In my experience, New Year's resolutions are rarely life-changing. On the other hand, the despair of my most difficult life crisis -- the decision to leave my husband of 12 years for another woman -- changed my life forever, and I couldn't have done it without some very powerful and sustaining resolutions. It was 1979, the year that Donna Summer topped the charts with "Hot Stuff," and I had fallen in love with a close female friend, had an extramarital affair, lied about it and broken my marriage vows.
I felt like a stranger to myself. I discovered that I was capable of behaviors that were "not me." For the 12 years of my marriage, I had feared that there was something broken in me, that I was unable to fall in love, and now that was suddenly open to question. I was no longer the "me" I thought I knew. After all, I couldn't be a lesbian -- I was married to a man.
I was overwhelmed with guilt about deceiving and hurting the man I had grown up with since I was 13 years old, had married, and with whom I had raised our two daughters. While we had the usual relationship problems of any marriage, he was loving (in his own way), a good provider and a kind, loyal husband. We had the perfect marriage -- except that we had neither emotional intimacy nor good sex. Life felt bland, and I was restless and lonely in my marriage.
Then I met Karen -- an awesome lesbian, who was smart, funny, a powerhouse of will and personality, and cute! She occupied my daydreams far more than I chose to admit. I found myself awestruck by the red-gold of the leaves of the elm tree in Karen's yard that October, as we fed our curiosity about each other's lives, and sex became a natural outgrowth of our new romance. Although I didn't understand this kind of love, it was impossible not to act on it. It was 1979, and I'm not even sure I knew that a "straight" woman could fall in love with another woman. I thought I was the only married woman facing this kind of awakening. I was falling in love with a woman, but I didn't feel like a lesbian. (Does anyone know what a lesbian feels like?)
I began to lie about where I was going when Karen and I got together. My infidelity felt wrong, but my heart and my body were way ahead of my mind. When I revealed the truth to my husband, we decided to try couples therapy. I felt a strange sense of relief. The question about what to do with the rest of our lives hinged on my decision about whether to explore this awakened love for women. I was terrified that if I decided to leave my marriage it would destroy my kids, who were just seven and nine years old. This was 1979. How could they survive a divorce along with the stigma of having a lesbian mother?
I vacillated constantly, deciding at one moment to stay and the next to leave. I was wracked with remorse and guilt. Finally, I just followed my gut. I may not have known how to identify my sexual orientation, but a powerful new experience of love was beckoning me to find out more.
My relationship with Karen eventually ended, but after separating from my husband, I met Judy, with whom I shared 31 wonderful years until her death in 2011. My daughter, Lisa, read aloud the following passage at her memorial:
My mom has loved an amazing woman, and she loved her back. We grew up surrounded by a love based on a profound appreciation of the other person exactly as they are. And Beth and I soaked up this lesson about how love can be. And isn't this what a parent does? Without you even realizing it, they influence you -- influence the choices you make. Without thinking about it, I have said, 'I want to be loved like that. I want to create a home like that'
During the course of my transition, I made myself promises that I am still keeping after all these years -- promises that have helped me face life's upheavals with resiliency and resolve. Each new year I am reminded of these resolutions:
- I choose to pay attention to all of my senses, to prevent a life of numbness. It's hard to recognize when my feelings are dulled, but I know the signs -- when I feel bored, restless or just generally dissatisfied. I was born with a whole range of emotions and sensations, and I am determined to feel them and use them all for guidance.
Visit Joanne's website, LavenderVisions.
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