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Conscious Uncoupling: A Love Story

There are no wedding pictures of Simon and I in our house. 

This particular fact bothers our daughter. But, for me, it’s just part and parcel of how much Simon and I have changed since 2006. He had a different name then and presented in the world in a way that never quite sat right with him. I was a dressed up drunk who was struggling with a lot of self-doubt and self-loathing, and trying to cover that up with as traditional a set of gender roles as two lesbians could get away with. If I could play wife just right, then wasn’t I worth something after all? 

Or something like that. It was all a long time ago. 

But what was right and true about that May day in 2006 is that we loved each other very much. I was drawn to him always. His warmth. The way he laughs with abandon when he gets really tickled by something. His protectiveness and unshakable belief in me. We certainly weren’t a perfect match–we disagree about so many things that when we arrive at spontaneous agreement without any negotiation, we figure that the Universe is giving us a distinct and magical green light. And then we run full force ahead. 

We’ve fought. Made up. Laughed. Cried. I may have slammed a door or two. We’ve done all the big life things together for 20 years (we’ve been together since  2003). We got sober together. We made our way–tenderly and carefully–through the two years of infertility that finally led us to Jane. We grieved two miscarriages. And we weathered his transition–and fuck if that one wasn’t tricky all the way around. And mostly, we did these things with great love, and compassion for each other, and endless grace for each others’ quirks and foibles. 

But there’s a lesser known fact about Simon & Kendra: people have been telling us we wouldn’t make it from the very beginning. When we first got together. When we got sober. When he transitioned. When we moved to Atlanta. And then, finally, when we opened up our marriage in 2018. 

Let’s all take a breath here. 

Learning about people’s sex lives can be unsettling for some. But there’s an important truth at play here: I am gay. So is Simon. 

And no, not gay for each other. Yes, we’ve queered the hell out of our relationship. But I love women. Like am really swept away by them. And Simon, well, he likes guys. 

See? Gay. 

Almost five years ago, I looked at this sweet, bearded guy I was married to–the one who I’d built my whole world around–and I told him he needed to go out and be gay. Like to date guys. We’d be ethically non-monogamous. It would be grand. 

And it was. For a bit. For him. 

I went on exactly zero dates. He nudged me. He looked over my online profile & helped me revise it. He asked why I was holding back. In my defense, I gave a bunch of non-answers. I didn’t really know. My heart just wasn’t in it. 

Then he changed tactics: “I really think you need a girlfriend.” This wasn’t a one-off comment. He worked it into the pattern of our daily lives. He’d gently remind me that the kind of emotional connection that I need isn’t something he’s able to provide. And that I deserved to be with someone who’d go all in for the romance and desire and heart-pounding stuff that isn’t his gig. 

And what’s so fascinating to me about Simon is that he often knows what I need before I do. It’s really uncanny. And a little annoying sometimes. 

But I kept insisting that I didn’t need a girlfriend. I was busy. I didn’t have enough energy to date. Even thinking about dating was kicking up a ton of anxiety for me–especially since the last time I went on a date, I was 27 years old and likely drunk as a skunk. Besides, no one intrigued me enough to really invest in them. Because investing in someone else meant time away from Simon and Jane. So I convinced myself that the emotional connections I had with my female friends would carry me through (and I do have some stellar friends who genuinely fulfill many of my emotional needs. I adore them. So it didn’t feel very much like lying to myself).

And then, kind of by accident, I met someone online. On an app I’d meant to delete. When she & I connected in the app, I went flying into the living room to show Simon her picture. I was a little giddy. “She’s really cute. You should meet her.” He was laughing at me, but nicely. As he does. Because I was excited. About a girl. 

“Okay,” I said, attempting nonchalance, which it was way too late for by this point. “I mean, she knows I own a bookstore. She can swing by anytime she wants.”

He rolled his eyes. But I wasn’t going to budge on this one. If she wanted to meet me, she could come to me. 

And then she did. 

And ohmygod. I couldn’t find a damn thing about her I didn’t like. Not one fucking thing. 

She asked me if I wanted to meet up for coffee the next week. 

And I said no. 

Because I liked her. 

I told Simon that I’d told her I was too busy for coffee that week. Indie bookstore day was coming up. Then we had the long-awaited Taylor Swift concert. And my half-marathon trail race was the next weekend. But every time I thought about her, I felt an ache in the pit of my stomach. And I knew that I should’ve said yes. Once Simon heard about this (we’re tight; if I think it, he often knows it), he told me that I felt awful because I wasn’t doing what I needed to do. Which was to see if this was something. Always logical, he reminded me that it would be great to have a new friend, if nothing else. 

So I texted her and then had to ask her to coffee. Since I’d declined her invitation. Like an idiot. 

She said yes. 

I’d tell you more about she and I, but that’s not my story alone to tell. And for the purpose of this story, she and I both are & are not the point. 

Because what really happened is that Simon watched me start to fall for her. And instead of asking me to pull back–which would have been well within the bounds of our open-relationship agreement–he said it had been years since he’d seen me this happy. And that this was the happiness that I deserved. The kind of relationship I deserved. 

But even then, I didn’t see where this was going for he and I. 

We were on a walk after dinner, strolling through our neighborhood (I remember exactly what street we were on. I think I probably always will), when he said, “You were right. A few months ago, when you said we were best friends with occasional benefits. That was right.”

I drew a quick breath, because he’d seemed so hurt when I floated this theory before–even though that wasn’t my intention. Something, clearly, had shifted.

“I can’t give you the things that you need. The romantic things. I thought I could. But I can’t. And you should have that kind of relationship,” he finished. And then he waited.

I looked at him. But he was blurry. Because I was already tearing up. 

“But what…,” I started. And stopped. 

“We’ve had a good run. But I think it’s time to redefine our relationship. To find more of what we both want.”

Now I was swiping at my eyes with my palms, trying to stop the tears. Because shit, were we breaking up? Because it sure as hell sounded like it.

But I didn’t fight him this time. Because he was right.

Being with a woman is entirely different. And I–for years–had been insisting that my desires and needs didn’t really matter. Because what kind of ungrateful bitch would I be if I looked at everything I had and said it wasn’t enough?

But once I’d kind of stumbled my way into a relationship with a woman (one I really liked), I remembered all the things I’d forgotten. And I now I couldn’t unremember. 

But I also saw what I’d been denying him by trying to keep us together. By insisting that he keep everything casual with the guys he dated. I was holding on. And it was time to let go. For both of our sakes.

The last few weeks in our house have been the grief of conscious uncoupling. The hard work of telling all the people we love. Explaining to our daughter how much we love each other, but that staying married isn’t what will ultimately fulfill either one of us. It’s been the joy of time together. And the pain of letting go of 20 years together. 

People have been telling us for 20 years we wouldn’t make it. And you know what I say to their naysaying? Fuck that. 

Simon and I have created one beautiful thing after another (not the least of which is our kid, who we both adore). We have shown up for each other. We have fought for each other. And we have chosen each other time and time again. We are still choosing each other–but now we are also choosing ourselves.

We will continue to be a family in the truest sense. But the parameters have changed. And that’s okay. Love is big enough to flex. We still love each other fiercely, the way chosen family does. And we will take great joy in co-parenting our daughter together. Hell, we’ll keep doing a lot of things together. And making our own way. Because we’ve finally realized that we write the rules. And we make a kickass team. 

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