Relationship Realignment

Ray and I got married on October 22, 2020, in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, and shortly after Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg passed away. Things all around us were torched and burnt, literally, in downtown Portland, but high overhead, over the entrance to the Portland Art Museum, a large neon sign with the letters “LOVE RULES” towered over us while we exchanged hand-written vows in front of a Justice of the Peace, who was also officiating over two other weddings at the same time, and location. It was all quite unique, to say the least. Ray stood high in his 9” heeled boots, and I was dressed in my best Canadian Tuxedo with my harness. The dog was there, wrapped in a Pride flag, and a few of our friends were witnesses, all masked with wide grins only noticeable by the smile lines on the sides of their faces.

What nobody knew, at that moment, was how much doubt I was filled with.

I’m a divorcee. I’d been married before, and discovered VERY quickly that marriage was not something that reflected who I was, or what I stood for.

I had made vows in a similar fashion to a man as an attempt to fix a very-broken relationship, which worked for some time, until it didn’t, and the marriage, and our relationship, failed about a year later. It was a very predictable failure, but in the time I was married, and carried myself as a married man, it was very clear to me that peoples’ perceptions of me had drastically changed. I got strange questions from everyone, gay and straight, about the roles within our relationship. I was treated differently among my friend group. I was treated very differently whenever I’d meet someone new, someone who was clearly interested in getting to know me, but who saw my marriage as a massive iron fence that kept us at a distance. Every time this would happen, I would find myself getting frustrated, feeling like there was a lingering missed connection happening in front of me. Hell, I got a “missed connection” on Craigslist while being married, when I was at my part-time evening job, and event that sent my then-husband over the jealousy edge.

It was a journey to being finally able to file for divorce and legally remove myself from Nathaniel. Bounding from state to state, where same-sex marriage was just becoming a patchwork of states who had it, and most who didn’t, meant I had to wait until the Obergefell ruling in 2015 to finally be able to submit my fee, send the pile of documents to Nathaniel’s parent’s house, and get them returned to me, and legally end that mistake.

In those years of separation, Ray taunted me a bit, calling himself “the mistress” and while it was a funny-ha-ha, it also stung every time he’d say it. I soon saw this small jab in the ribs as a measure of my worth to him. I knew that, at some point perhaps, he would want to have my hand in marriage. If I didn’t offer him this, as part of the next-step on our relationship escalator, then it would run the risk of losing him, or at the very least, build resentment and detachment between us.

Then, the political landscape changed around us in 2016. We found ourselves surrounded by right-wing Proud Boys more than once here, in our hometown of Portland, with a hatred in their eyes and looking to hurt someone.

In 2017, I turned 40, and the doctor told me that, without changes, I was about to start down the path of my predecessors, with pills to manage blood pressure, cholesterol, and all the rest. My anxiety was at an all-time high, and things between Ray and myself had definitely changed. We both were in survival mode.

We both lived in terror, tied to the news feeds and alerts telling us how the world was burning down around us. Then Pandemic hit, and suddenly the world stopped. Ray lost his job, and fell into an even deeper depression. I maintained my employment, barely, but suffered through three bouts of COVID-19 in the process. I had been able to shift my attention to my health, however, and found myself transforming away from the crisis-in-waiting that my doctor had warned me about. I took my anxiety to a new level, though, and used it as fuel for changing my physical self. It was a fine line between the person with eating disorders I’d been years prior, and this new “eating right and exercise” person I’d strived to become, but I managed it to the best of my abilities. Ray, though this, took a different path.

In 2020, I asked Ray to marry me. His health had taken a sharp downward turn, and with the external pressures of the world we were in at the time, I knew Ray wanted the security that marriage could offer him. He needed my health insurance, and as an added measure against the changing laws and politics, simply having a domestic partnership would not be enough to comfort him. I felt obliged to do what I could to shore him up, even at a huge emotional cost to myself.

I still didn’t trust in the institution of marriage, and felt that it was not something I could defend or believe in. That right among same-sex relationships was a pivotal change in our wider LGBTQIA+ community, and that fight had cost us a lot of political capital that should have been spent on protecting the rights of those at the edges of our ranks – specifically trans people and queer/questioning youth at risk, for example.

I still do not fundamentally believe the institution of marriage as it stands, in the society that we have around us, is a good fit for me. It is a framework that limits expressions of love and passion and joy, and subscribes people to titles, roles, and expectations from external, unspoken forces, all of which do not apply to everyone in equal measure. It forces a homogeneity where spectrum and difference between individuals should be celebrated and lifted up, again, in my opinion and from my perspective. Your individual experience and mileage may vary, and if the structure of marriage suits you and your beloved, by all means, you should have that right. Thankfully, for you, you still do.

It is not a right I wish to exercise, however, I have done so, and I regret it.

As I found my feet, grounded myself in schedule and ritual, and discovered more about how my heart works and how my love flows, I found myself moving forward. Ray, on the other hand, while supportive, also remained in survival mode, taking a job at a liquor store that was something, but only barely, and not at all what he wanted. Eventually, he ended up taking a job at a winery, where, at last, he could use his training as a sommelier and graphic designer, to start the career of his dreams. For a small time, it was wonderful to see him dive in deep with the job, to start living his dream, and make some actual progress. His mood was high, but it would not last.

