SEX, LIFE, MARRIAGE, AND LOSS – Marilyn Armstrong

Before I left for Israel at the end of 1978, my best friend for a long time was gay. It started out casually and eventually got to be an intense friendship. He’d never had a straight female friend and I’d never gotten close to a gay man. We both learned a lot about each others’ worlds … and eventually, each other.

He would call me every night. He could tell by the sound of my voice if I needed company or felt bad about something. Even when if I said everything was fine, he knew. We were best friends and spent pretty much all our spare time together.

When I finally decided I needed a divorce, R. asked me to marry him. It took me a while to realize he wasn’t kidding. Married?

I told him I didn’t think it could work. Not only was he gay — and had always been gay — but he was a serious Roman Catholic who wanted to be a priest. If we could leap the sex hurdle (highly unlikely), I was pretty sure we’d never get past religion.

He said he could change.

We can all change … but how much? I asked him if he’d ever had sex with a woman. He admitted he hadn’t. I asked him if he had ever wanted to have sex with a woman and he said “no,” although he thought I might change that.

Then there was his fascination with Catholicism versus my skeptical Jewishness. It wasn’t only that he was “born a Catholic.” He went to Mass several times a week. He was serious about it. Religious differences between friends is not an issue, but between a married couple?

I said I didn’t think he could change that much. I didn’t think anyone could. Religion isn’t like that … and sex isn’t a choice. We are what we are; we need what we need. Despite what some misguided people believe, you don’t get to “pick” the sex you prefer.

He said we could do our own “things” and we’d still live a fantastic life. That was true, but it was not what I wanted from marriage. I wanted a marriage that could be the center of my life and I wanted it to include physical closeness.

Photo: Garry Armstrong – Faded dreams, Douglas

I thought about it long and hard for several weeks. I tried to figure out how it could work. Was I ready for a marriage that was, in fact, a close friendship with vows?

For him to ask me to marry him was a giant leap. I was touched, flattered, and a bit haunted by it. It was not a casual suggestion.

In the end, no matter how many ways I looked at it, I was sure it would not be successful. For either of us. It wouldn’t matter how hard we tried. It would not work. So, I said no.

That he had asked had already changed our relationship.

He seemed to take rejection well, but he was hurt and angry. I don’t know if he was angrier with himself for asking or at me for saying no. Probably both. For him to ask me to marry him was remarkable, generous,  and heartfelt. To be refused was more than he could handle.

It’s not like the rest of my life was going to be perfect. I did a lot of things wrong before I finally got it right.

The problem was simpler for me. Everything I understood about gay men told me being gay was not a choice. Not optional. There was no way he could decide to not be gay. Moreover, there was only so much Catholicism I could stomach.

I was already in a failing marriage.  I didn’t know I had another one waiting in the wings, too. Even if I’d known what was awaiting me, I could not see the point of starting another impossible relationship. I’m convinced I was right, but he was the closest friend I ever had. I have missed him for all of these years. We loved being together and no one ever took his place.

Sex and religion can really get in the way of life, you know?

Author: Marilyn Armstrong

Writer, photography, blogger. Previously, technical writer. Retired! Yay!

30 thoughts on “SEX, LIFE, MARRIAGE, AND LOSS – Marilyn Armstrong”

  1. So what happened to him afterwards? Did he become a priest, acknowledge his homosexuality and find a partner or marry another woman? Did he end your friendship at once when you turned him down? Too bad, but you made the correct choice.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. He was always an acknowledged homosexual. That was never a question. I knew it. He knew it. EVERYONE knew it. I know he spent some time at a monastery and was very disappointed by the men. He said they were all gay and it wasn’t anything like he thought it would be. But once I got back from Israel, he came by to say “hi,” then disappeared. I think I did make the right choice, but I also hurt him. I don’t know what else I could have done.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Such a touching story. We too often want to make things seem to be forever – when nothing can be. Sometimes, with some relationships it’s best to stay in ‘the now’ with no expectations for the future. Hard though. We humans tend to like to think we have secured permanence.

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    1. If I had thought there was any realistic way to make it work, I’d have given it a try. At least to try living together and see if that worked. But all I could see were huge problems that I was sure we would not fix. It really hurt to let it go. It still hurts all these years later.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Hard choices, and no answer is ever the right one, is it. There is always the what-if factor. I think for you the choice was wise, and it was obviously not done idly. In his Discworld books Terry Pratchett often talks about the “pantlegs of Time” and how you can only go down one, and never truly know what would have happened otherwise. Sometimes you can see what might have happened, but never with any surety.

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    1. It was weirdly tempting, especially financially. He was doing very well … a lot better than I was. At that point in my life, I was never sure where my next gig would come from. And he was so easy to be with. So sensitive to my needs. We could talk about everything and anything. He was as good a friend as anyone could have.

      But marriage? When you start off with that many major problems, it’s not going to get fixed. I hope he sees this and maybe it will help him realize how much I cared for him. I really did. But no marriage should require someone to turn himself inside out to make it work. It won’t work.

