Dealbreaker: She's Gay

Posted by Beth Hoeckel and Paul M. Davis

Dealbreaker: She's Gay
In our Dealbreakers series, exes report on the habit, belief, or boxer brief that ended the affair.

"She lives in Chicago and thinks she's a lesbian," my friend told me before introducing me to Daria. "She's perfect for you." I have never actively pursued queer women who live half a continent away. But let’s just say this wasn’t the first time I’d found myself in this situation.

Suffice to say, Daria and I did hit it off, more than either of us had expected. Daria was incredibly hot—self-assured, wickedly funny, a complex and nuanced thinker with a striking face and an empathetic singing voice. She struck a precise balance of femininity and androgyny—pretty much my dream girl. She identified as bi (in Santa Cruz, where I lived, this was not rare). After a week of passionate sex and drunken late-night conversations, we dove into six months of nightly phone calls, $200 phone bills, and monthly cross-country flights. I left my band, quit my coffee-shop job, and moved in with her. Nine months later, we were engaged.

Suddenly, our lives were consumed by the wedding. Over the course of that year, Daria's sexuality wasn’t verboten, but it was rarely discussed. Daria told me she didn't feel the need to act on her attraction to women at the time, and we were confident we could work through it when that time came. As we finalized the guest list, scouted Big Sur venues, and enlisted my friend’s bluegrass band to play us down the aisle, the topic stayed neatly folded beneath the logistics. “I was afraid to say anything to you, that you’d think I wasn't thrilled to become your wife,” Daria told me later. “But there was a second twinge I had to bury.”

Then we got drunk. Two nights before the ceremony, we threw an ad hoc bachelor-bachelorette party at a Santa Cruz dive bar. At one point, an unusually intoxicated Daria confessed her attraction to a close female friend she’d known since high school while I downed another celebratory shot at the other end of the bar. The next morning, the incident was written off in our circle of friends as the sort of “crazy shit people say right before they get married.” Daria and I knew better, but the narrative was useful as we contended with last-minute wedding emergencies through a hungover haze.

After the ceremony, Daria and I watched the sun set over the Pacific, wedding photographer in tow. "I can tell which couples are going to stay together and which aren't. You two will,” she told us. Maybe the photographer said that to all of her clients, but at the time, we believed it.

After the traditional wedding clichés had faded, we made a pretty great married couple. Our domestic life was harmonious—we were happy to sit around the house, order dinner from the noodle house, and queue up an evening’s worth of Battlestar Galactica. On nights Daria was out late directing theater productions, I held bourbon-fueled personal viewings of BBC space documentaries. When Chicago got old, we sold our possessions and drove around the country for five months. Our time traversing the United States brought us closer than ever. We devoured Radiolab episodes, took videos of each other singing along to “Papa Was A Rodeo,” and talked.

While driving a punishingly long stretch of road in the South, we had our most honest conversation about Daria’s sexuality to date. After circling around Daria’s drunken confession to her friend for months, we were now really talking about it. I sympathized with Daria’s feelings that it was an opportunity lost. We agreed that Daria might have a special dispensation in her friend’s case—but later. We had only been married a year.

When we returned to Chicago that fall, something changed. We remained emotionally close, but sex became rare. We spoke in comfortable hypotheticals about Daria’s sexuality, but discussion of our own sexual relationship was halting and defensive. When her high school friend came to visit two years later, they had sex in Daria’s office.

The next evening, Daria and I took a long walk around our neighborhood. My "holy shit, this is really happening" shock gave way to a strange calm. What had long been hypothetical might actually work in practice.

For months, we explored our options. Daria was still identifying as bi, in love with me but curious to start seeing women on the side. Meanwhile, she and I experimented with approaches to intimacy not involving your typical meat-and-potatoes heteronormative sex.

But when Daria fell into a relationship with a woman at work, she came out to me again, this time as a lesbian. "I felt like I had been carrying a perfectly tailored suit over my arm for years and years," she told me later. "Then one day I shook it out and put it on my body and it fit perfectly." We didn’t know where our relationship would go from there, but we both knew we didn’t want a divorce.

Our immediate concerns were practical. Daria had been accepted to a directorial graduate program in Austin and was set to leave in a month. I was excited to move to a town stocked with old friends and a more forgiving climate. I would tie up some work in Chicago, then meet her there. But when Daria packed up and left me alone in our empty three-bedroom apartment, things got rough. I spent many blank nights watching Netflix Instant and obsessively playing iPad games. I had never expected a conventional marriage, but now it was looking like it might cease to exist. We talked on the phone every day, but it was a strange reversal from our long-distance beginnings. As happy as I was that Daria had finally embraced her true identity, the specter of bachelorhood occasionally appeared, and I did not welcome it.

When I joined Daria in Austin, the parameters of our relationship shifted instantly—we took separate rooms, stopped having sex, and began figuring out what it meant to be single married people living under the same roof. We went for walks by the lake, took advantage of Austin’s live music scene, and made a house together. We even adopted a cat—a sweet indoor kitty with an autoimmune virus we named Wimbledon.

But our domestic bliss was built on a precarious state of cognitive dissonance. We remained true to our emotional commitments to one another, but Daria was already dating, and it wouldn’t be long before I attempted the same. What would happen if one of us fell in love? Would we have to sneak away to others’ houses to get laid forever?

Once, when Daria was out of town for a theater conference, I brought a friend I was attracted to into our home. Six years out of practice, I haltingly attempted to set a mood while she examined the artifacts of my marriage—shots from a trip to Australia, road-trip postcards, Loch Ness Monster cartoons I had drawn for Daria. A few minutes into an awkward couch makeout, she stopped and said: “You’re married.”

“It’s fine,” I drunkenly responded. “Daria’s totally cool with it, and she’s doing the same.”

Word to the wise: No matter the nature of your platonic married relationship with a queer woman, the correct answer to “you’re married” is rarely “my wife is cool with it.” My friend excused herself a few minutes later. Daria was dealing with similar issues—even in Austin’s queer community, a platonic marriage with a straight man was sometimes just too weird.

Then, Wimbledon escaped from our house and hid deep in a storm drain. Daria and I spent the night dangling sardines over the grate in an attempt to lure him out. When we finally went inside to sleep, Daria couldn’t stop crying. It was clear that we were mourning for more than our recently adopted cat.

After we had stood vigil for four nights, Wimbledon emerged. The episode was rich with symbolic resonance—we wouldn’t give up on our beloved gutter cat, and we sure as hell wouldn’t give up on one another.

Then, burglars broke into our house while I took a midday coffee break. They stole my wedding ring, the computers that held all our road-trip videos, even the car we had driven in. This wasn’t just symbolism anymore—this fucking sucked. Daria and I were gutted by the loss and unsettled by the violation of our fragile domesticity. We moved out three months later.

Today, I live in a two-bedroom bungalow with Wimbledon. I work from home, talk to my cat like he’s a person, and have the physical and emotional space to process the past six years and figure out what it means to face down the second half of my 30s as a single person. This year, I hosted Christmas dinner with Daria, her girlfriend, and our closest friends. It’s a strange family we’re building here, but it's the best one I could ask for. That night, as I looked out at my guests from the kitchen, I realized the wedding photographer was right: We did stay together. I contemplated my past six years—graduating from drunken barista to full-time writer, moving cross-country three times, visiting locations around the world, watching my father die. Daria had been with me the entire time. She now lives in a studio just a bit north of me. We speak more freely than ever.