As I started to actually face down my mental health issues around anxiety, depression, and trauma, his job started to pile up on him, and squelched any joy he initially had for the position. Managers were coming at him from all sides, piling on more and more tasks and responsibilities, all while not compensating him appropriately at all. The stress and pressure pushed Ray back into survival mode, all while I was making huge leaps forward in my own life.

Ray was unable to be present for me during any of this growth. We became two ships passing, and when he did have any free time, it was spent in recovery mode from a grueling work week. The house became my responsibility to maintain. The day-to-day chores of dishes, laundry, cleaning, and the like, had to fit into my schedule that was already filling up with not just work of my own, but also my passions such as writing, and soon, more people and heart-piece holders who wanted more of my time. These lovers bridged some of the gaps I was feeling in my relationship to Ray, and offered me a chance to really inhabit another version of myself. For the most part, I have remained with all of them for an extended amount of time, and they’ve all seen me grow and change into a better, stronger version of myself. I still love them, individually and uniquely, and look forward to how our relationships change and grow through time. Ray, on the other hand, is still in survival mode, and now, as I’m feeling like I’ve made some real advances in my personal life, I find myself questioning my place in his world.

Three days ago, and after some extensive soul-searching and consideration, I told Ray that I wanted to not be married to him. I wanted to just be his Person, in a loving and supportive relationship, but without the title and status of married and husband. I tried to explain that I made a mistake, that I wasn’t living my Truth back in 2020, and that I regret not listening to the voice inside me who tried to warn me that I was not making a decision that I fundamentally could support or stand behind. I cried and shook for quite some time, the day before my wedding day, and had to convince myself that doing this for him was for the betterment of my life with him.

As it turned out, and as time passed, our relationship got weaker and weaker. His job was taxing him so much, and he simply stopped seeing me for me, or any of the progress and growth I was undertaking. I was simply his husband, managing the house, responsible for x, y, and z, and just…taken for granted.

It was a series of young men that I brought into my life, individuals with such hopes and dreams for themselves, with a keen eye for finding “the one,” that really made me pause and reflect on the marriage I had with Ray. While they brought their whole selves into the relationship with me, with passion and energy and drive, it would come to pass that my polyamory was not in alignment with who they were, and subsequent breakups and distance between myself and them would have to happen. Three times in the last three years, this has occurred. Each time has presented a new opportunity for me to examine myself and my relationships, and every time, that old ghost of regret that was formed on October 19, 2020, as I stood in our old bedroom and wept deeply for the wedding that was about to happen, but that I really didn’t believe in, would appear.

With the last Boy, and our subsequent relationship change, that was just like the last two Boys who’d attempted the same with me, the shoe finally dropped. I was not happy in my relationship to Ray, though I still loved him deeply and wanted to be a structural support in his life. Realizing that love, and relationships, like most things in the known universe, exist on a spectrum, surely I could make some small adjustments to align my relationship with Ray better with the values and flexibility my heart, mind, and body needed. Simply removing the title of “husband” was a start. I wanted to be free of the unwritten and invisible cage that word and experience had put around me and my heart. I wanted to be free to let my love and affection flow where it wants to go, and be more present in my connection to Ray in the process. I want do define our connection on our terms, and in our own way, and not rely on some musty document and state-approved contract to do this for us.

When I presented this to Ray three days ago, however, it did not go well.

At all.

The last three days, in fact, have been me trying to reassure him that, in fact, nothing between us has changed, that I’m still right here, being me, doing the things I’ve been doing this entire time, but that I just want the title of “husband” removed. I don’t want to be in a state-sanctioned marriage. I want to simply be his Person, the man I was on October 19, 2020, but now with much more strength and inner validation, willing to accept that marriage is not for me, and that I can love just as powerfully and with more authenticity than any unspoken societal framework of marriage could ever provide.

He, of course, saw this as a massive threat to his stability. He still is in survival mode with regards to his own life and work and finances. He also decided that this shift meant “divorce,” a term I actively did NOT use on purpose, and that his “whole life was crashing down” now. Divorce, much like Marriage, is a loaded, culturally HEAVY word, that conjures up so many feelings and images and responses in people because it’s associated with loss, pain, and an ugliness that we’ve all come to expect whenever a relationship changes. It’s been three days of reassurance, of letting him process his anger and rage, and finally coming to where we are this morning.

He recognizes the real source of his instability isn’t with my ask to change our relationship status. It’s really with his job. He is still at the winery that has been adding more and more to his plate, and not meeting his compensation needs appropriately. The “job creep” in terms of what is part of his work responsibilities is real, and he’s at a breaking point. This morning, after we got to that understanding, I told him that my needs – that my change in how we relate – has no real hard time frame, and that I’d much rather he sort out his work situation first, which at this point means finding his way out of the role he is in, and that we can revisit my needs and desires at a later point. Does this mean I’m putting him first again? Yes. Am I comfortable with this as I have a better understanding of what marriage and being a husband means to him (it’s a matter of security, not just a matter of love)? Yes.

The other fundamental thing I would love to see for him? Getting a handle on his long-term depression. It’s been a massive factor in our relationship since we first started seeing each other nearly a decade ago. I’ve offered him both a roadmap, as I’ve undertaken my own mental health journey, and the resources to start down that path for himself, through medical coverage and a means to pay for whatever support he needs. Still, that’s a ‘lead a horse to water’ situation. It’ll be his choice to make, and the consequences of his choice are also his to manage.

What a fucking journey this is turning out to be.