You’d Never Guess
January 11, 2011 in Divorce Adventures
My ex-husband - we’ll call him Guy – was handsome, charming, and devoted. He was so great that even as we filed for divorce, I could not always remember why I thought it was a good idea to leave. He looked like the plastic groom atop a wedding cake; why couldn’t I be his plastic bride?
As I packed my boxes, left our home, and moved to another city, I kept thinking, “There’s something wrong with me. I should be happy, and I’m not.” I thought that some faulty cog in my brain just had to shift around and I’d wake up grateful, in love with him, and content with my seemingly perfect life.
That never happened. Instead, Guy moved in with another woman a few weeks after I left. I didn’t understand how he could find love again so quickly. In my jealousy and confusion, I did some regrettable stuff, including looking at Guy’s email for the first time in the ten years I’d known him (even in a crumbling marriage, spouses often know or can guess passwords).
I discovered that my strapping, hunky ex likes to wear women’s clothes. More specifically, he likes to wear fetishized versions of female sexywear: stiletto boots in a size 14, baby-doll dresses in an XXL. I’d never had a clue.
Extensive online research tells me that cross-dressing doesn’t mean my ex was gay, nor that he wants to be a woman, but rather that he is erotically fulfilled by finding a release from constrictive gender roles. It pained me to realize that Guy had private and unmet desires throughout the time he’d known me. I thought about how I contributed to our tacit pact of secrecy. I am politically very liberal, and my friends cover the “lifestyle” spectrum – one is a professional dominatrix, for instance – so it seems like I would be open to whatever Guy might tell me he wanted. But really, I wasn’t. If there is one thing my failed marriage taught me, it’s to be truthful with myself about what I want. And I don’t want a man in a skirt.
I still fantasize about Guy in a tuxedo, or sweaty and muscled after a long run, but I cannot get turned on thinking of him preening in front of a full-length mirror, admiring his gams in heels. And for my part, I’d never dream of going to an event in anything other than a form-fitting dress and very high heels; when it comes to public appearances, I am classically, almost exaggeratedly, feminine. I embrace and project rigid constructions of gender that never would have let Guy feel safe telling me about his predilection for cross-dressing.
Since Guy never told me about this, I can only imagine his shame and would never wish that on anyone, certainly not someone I loved. I wish he’d told me, just so he didn’t have to keep a secret. On the other hand, this discovery, coming when it did, completely freed me from the agony I felt about our divorce. My brain-cog finally did fall into place with a thunk: maybe that’s why we didn’t connect! I finally accepted that this wonderful, darling man was all wrong for me. We were both so dedicated to upholding appearances while ferociously concealing our true and flawed selves, that we never really knew one another at all.
This is a different kind of sadness. It’s shot through with empathy, along with regrets over all our subterfuge and falsity. Many things doomed my marriage, but my insistence on idealizing Guy was a big part of it. I wish I’d understood that perfection is a terrible burden for anyone to try to uphold, and creates pressures that must be – will be – outed, sometimes in surprising ways.