The night my ex-husband came out of the closet began a journey of self-exploration and healing for me.
That night, the only thing I could say to him was, “It’s going to be okay.” The words became a touchstone for both of us. They were a place we could return to when things were difficult. In them was a promise—that we would support each other while taking apart the life we had built.
Everyone knows the phrase, “To thine own self be true.” I have it tattooed on my arm. I put it there during the divorce to remind me to take better care of myself. The phrase was written by Mr. Shakespeare himself, one of my very favorites. It was spoken in Hamlet.
“And this above all: to thine own self be true. And it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.”
What this means to me, is that in order to have healthy, meaningful relationships with other people, we must first know who we are. But, just knowing isn’t enough. We have to be able to embrace who we are—and know what we like, what we don’t like, what we want, what we don’t want. We have to know these things, and have the courage to express them openly.
If we don’t know who we are, we enter relationships without boundaries to guide us, and we can easily become lost there.
Frankly, I’m not talking about him with all this authenticity stuff. I’m talking about me.
I had absolutely no idea who I was going into our marriage. I had a difficult childhood, got pregnant in high school, and had no self-worth at all when we got together. He represented to me all of the things I didn’t have in my life—stability, security, and love.
I’m not convinced that I ever truly loved him.
What I thought was “love” was more of a desperate clinging. He was my anchor—the only thing that felt like home as life swept us away.
We made great big grown up decisions way before we had the maturity to back them up. By the time we were 23 years old we were married, had two children, moved 12 hours away from our hometown, and bought our first house. Life happened so quickly, I felt like I was just barely holding on for the ride.
Today I don’t consider any of those decisions to be mistakes. I learned some of the greatest lessons of my life through these experiences.
If there were three things I could say to him now, the most important things I would want him to always remember, they would be:
I’m grateful, I forgive you, and I’m sorry.
I’m grateful for our amazing kids. They are all the best parts of us combined into two unique little humans, and I couldn’t be more proud of them. I’m also really proud of us for raising them so well, so young in life.
I’m grateful that we left our home town, and never shied away when a new adventure was presented to us. I’m grateful for everything you taught me along the way.
I’m grateful for your family, and that I’ve always been able to call them mine.
I’m grateful for all the happy, silly, fun times. No matter how difficult things were, there was always laughter in our home. I’m grateful that we can still laugh together today.
I’m grateful that we were able to end our marriage without putting our kids through hell, and grateful for the way we have continued to co-parent peacefully.
I’m grateful that our kids don’t get away with all the things they might if we weren’t able to talk to each other. I’m grateful that this is not likely to change, as even when there is conflict, we’ve always been able to come to a peaceful resolution.
I’m grateful that you have the hard conversations with me, and you listen to me, even when you don’t like what I have to say.
People had very mixed reactions when you came out. Some people were happy that you were finally able to be who you are. Some were kind of shaken by it, because we looked so perfect. If our marriage could fall apart, any marriage could. Still others reacted in anger. “How could he do that to you?” they would ask. Certainly, they thought you had been dishonest with me.
What I have come to know, is that you were not intentionally dishonest with me. You were really only dishonest with yourself. You were doing what you thought you had to do, which was basically the same thing I was doing all those years.
There is no anger or resentment or anything for me to hold onto. I forgave you the moment you shared your truth with me, and I hope that with time you have been able to forgive yourself.
I’m sorry that I didn’t know who I was. I tried so desperately to become someone worthy of your love and affection that I completely lost myself. By the end of our relationship, I didn’t even recognize myself anymore.
I’m sorry that I didn’t love myself when we were together. My self-loathing created a lot of insecurities for me that expressed as codependency. I knew that our relationship was not healthy. My intuition told me for years that things weren’t right. The truth is, I never believed that I would be able to make it on my own. I stayed in our relationship much longer than I should have out of fear and feelings of obligation. I’m sorry it took so long for me to be honest about that.
In the end, I can only look back at our marriage in gratitude. I wouldn’t be the woman I am today without that experience. The great thing is, for the first time ever, I really love who I am. I can see my worth and potential in a way I never imagined.
I know that our story is an important part of who I am, and what I will contribute to the world in this lifetime. We were the pioneers. The first couple I knew to navigate a divorce like ours—and we did it with kindness. We unraveled our life together without tearing each other down. I’m really proud of us for that.
Our happy ending looks completely different today than I imagined it. But, I know that everything happens with a purpose. It is my sincere hope that sharing our story will be a comfort to other couples and families who will navigate similar relationships.
I hope our story will illuminate the path for others, and help them to know that in the end, it will be okay.
The most important thing I have learned from my marriage to my gay ex-husband, is that authenticity is everything.
When we go through life pretending to be something we aren’t, we can only hurt ourselves and others. No real joy can come from living to please other people. But, when we step out of our fear and into our truth, life is magic.
Happiness is ours the moment we choose to be who we are.
Author: Renee Dubeau
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Grace Loves Lace via Wikimedia Commons.