Op-ed: How My Online Relationship Got Me Out of a Bad Marriage
The following is a condensed excerpt from Michael Testa’s new book, When Opposites No Longer Attract: Inspiring Stories of Eight Men and Women Who Left Straight Marriages and Came Out as Gay.
It’s not like I realized at some point that I’m gay. For me, this was a gradual process of coming to terms with who I am in my own fashion. I didn’t admit — even to myself — that I was gay until I was 36.
People ask me if my being gay was what made me divorce my wife. It wasn’t. I really wanted to have a good life with her, but unfortunately I didn’t pick the right wife — or maybe she didn’t pick the right husband. I don’t know. All I know is that I divorced her because I couldn’t live with her. Period.
I want to be clear that, in talking about my relationship with Susan, I don’t want to take her down. It’s not my intention to do that or to punish her. But the truth was that she was abusive in all kinds of ways, and living with her was hell.
Even when I cheated on her in the end, I think it was partly spite and partly that I freaking needed some affection. Now I know that she’s just not capable of nurturing and being affectionate. It’s just not her.
If I had grown up in a family that was not physically violent, I probably wouldn’t have married Susan. I probably would have recognized the violence in her and that she was not who I wanted to spend my life with. But I didn’t.
Sometimes I wonder — if I had married another woman and we’d had a good relationship, would I now be out as gay? I don’t know, but I think I would have had to. I probably would have come to a better understanding of who I am, but a lot of the guys I meet are in what I would call “good marriages,” and they still end up wanting to be with men instead.
So one way or another, I think I would have come out. But I couldn’t talk to Susan in an adult way about it because she went from zero to off-the-charts drama in less than two seconds. There was no sitting down and having a conversation with her about anything. So I became conditioned to not talking with her about things.
Knowing what I know now, maybe I could have handled myself differently, but that wasn’t the case when Susan and I were together.
I started to change later in our marriage. Susan’s abuse had reached a level that I knew, whether I was gay or straight, the marriage was over. I just hadn’t figured out yet how to leave.
Around 1997, I started to use the Internet, which was still a relatively new tool. I had noticed that I’d started feeling attracted to men. I would stay in my office late at night doing research on gay married men to help me understand what was happening and what I should do. Mostly I was trying to figure out if there was something wrong with me.
I discovered websites where I could chat with other gay and bisexual men. There were so many gay married men out there. I found out that I was anything but alone.
At that time, the websites were not regionalized like they are today. I might meet someone to chat with who lived in North Carolina or California, and I spent hours doing that. The more I chatted, the more empowered I became.
I was finally coming into my own. I was maturing and realizing who I am, and beginning to accept that I might be a gay man — not straight or even bisexual. I had signed up for a few websites and over a period of six months or so, I developed online friendships with several men. We discussed some pretty deep personal issues concerning our wives, our sexuality, our kids, and if we should come out.
In the entire time I’d known Susan, I’d never cheated on her. The thought had never even crossed my mind. And even though I was talking to these men, the distance kept us from meeting, and that was a good thing. Our conversations were enlightening for me and left me with plenty of time to think.
One day, as I was chatting online, I met Tom. Meeting Tom changed everything. He had just moved to Pittsburgh with his wife. It took me the longest time to get up the nerve to meet him in person.
We finally started meeting for lunch. We’d grab a pizza and sit outside his apartment and talk. I finally had a best friend who I could talk to about anything. We’d spend hours talking. Here I was, talking to someone who was in the exact same boat as I was, except that Tom didn’t have children.
Soon he and I started getting together every Wednesday night to work out and play racquetball. Afterwards we’d go for a beer. Susan hated that I went out on Wednesday nights, but I declared it my time. One night after we had a beer, Tom and I found a secluded place and made out in his car. We continued to see each other for the next few months.
Susan found out that I’m gay when she went into my computer one afternoon and saw that I was visiting gay websites. She also discovered from my emails that I had been hanging out with Tom. She called me early that afternoon at work. When she told me what she’d found, I was euphoric at first, because I was finally out of the closet. But then I realized that I had to go home. That night, Susan beat the crap out of me. I was so battered I had to miss work for the next several days.
That was the last time that Susan — or anyone else — ever hit me.
When I came out, I was afraid that it might ruin my life, but the opposite turned out to be true. Coming out made my life better because I could be myself. I didn’t have to hide from myself anymore.
Coming out changed my life in ways I couldn’t have imagined. I stopped living as a victim. After Susan found out that I’m gay, things got even worse between us, and I knew I couldn’t live with her any longer. I left Susan and went to court and won shared custody of my children. My son and daughter were only 3 and 5 at the time. They’re now in their late teens and they both choose to live with me full time. I have a great relationship with my children.
Coming out to my family was easy. My parents were blue-collar people who lived in the suburbs. I was actually kind of surprised that there really never was an issue with my coming out to them. One day I was talking with my mother about something, and she asked me if I was gay. I said, “Ma, I like boys.” That was it. That was pretty much all that happened. No one in my family had ever come out as gay, so there was really no precedent. I set the precedent.
About six months after I left Susan, I started dating Karl. I asked my therapist Julie how I should introduce him to my family. Her advice was to just show up with him. That’s what I did. That’s how I introduced Karl to my kids, my parents, and my other relatives. And it worked. Over time, my family came to really like him. I didn’t make a big deal about having a boyfriend, and neither did anyone else.
In the years since I came out, I’ve become even more open about who I am. People become disarmed when I share myself openly with them. One time, Susan told a group of parents whose kids played sports with my son that I’m gay. I know she did that to diminish me in their eyes, and I thought they might shun me after that. But they didn’t. Not only did they not shun me, but it was my experience that they tried to support me. When you’re genuine and honest and authentic with people, they reach out to you. I think we’re all attracted to authenticity.
Karl and I were together for six years. I really tried to make it work with him, but we had different agendas and different needs. My friends who are in relationships … their relationships seem to be working pretty well. They have a good yin and yang. But for me and, I think, for many gay men, we’re still looking.
Leaving my marriage was the right thing for me to do, although it was really hard at the time. I’ve never regretted it. In fact, I applaud it every day.
MICHAEL TESTA is a business owner who lives in Pittsburgh. When Opposites No Longer Attract is his first book. For more information contact him at TestaPublishing.com.