By Kim Stout
Editor’s Note: We’ve been studying relationships for the last four decades, but we still have so much to learn. Through the individual stories and experiences shared in Real Relationships, we aim to paint a more realistic picture of love in the world today. The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this article belong solely to the author, and are not necessarily based on research conducted by The Gottman Institute. Submit your Real Relationship story here.
Growing up I had a very open and understanding mother who was willing to communicate about all aspects of life; there was no topic we could not discuss. I was not that child who had to learn about hard or taboo topics at school or from friends. I was able to come home to my mom and pose those hard questions to her, like, “Where do babies come from?” “What is sex?” “Why is my dad not around?” and many more. I knew I would always get an honest answer.
My sexuality was not something I questioned. I knew without a doubt I was “straight” and that was clear. There were no questions needed. It wasn’t until much later in life that I began to ask questions.
The Bible was clear: I was to be heterosexual. My faith informed my instincts and attraction. My friends and family never questioned my sexual identity, because I never questioned it. It was understood; I was checking all the appropriate boxes for relationship status and sexuality.
My spiritual experience was an integral part of who I was. Christianity was a foundation in my home and in my life. We attended a non-denominational church every week. When I turned 18 and was able to join the volunteer leadership team for my youth group, I jumped at the opportunity to serve and give back to the community that had given me so much.
I spent every Sunday, Tuesday, and Wednesday at the church serving. If there was a special event, I was present, planning, setting up, attending, cleaning up, and even had my own keys to the church to lock up after everyone went home. I oversaw the summer internship program for high school and college students—usually, we had 20-30 students attend. I led them in learning more about their faith and scriptural foundations. This was my everyday life for over 20 years.
I met the man I married in that church. We married for many reasons, but I still don’t know if love was at the foundation of it. I had followed my beliefs and faith and kept my virginity until I was 27. When my husband and I began dating, we engaged in pre-marital sex. That set in motion an unraveling of who I thought I was.
I lived with so much shame and guilt because of our sin. I felt I had let myself down, I had let God down, and I let my leaders down.
I did what I thought was the “right thing” to do and stayed in that relationship—I married that man. That relationship was a rollercoaster. It was painful. It was hurtful to us both. I don’t think either of us had any idea what we were doing or why we were doing it, and we let it continue for far too long. After many painful and harmful experiences in that relationship, I was able to file for divorce and set us both free.
The pain and heartache that comes from ending a marriage after 10 years, especially because divorce is frowned upon in the Christian community, only added to my shame and guilt.
Leaving that marriage was a catalyst for me. It set me on the path of discovery. It opened my eyes to seek out truth—my truth. Who does God say I am? Who am I in this world? What do I want for my life? Who do I want in my life? What’s authentic for me?
In my time seeking out my identity, things started to unfold and become clear. I was about to turn my whole world upside down, and I was only sure of one thing: I was going to follow my heart.
I re-met the woman who would change everything about a year before my divorce was finalized. My ex-husband and I had been separated for over a year at that point. I had known her in grade school (we played Barbies together) and over the years I’d run into her but never gave it any mind or attention. This time, seeing her felt different. I could not explain what I felt at that time, but there was definitely something there. We’d embraced, laughed and chatted, and went our separate ways.
A year later, that encounter started to replay in my mind. There was something about this woman I just could not shake. She was in my mind. I got butterflies thinking about her. I decided to reach out to her on social media and ask her to meet for coffee to catch up about life. My intention was to see if there was a connection, if what I was feeling was real. I did not disclose my intentions to her out of fear of hurting her or misleading her.
As I sent the message to her, every part of my being was affected. To my excitement, we made plans.
I showed up at her house to pick her up and we greeted each other. It was friendly. At this point, she still believed I was married to a man, very religious, and just catching up with a friend. I needed that lack of pressure to explore what I was feeling without causing unnecessary pain to someone else along the way.
As we sat and talked and shared about our lives I told her about my divorce. But, in her mind, I was still “straight,” so there was still no discussion about why I’d asked her to meet. We were just friends catching up. She was her natural self, talking about who she was casually dating, relaxed. Exactly what I wanted and needed, to see her in a comfortable, no-pressure situation to assess if my heart was leaning towards her.
Our day came to an end and I felt very clear: this is someone special, the person I want to pursue. As she exited my car, I said: “I just want you to know that my intentions for today were not the most innocent—I really like you.” I shut the door and drove off.
Talk about the worst way to disclose to someone you like them! In this instance, it worked for me. She called me immediately and was like, “Wait, what? You have to come back so we can talk.” Of course, I turned around, picked her up, and we went to dinner. It was clear to us both that there was chemistry between us. We had an immediate connection with one another. As we talked about our day together and what was going on in my life, she had many questions and concerns, the biggest one being “I don’t want to be the straight girl’s ‘lesbian experience,’” which was totally valid.
I had already disclosed, or “come out,” to my mom that I was going to pursue this woman and see if there was something there. My mom responded as I expected: stunned but supportive. I had never mentioned liking women. I had never said anything that would lead anyone to believe I may someday be anything other than “straight.”
I knew I needed to follow my heart.
I went to the leadership team at my church and stepped down from leadership because I knew this was in direct opposition to their beliefs. They were not supportive; it was painful for all parties. The church had been an everyday part of my life. It’s where my friendships were, it’s where my mom attended. It was everything I knew. When I had to step down, and voice to the pastors where my heart was, watching the look of disappointment and hearing their disapproval was heart-shattering. Many of those friendships have since become a distant memory.
Choosing to follow my heart, I knew my life was about to change completely. Everything I thought I knew about myself, my faith, my friendships, and my family was put on tilt when I decided to be true to who I am and pursue that woman.
Five years later, I am still pursuing that woman, who became my wife 2 months after we started dating. It was not a “straight girl’s lesbian experience” for me. She was a total game-changer. She opened my heart in a way I never dreamed possible.
I have experienced many losses along the way, both people and places. I tried to stay engaged and connected to the church even though I knew my “lifestyle” was considered a sin and in direct opposition to their doctrine. This was working, or so I thought, until I got honest with myself and realized it was really hurting me. I want to be clear: the church and people, not my personal faith, were the struggle. I have found that I feel completely loved and accepted by God and Jesus.
Many of my relationships have drastically changed. I’ve had friends who felt misled or just couldn’t understand. They felt I was somehow going astray. Some of those friendships have been repaired, some have not. My mom has continued to be supportive but struggles with her beliefs. She clearly communicates to me she just wants me happy. My extended family’s responses vary from totally accepting to disagreement.
Now, I’m settling into my authentic self. I’m not trying to fit into someone else’s box. I’m ok with not being in a faith community right now. It’s not healthy for me. But that doesn’t mean I don’t practice my faith. I absolutely do, just not in a building. I haven’t found that place that feels healing to me. One day I might. I am ok with my friendships and family—those who mind don’t matter, and those who don’t mind matter.
As for my marriage: it’s thriving, growing, and beautiful. I adore my wife. She has been a constant. There is not a single day I am not grateful I decided to take a chance five years ago and ask her to coffee. We’ve experienced so many challenges and have been able to overcome them together.
My wife has been my rock on this discovery journey. With her support, I’ve been able to voice the shame and guilt I’ve lived under, and I’ve found authentic footing. I believe we have brought healing to one another.
I am a work in progress, still finding my way. I am working on reconciling just how grand and broad the love of God is. I know in my heart God is ok with my questions and my seeking. I am still seeking a community of faith, and know I will find it. I am allowing an honest relationship with myself to voice what I need, not living under other people’s expectations. And, lastly, I am vulnerably allowing myself to be who I was created to be. Me.
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