I recently came back from a one-week vacation with my wife and children in Washington State visiting family and friends. This trip highlighted some feelings that I have been suppressing, and I find myself a little lost and scared. My notions of love and friendship are being challenged.
Followers of this space may remember that I have been transitioning while married. I have written many posts on how utterly difficult and gut-wrenching those experiences have been. Since coming out to the world and living full-time (now over a year!), I have been incredibly happier, and my wife and I have largely moved on from the abrasive rhetoric and constant tension. However, there is an elephant in the room that we are not addressing: We still live together.
Late in 2015, a few months before I came out to my children and the world, I wrote about how I had grieved my marriage. I recently re-read that post, and a large part of what I said there remains true today. At the time, I recognized the need for us to both move on with our lives. After trying for so long to hold on to her, I finally gave up and made attempts to let her go. Over the last year, we have come along way actively rebuilding our friendship. We continue to make each other laugh. We share moments. We co-parent and are generally on the same page on how to do that together. We are a good team.
Her romantic feelings for me are unchanged. I am a woman. She needs a man. It is as simple as that. The fact that she no longer loves me that way saddens me so deeply even today. When considering my feelings for her, I thought I had mourned our marriage and let her go. Recent events are showing me that I have more work to do in that department. I still love her, so when she tells me that she is feeling lonely, that breaks my heart because I am still here. My heart is unchanged; it remains large and welcoming, but no matter what I do or what I say, it will never be enough for her.
I have tried moving on. A friend of mine was interested in me last year. Even though she had a rule against dating people in their first year living full-time, I was apparently different. She actively flirted with me, but I put up large emotional walls. I was nervous, scared, and out of my element. I had never dated before. I had already paid dearly for an affair years ago. Was I ready for this? Would I regret it? We never went on an official date, even though there was a little under the shirt touching. Still, I was not ready; we were not compatible; and nothing really came of it. The end result was that my walls had been chipped away at, and I really began thinking about what dating and relationships might look like in the future.
Recently, a new woman began showing interest in me, and I was much more adept at picking up the signals, which is new for me. This time, I did not put up as many walls and allowed myself to experience more. I am trying so hard not to live in my head and overthink situations. I applied that openness strategy to this new interest, which led to me pushing my boundaries further than I have in a long time. We went out on at least one date. I learned a little more about this body I am reforming and more about what kinds of things I seek in a potential partner. Before things got overly serious, this woman and I had a heart-to-heart and came to the decision that we should remain friends before we crossed a line of which neither of us were ready to go over right now.
Having people interested in me is not a regular occurrence. I certainly was not expecting potential dates during my first full-time year, nor was I expecting to see anyone while I was still technically married. But as long as my wife continues to not be interested in me, I feel it is something I should explore when and if the opportunity arises. I just do not know if I am ready for that step, and there is much to consider. Most notably, I have my children to protect. I cannot bring a random person into their lives that will influence their development unless I can be sure that person is safe, trustworthy, and a positive force in all of our lives. That sounds great, but I also realize it is a tall order considering the barriers that face me moving forward. I am nearly 40, transgender, poor, with two children. No matter how sparkling my personality and big my heart, those are long odds to overcome. I am concerned that I may end up single the rest of my life simply because of the baggage I bring to the table.
I cannot deny that as much as I need to move on and how much I have separated from her, I still love my wife. I cannot shake that feeling. She is the one I chose to be my life partner. Transition had no effect on how I feel about her. On our trip to Washington, the two of us took a night away from the kids to go to a movie—something we have not done in a very long time. We saw “La La Land” (now famously, not the Best Picture of the year), a film that features an imperfect love story. The last 20 minutes made me cry as I watched the resolution of the protagonists’ relationship both in reality and in the fantasy epilogue. I could see the parallels to my life, and I looked back to the obvious game-changing moment of my life. What would our marriage be if not for my transition? Could we have had a Hollywood ending?
Those thoughts are all for naught, though, because now that I am on this path, I have removed any chance of a romantic reconciliation. I can love her. I can continue to be the best partner I can possibly be. But it is a futile effort. No matter what I do from here on out, it will never be enough to win her back.
Near the end of our vacation, I accidentally discovered that my wife had set up a dating profile. Even though I qualified my questions by stating I was not judging her, she became defensive when I inquired about when and why she had taken that step. She immediately told me that it was none of my business. I was deeply hurt on many levels by both the revelation and response. This was the second time this year that she had kept something big secret from me, which makes me speculate about what else might be happening that she does not want me to know. Further, I while I had been out on at least one date, I was open about the fact that I was going out with someone who was interested in me. I endured teasing and awkward insinuations about what I may or may have not done on my time out of the house. I have kept those details to myself, but I have offered on multiple occasions to share if she really wants to know. I have been protective of her feelings, but I have been willing to talk about it. Never have I come back with, “It’s none of your business.”
She has every right to seek a date if she feels that is the next step for her. I really am not judging her about it, despite what she may think. I am shocked by the fact that she feels ready enough to put up a dating profile. Even after getting my feet wet this year, I am not sure I am ready for that step. Her doing so reiterates the fact that she has moved on from me, and no matter how many times I realize that she is looking beyond me, I will always feel that deep loss. When she does start dating, there is no denying I will be incredibly jealous. How can I not be? I want the best for her. That has not changed, but coming to terms with the fact that I am not that magical one for her is devastating. We have been together 11 1/2 years and have two beautiful children. We know each other so well. We have moments that we can only appreciate, experiences we will never repeat with another. She defends me when people stare or say something negative about me. I continue to encourage her to reach for the career she had dreamt of all of her life. She cares. I care. But still… that missing piece haunts.
I am a woman who needs to perform the seemingly impossible: Maintain a friendship with the love of my life for the sake of my children, while allowing her to move on and simultaneously finding a way to open my damaged heart to another. I have so much love to give. It is who I am, and it always has been. I wish she was still open to receiving it, but I understand her challenge. I am not what she needs, and while I feel like a failure for not meeting those needs, I must find a way to move on. Yes, I grieved my marriage, but I had no idea how much I would be reminded how much the emotional waves of loss would come back like a boomerang over and over again.
Where does that put me now? My transition moves forward. Good things are happening on that front, and that makes me happier. Dating is on my mind (for both of us), and that makes me nervous and anxious. I try to keep a balance in my life between the elation and the depression. Some days are better than others.
I am a dreamer and an optimist. Sometimes, staying in that mindset obscures me from reality. It makes me vulnerable to wishful thinking and continued heartbreak. I accept that those qualities have been part of the authentic me. They are aspects of my personality my wife may have even fallen in love with when she met me. I would not change that part of me.
If only it were enough…