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  4. I think it says a lot about the world back then. I doubt that it is easy being gay today (I have a lot of gay friends, but can’t imagine being gay), but at least with the possibility of marriage and all there is a lot more light than there was back then. It has been more “mainstreamed”. Back in the day too many gay men married straight women either to hide or because that was what people did. I don’t think it was good for anyone involved. I think you made the right decision, and that’s not even thinking about you finally ending up with Garry since that may still have happened.

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    1. There wasn’t even a whiff of “gay marriage” in the breeze in 1978, but for us, it would not have mattered. He didn’t want to marry a gay man. He wanted to marry a straight woman and he had great reasons. Financial, friendship, closeness … everything except some kind religion we both could relate to … and sex.

      Unfortunately, they are two pretty central issues in a marriage. As friends, it was not a problem, but married? I was married. I knew how bad a perfectly “normal” relationship could get. To put both of us into a situation that was doomed seemed cruel and unusual. I didn’t believe he could possibly change that much and I didn’t think he should. He wasn’t “bi.” He was outright gay from childhood. He didn’t want to marry me to hide his gayness. He just cared about me and I cared about him. But it wasn’t marriage material.

      I really wish it HAD been possible. If he was bi, or if he’d really always had a hidden interest in women, we were emotionally remarkably well suited to one another. We might have found a way to pretend away religion — you do your thing, I do mine and we do NOT argue about it — which I have done at least twice in marriages, though to be fair my two non-Jewish husbands were never particularly fervent about religion and my first husband thought he might have been a Druid and related to trees. But Ron loved his church, a whole different ball game.

      Garry and I were always a thing. Before I got married, while I was married and after I wasn’t married (again). We had some kind of pull towards each other. It defied whatever else we were supposedly doing. We very well might have wound up together anyway. There was something there that was more than just an attraction. It has lasted through 29 years of marriage with some very bumpy times in there — plus more than 30 years of “various” kinds of relationships. We always cared about each other. For a man who doesn’t talk much, he always talked to me. We are very comfortable together. And he’s one of the only people on earth to entirely “get” me. Vice versa, too.

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  5. I’m sorry you lost such a close dear friendship. You’ve been lucky though. You have had several including your lost friend, Garry and many others. It’s something I believe you inspire in people.

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      1. It does doesn’t it? It was a 6 hour drive to get here and it damn near did me in. Everyone’s been back to Hardy a dozen time or more and I won’t go. Hate to think what sitting that long would do to me this time. Not been the same since I had two falls within the last year. Damaged my back and I need surgery on several discs and a hip and my left knee. Sitting is not in the cards. I’m happy to be here. I can phone if need be and that’s got to suffice these days.

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  6. I too, think you did the right thing, Marilyn. I have no doubt that you loved him and he loved you. But you had serious doubts and you listened to them. You both would have been hurt more to go through the motions of marriage and see it fail.
    Leslie

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  7. Some of my best friends were (are) gay. I often found that nearly tragic: So much in matters of feelings, emotional understanding, very good taste, excellent friends…. what a loss for women 😉
    Then again, religion is very important to me too – as is being honest about everything. Lying about one’s true ‘direction’, or ignoring needs re faith or traditions don’t bear well for a future ‘à deux’.
    I once had – for a long time – a truly wonderful girl friend. We did many things together, we shared secrets, rooms, told each other everything about our male friends and one evening she shared: If I didn’t like men I woul want to be lesbian with you….. I nearly fell out of bed beause at that moment I never saw our friendship as a possible love affair. Then we got both married and eventually she shoved me out of her life, which hurt very much for about 10yrs and no longer after.
    One male friend with whom I went to our local mountain for a sledgeing gig held me really close in the snowy downhill curves and said afterwards to me: It makes me quite sad that I’m gay…. I nearly died, as I never contemplated such a thing and I only ever wundered why he was so careful with his personal hygiene…. forever putting cream on his face, styling his hair…. me, I was the totally innocent naive girl!
    It is wonderful to have truly good friends. When your own partner is that, it’s the BEST thing that can happen to you.

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  8. You made the right decision in my opinion- it would not have worked, for so many reasons- intimacy is part of a good marriage, being on the “same page” emotionally- I feel something would always have been lacking for you. Pity that his asking changed the friendship- but of course it would. Where did he end up? Where is he now?

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  9. I’ve had close Gay friends. This manifested via a job I had. And we were close for years.
    But when you’re young Sex is pretty well everything. Us humans seem to be hard coded that way. Or at least it’s on one of the front burners. A big one. And hot.
    And I can’t really imagine a Gay person and anyone of different sexuality working very well. ??? I suppose it’s possible. Myself, I would imagine it to be unfulfilling. I would feel like I couldn’t achieve the intimacy and completeness that I need in a relationship.
    Religion? My partner, Rose, and I, have the same religion. That’s huge. We are not against any other Religions – or different Sexualitys. We recognize all as part of Souls education. And I truly believe that God doesn’t give a hoot about such your Sexuality.It’s a big deal for most of us humans though.
    What could/would I advise anybody about such a situation as you describe? Nothing. I have no place there.

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