How My Partner & I Completely Fell Apart After His Transition
When Simon transitioned, I knew — knew down in my bones — that this would be better. For him. For our family. For our daughter, Jane.
But that knowing clashed directly with my belief about who I was — defined largely by being a lesbian. I couldn’t reconcile this cute bearded guy I woke up with every day with my perception of myself as a gay woman.
Folx often rail about being boxed in, labeled. But I’d been out and proud for over 20 years. I wanted this particular label. And I was pissed that someone would try to snatch that away from me. I felt betrayed by Simon’s need to be himself. Because that self wasn’t what I’d signed up for.
Everything I wrote about the summer that he transitioned— six years ago now — was true. We did reconnect in meaningful ways. Our physical spark returned. We fell in love again.
But all the while, I felt off-kilter. Like I was lying to myself. I didn’t know if I could be married to a man. Because I didn’t want to be. I’d married the person I wanted. Now she was gone. And in her place was this guy — who looked like her, who both was but was not the person I fell in love with.
My everyday life was a total mindfuck.
All of this I felt with varying intensity, all the while cheering Simon on through his transition. Which was never about us (it couldn’t have been; it shouldn’t have been). Simon transitioned so he could live, really live, his own life. Which left me to figure out how my lesbian self fit into this new life of his. And how he fit into mine.
More and more, I was convinced that he didn’t.
I wanted to place all our relationship difficulties squarely on his shoulders. HE had changed the terms & conditions of our relationship. HE wasn’t the same person anymore (in a way more literal sense than folks usually mean this). It was his fault that we couldn’t connect the same way.
I learned a long time ago to look for my part in a messy situation. But as my relationship with Simon was devolving into lukewarm friendship — I mean, we weren’t besties or anything. We just kind of got along okay mostly — I didn’t FEEL like looking for my part. Smugness suited the situation better, I thought. My mindset fell more along the lines of “Oh, so you want to transition? I’ll show you transition…” or something like that, anyway. The long and short of it: I just knew Simon had ruined us. And I certainly wasn’t going to take it upon myself to pull us out of the hole we were quickly sinking in to. I hadn’t caused this mess. And I wasn’t going to fix it.
My anger roiled under the surface constantly. Minor annoyances that I used to roll my eyes about became reasons to seethe. As Simon sorted through his mixed feelings about leaving Tampa, I packed the house with a mix of fury and excitement. I couldn’t get to Atlanta fast enough. We were orbiting in completely different emotional spheres. We were in close physical proximity most of the time; but, emotionally, we were worlds apart.
I threw myself into life in Atlanta. Work, friends, activism… Atlanta breathed life into me that I hadn’t felt in years. And pushed me further away from Simon, who seemed to be struggling a bit to settle in. I’d love to be the compassionate heroine who swooped in to help Simon navigate his malaise. But I was busy. And happy. He was on his own.
In the back of my mind, a constant refrain played: But I’m attracted to women. This isn’t fair. But I’m attracted to women. This isn’t fair. But I’m attracted to women. This isn’t fair.
And, while it is true that I am attracted to women, I quickly ramped up my interest in women into an obsession. It was like diving back into those first years when I realized that loving another woman was an option… the possibility was intoxicating. And I was there again… but this time I was married. To a guy. What the actual fuck?!
And so, this confluence of events was how we reached The Great Meltdown of 2016.
It wasn’t him. It was (also) me.
At various points, I thought about leaving. Or asking for an open relationship. I just wanted to not feel so responsible for us. I wanted to think about me for a minute. There hadn’t been a lot of time for that in the past two years.
Then it happened.
One night, after Grey’s Anatomy, Simon said, “I think we should do what Callie & Arizona did. Take a break.” I looked at him like he had sprouted a third eye. Because WHAT? I was the aggrieved party. I was the one who’d married someone who changed the terms of our relationship when he transitioned. How DARE he suggest a break? What the ever-loving hell was wrong with him? Which I asked him, in colorful language. He said he thought I’d be happier. I asked if this was a break or a break up. Everything about what he was saying sounded so final. He said he thought it should be permanent. And, just like that, we’d started the process of conscious uncoupling.
I called my best friend the next morning to fill her in my newly bizarre and topsy-turvy world. Actually, what I told her was that I thoughtSimon had broken up with me. Because I couldn’t fathom this whole turn of events. I mean, did relationships really end just out of the blue? I didn’t want my relationship to end. I wanted it fixed. It could be fixed, right?
