LOVE AND LOSS – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Love

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.

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. I am retired and delighted to be so. May I live long and write frequently.

17 thoughts on “LOVE AND LOSS – Marilyn Armstrong”

  1. Wow, Marilyn, what a story! Thank you for sharing such an intimate slice of your life. My first thought was that, since he was a devout Catholic, perhaps he had been persuaded by someone in the church, perhaps a priest, to change because Catholics regard homosexuality as a sin. His gay-ness may have tortured him throughout his life and he couldn’t resolve the “choice” between his religion and his sexual orientation. My guess is that, because the two of you were so close, he thought that a union with you would resolve this problem and he could be “respectable” in the eyes of the Church. You were right to refuse him even though it seems that put an end to your friendship. Perhaps he is still seeking his identity and once he finds himself in a loving relationship with another man, he will contact you.

    I have a friend who was married to a gay man for many years. They had two sons together. He also was Catholic, although he had started attending our Protestant church along with his wife. She spent the entire marriage thinking she was undesirable sexually because sex was rare between them. She tortured herself mentally even as he also was tortured, because he was not willing to face his sexual orientation. He’d been taught at church and Catholic school that being gay was a sin. So he tried to be “normal” by marrying my friend, his gay-ness unknown to her. Then one of his brothers died of a heart attack and then another had a heart attack although he survived. He began to worry that the stress of hiding his true self would cause him to have a heart attack also. So eventually he decided to “come out.” Of course, that meant divorce from my friend, who remained bitter about it for a long time. Not that he was gay, but that he had hidden it so long. To make a long story short, both of them are now in happy, loving relationships and their sons are totally OK with their blended family.

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    1. It’s very hard to know. I think he was really, sincerely, fond of me. I think he probably felt more deeply about me than he had about anyone else in his life. And I suppose, he wanted to be “normal,” though he was never closeted and always openly gay. I don’t think he was pressured into it, but he may well have pressured himself into it. The need to be “normal” is powerful for all of us. Whatever “normal” is and I often wonder if there really IS such a thing.

      It was still hopeless. This just wasn’t something he could “make happen.”

      My son came out after a long marriage. I think he’s finally happy for the first time in his life. You can run, but you can’t hide.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Amoralegria, what a wonderful share.

      I had wonderful friendships with colleagues who were gay. We shared common interests in movies, sports, music, news and other things. Their sexual preference never was on the radar because we were always busy at work and play. Marilyn once pointed out that one of my long time friends was Gay. I blinked! It never registered in my consciousness. I dunno. Maybe it’s my distaste for people who make a big deal of having many “colored” friends. We are many things in our bodies and spirits.

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      1. 40 years is a long time to carry such sadness.
        we are told the right decisions are usually not the usually the easiest.
        I think you made the right decision too.

        Like

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