. I can relate to Andrew’s words and his story so much. His story echoes much of my own experience of wrestling with my sexuality for almost 30 years and the end of my own marriage to a wonderful woman. There is such beauty and wisdom in his words. I felt the emotion. I felt the courage. I felt the need to be authentically himself.
I felt hope.
Thank you, Andrew. Thank you for sharing your story. I know it’s going to help a man somewhere who’s sees themselves and their experience in yours.
If reading this post has made you uncomfortable or made you think and you need some help, remember that I’m here to help. I have resources on my page if you need crisis help right now. I’ve also built a team of amazing coaches and human connection experts to help you make sense of your loneliness and to help you towards connection. These coaches and connection experts can be found here and can help you learn from your loneliness and help you towards feeling connected.
Also, for a small monthly fee, you can join the growing community of other gay men who are all prioritising their connection according to the three pillars of connection. I’ll be helping the group to set weekly connection intentions, sharing my own and then helping to keep them accountable in a supportive way. Contact me on socials or send me an email if you’d like to know more and get the help and support you deserve as you work out how to give the world the authentic, beautiful human you are.
Want more love, support, soul-nourishment and inspiration? Join me and Andrew for a coffee and a chat in the upcoming episode of my podcast for gay men ‘Connection over Coffee with The Loneliness Guy’ from Thursday 16 September 2021.
Where to now?
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Important notice: All views expressed above are my own and are intended to support, challenge and inspire gay men to consider the issue of loneliness and increase awareness of the need for authentic connection with themselves, with others and their communities as an antidote to chronic loneliness. They are not intended to, nor should they, replace the advice of a licensed helping professional. Please consult the Resources page if you feel that you need the services of a licensed helping professional where you are in the world.