Bless her, she had to deal with my anger (if he wanted to split up, why the hell didn’t he just stay in Tampa?), my fear (holy shit, I can’t pay for the house by myself… what am I going to do?), and my tears (but he didn’t even try to work it out. Doesn’t he love me? I always thought he loved me). And she was also managing her own shock. Because, if you weren’t living in our house and couldn’t feel the ever-present tension and complete disconnect between the two of us, this uncoupling seemed to come from nowhere at all.
But it did come from somewhere. It came from almost a year of drifting apart emotionally, of divesting from each other’s lives, of believing deep down we’d be better off apart. We were so emotionally estranged by this point that, in the preceding months, when I’d found a lump in my breast and been terrified it was breast cancer, I didn’t lean on him for support. And he didn’t offer much of it. We were totally broken. But, even if we were currently shattered, I didn’t want to give up yet. We had Jane to consider. And I knew that I loved Simon. Even if I couldn’t see how to get back to a healthy version of us.
I corralled him into a discussion about the unraveling of our relationship that afternoon before I picked Jane up from school. Could we work things out? No. Could we go to couple’s counseling? No. Could we just try one more time? No. No. No. He’d made up his mind, it seemed. He’d decided that Jane & I were better off without him. That he was only an albatross, weighing us down. It didn’t really matter what I wanted or what I said. He was convinced that our split was the best thing for me.
My head exploded. I yelled. I cussed. Then I yelled some more. I went over the edge completely. Who was he to make this decision for me? I’d stood by him through his transition, held his hand, worked so hard at being okay (at least I thought so at the time). How DARE he leave me now? But he was gone. We were, in fact, over.
After the yelling, the tears, the panicked confusion, I was left with only the stark reality: Simon & I were unraveling. This family I’d poured my heart and soul into was disintegrating — and I couldn’t do or say anything to stop it.
I was in a whirlwind of rage and pain by the time my best friend swooped in to rescue me for a few hours. I needed desperately to get out of the house. Simon & I had tried being quasi-normal for Jane. But being around Simon felt like the most exquisite agony. I loved AND hated him. I wanted to be near him AND to cast him to the outer realms of space. I wanted to reconcile AND move on with my life — alone.
All I wanted was to get away from the nagging, gnawing pain. But, really, what was I going to do to escape it? I’ve been sober for years. And that means I don’t drink. Even when my marriage falls apart. Even if the world explodes.
I. Do. Not. Drink.
But a best friend, one that’s known you for over twenty years, offers her own kind of comfort. And it’s a damn good kind. So, I felt safe and loved while I sipped a latte and my world fell apart.
She let me rage on and on. I said ugly things. I developed new, creative uses for every cuss word I knew. And then, I spun on a dime, talking about how much I loved him. How I’d always known we were right for each other. And I cried when I told her that the thing I’d been most sure of in my life was Simon’s unending love for me.
But, really, what I’d been sure of all those years was that the woman I married loved me. Simon and I had been on pretty rocky terms. And, truly, what had I given Simon to love about me? Sure, I’d stuck around. But I’d been resentful; I’d constantly harped on my attraction to women; I was supportive enough — I supposed. But, who wants to build a life on something that’s just barely “enough”?
I heard myself telling Betsy how much I wanted a life with Simon, how much I loved him… and, yes, how desirable I found him… and I wondered if he knew any of that.
Things were, I realized, completely fucked to hell.
My best friend dropped me off at my house with only one set of instructions: Do not beg him to take you back. In 2001, she’d born witness to my alarming downward spiral after a particularly bad break-up. She was doing her level best to ensure I didn’t head right back down that path. I assured her that I would not beg. That I was done begging, pleading, and negotiating.
I walked slowly through the house — the house that was ours, that would no longer be ours, because there was no more us — got in my bed and laid down. I turned on Melissa Etheridge’s Skin (which, incidentally, is a pretty solid break-up album) and tried to sleep. I dozed off, and when I woke I felt incredibly calm. For about five seconds. But even during the calm, I knew something was wrong. Something I should be upset about. And then I remembered. And it was like breaking up all over again. I couldn’t take it. I absolutely could not sit with the pain for one second longer.
So, I did exactly my best friend had made me swear I wouldn’t: I went out to the living room and sat down on the edge of the couch. Simon sat up immediately to ask what was wrong. Like he’d been waiting for me.
“I don’t understand,” I sobbed. “How can it just be over? I love you so much. Why don’t you love me?”
“I do. I do love you,” he said. He pulled me close to him and held me while I cried. “I don’t want it to be over either.” I cried on him a little while longer, afraid to move. Afraid to breathe. Afraid to break the spell.
Finally, I wiped tears off my face and looked at him. “Then why did you leave?”
He sighed. And for the very first time since things had started to fall apart, I could see that maybe this wasn’t as easy for him as I’d thought. He was hurt. “I don’t want to just be just some concession you are making. That isn’t good enough for either one of us.”
Oh my God. No. Was that what he thought? Of course, that’s what he thought. Really, he would have been a fool to think anything else.
I’d been wrong. And scared. But now I desperately wanted another shot at this. I laid my head on his chest and cried. “I’m not better off without you. I love you. I want to be with you.”
“I want that, too.”
All my life, I’ve craved that one moment where life plays out perfectly, just like in the movies. Where love prevails despite the odds. Where what seems impossibly broken magically mends. Where love wins.
Truthfully, I’d given up on those moments. Believing in them had caused me lots of heartache, had held me back so many times when I should have cut my losses and moved on.
But this time, oh this time…
I finally got my moment. The moment where I got everything I dreamed of. Just like that, he loved me, and we were us again.
(But nothing’s ever really that easy, is it?)
Breaking up and getting back together — all within a 48-hour span — well, it’s not for the faint of heart.
When Simon & I woke up the next morning, it was like being on an incredibly awkward first date. In my pajamas. With someone I’d known for over a decade.
I had no idea what to do or say.
I made coffee, like usual. That seemed right. We probably still needed caffeine to function.
We sat down in the living room — which miraculously was still OUR living room — and I chattered on in a way that managed to be simultaneously overly-chipper and politely reserved. Which translated into rather happy, equally meaningless, small talk. (I despise small talk.)
Beneath my frantic efforts appear normal(ish), I felt completely unmoored. I was thrilled to have Simon back. But I was terrified if I did or said the wrong thing, he’d decide all over again that we were done. But for real this time.
The problem was that I both knew — and did not know — exactly what had gone wrong. When I could focus long enough to sort my thoughts, I knew that Simon had left only because he believed I didn’t want to be with him anymore. He thought he was doing me a favor. He thought he was fixing things. But the why was buried under my fear, which just kept shouting: He left you! He doesn’t love you! He left you!
Fear is a bastard.
In yet another bizarre twist, on this awkward, small talk filled Saturday morning, we also needed to go rent a U-Haul to fetch the remainder of the furniture we’d stored at our best friends’ house. Moving furniture together is an admittedly odd reconciliation activity. (Note: I do not recommend). But we dropped the kid off with said friends and headed out for a day of furniture relocation.
Odd task aside, sitting in a U-Haul truck next to Simon (without the kid anywhere in earshot) allowed us to talk openly and honestly for the first time in probably over a year. The stark reality that Simon could leave (and would, if he didn’t feel like the relationship was serving both of us well) knocked the anger and resentment right out of me. And not in the way that fear robs people of their fight. I wasn’t angry or resentful anymore because I’d been presented with a real, viable exit strategy.
For the first time since Simon told me he wanted to/needed to transition, I felt like I had a choice. And I made my choice. I chose to stay. Because that’s what I wanted.
It was amazing to look at Simon (probably for the first time ever) and feel completely awash in love. I mean I was smitten. I was all hand-holdy and lovey. And I was driving him batshit. Because these ways, they are not his ways. But he understood. And he held my hand. And told me he loved me, too (for the 400th time).
We talked about difficult things. We talked about how to start over. We acknowledged that we needed to bring our best selves to this reconciliation — whatever that looked like for each of us. I asked questions I was scared to ask. He trusted me enough to answer me honestly. It felt real. Like communication. Things felt possible again.
It was in the middle of this hard but good conversation that we pulled up to a red light at Memorial Drive. I didn’t see them at first, because I was looking at Simon. But his eyes got wide. He looked excited. Like, kid picking out a puppy excited. And he said, “Are those LLAMAS?!?” And sure as shit, I looked across Memorial, and there were 15 or so llamas being led around a small enclosure. Outside a bar. In intown Atlanta.
Some people find signs in rainbows or floating feathers. Ours came in llamas. Because the pure joy that those llamas brought Simon wouldn’t have even been possible a day or two before — not with all that baggage we’d been carrying around. But now, he could be as exuberant about those llamas as he needed to be. Unfettered.
Because now we knew that we each had a choice. And we were choosing each other — and the hard work of staying together. Again.