Falling in Love with a Woman…When You’re Married to a Man

When I left my husband, it was because I had an affair with a woman.

I loved my husband a lot, and we had a great time in the bedroom, too, but I’m of the opinion that you can pretty much teach a monkey to do the stuff you need for your body to ride the carousel, and at the end of the day it’s really about who you want to hang around with in your living room. I couldn’t figure out why there was never any psychic draw with my ex-husband, why I was never dying to be with him at the end of the day like other wives were dying to be with their husbands, or why I always felt so restless whenever we were together. We got married because I believed he was a deeply good man, because in fact I did love him, and because I figured many women were annoyed by their husbands’ existence generally. If all was fine in the sack, then romance was just fairy dust anyway.

But when I had the affair with . . . let’s call her Mary . . . I realized immediately that I was in a whole heap of trouble. Suddenly all the love songs on the radio made sense. Since Mary was married* to a woman, I experienced real heartbreak for the first time and finally understood what unrequited love was all about.

*Gay marriage wasn’t legal in California in 2001, but they’d had a wedding and considered themselves married.

Ever heard that song by Joan Armatrading, “The Weakness in Me”?  If you’ve ever been in the thick of a love triangle, this one about sums it all up.

Make me lie
When I don’t want to
And make someone else
Some kind of an unknowing fool
You make me stay
When I should not
Are you so strong
Or is all the weakness in me?

*         *        *

Mary and I had been friends for a year or so in San Francisco before we decided to take a road trip across the U.S. of A.  Our friend Paige had moved to the midwest from California but left her car behind. Mary was planning on visiting her family in Pennsylvania that summer. She’d been wanting to drive across the country again, and delivering a car seemed the perfect excuse. I have never know anyone in a more relentless pursuit of a good time than Mary.  Goodtimes Goodtimes, she always says, even when things are going poorly. It’s a manifesto, a creed.

She asked me to go with her. Goodtimes, she said.

“But Zemser,” she added.  “You’d better keep your damn paws off me. I love you and you are hilarious, but I’m married.”

We laughed, but I didn’t think it was anything serious. Our whole relationship was a flirtation. I’ve never been a fan of healthy boundaries. We always cracked up and had fun; even now, Lynn can’t stand it when Mary comes to visit. She says we act like juvenile morons. Our usual response to this bitterness is to act out the disclosure scene from Tootsie:

For I am not Emily Kimberly, the daughter of Dwayne and Alma Kimberly. No, I’m not. I’m Edward Kimberly, the recluse brother of my sister Anthea. Edward Kimberly, who has finally vindicated his sister’s good name. I am Edward Kimberly. Edward Kimberly. And I’m not mentally ill, but proud, and lucky, and strong enough to be the woman that was the best part of my manhood. The best part of myself.

I still laugh when I read that quote. (If you aren’t laughing then you need to watch the movie again.)

Mary and I kissed our respective partners farewell, packed the car, and drove off. There it was. A road trip across America. A perfect set-up for an illicit rendezvous.

In Nevada, we were just friends. In Utah, pals. By Wyoming, we were good friends who slept side-by-side in the back of the car. We drove through a hailstorm in Nebraska. We visited one of Mary’s ex-boyfriends in Iowa. I waited in the guest bedroom while she hung out with him, in case they needed privacy while they reminisced. She returned hours earlier than I expected.

“I’d rather just hang out with you,” she said, lying beside me on the guest futon.  I was happy. Too happy.

It wasn’t until we got to Ohio that Mary, a student of forensics, decided to sit on on my abdomen, lean over close to my face and, yes, tell me the names of my bones.

I acknowledge that having someone sit astride you while tracing her fingertips along the bones of your arms is no Last Tango in Paris, but to me this was about as hot as it gets. Running her hands up my arms and pressing deftly with her narrow fingers was a slow seduction. She touched the spaces beneath my eyes and ran both index fingers across my brow, which was relaxing, but also made my heart jump. Nobody had ever put hands on me like that before. I felt sick and I was thrilled, terrified and set on fire. I wanted to get out from under her. I never wanted to leave. She rested her palms on my forearms, and I looked into her eyes with fear and amazement, as only a person falling in love will do. We didn’t talk. At some point, Mary started to cry.

“My marriage is screwed,” she said.

“Something is going on between you two,” Paige said, presciently, when we delivered her car. Even though we hadn’t officially cheated at that point, maybe Paige could sense all my anxiety and longing. After that, I told Mary point blank that we ought to kiss and hold onto each other for a while or else I was going to turn into negative space. There was a black cave in my body that she needed to lie down in, I said, so would she please just come over here and fill it?

“Besides,” I added.  “If we kiss and it’s better than what I got going on with my husband, then there’s a telephone call I have to make.”

We kissed in the car.  It was better than kissing my husband.  In fact it was better than anyone I’d kissed in my entire life.

A few nights later, in the farthest bedroom of Paige’s house, we talked for a long time about our ruined lives. When two people fall in love with each other there is infatuation and an electric hum in the air. Everything you say to each other is amazing and brand-new, and your head pumps with oxytocin and serotonin and you feel you will die if you can’t be near this person every second. Add to this equation that both parties were married to other people and you have the stuff of real drama, but if you wish to hurl the whole thing skyward and watch the lights explode in a purple sky, then add to this mix the realization that you’ve been with the wrong gender all your life. I suspect the ordeal was pretty amazing for Mary, too, but for me, it was like I’d been in sensory deprivation all my life. My body was a lightning bolt. My brain was a dendritic mess. The whole thing was like being on ecstasy, except without the jaw pain. (I have never taken ecstasy.)

In the darkness she said, “Do you want to get naked?”

“No,” I whispered, my eyes wide, nodding yes.

There is something mysterious and painful about the first time you touch someone that you really love. The sight of her unclothed form in the half-light was so intense that I couldn’t imagine actually touching any part of her. But when I lay my hands down, when I touched the  space between her neck and her collar bone or followed the contour of her shape from shoulder to hip to the small of the back, along the lateral lines of the ribs and to her face and down her backside again, I felt like my own outline had disappeared.  Where was I?  Who was I? A man’s body feels very different from a woman’s body, and if you’ve spent your whole life on only one side of the equation, getting to the other feels like you’ve left your own skin. I was in the realm of the heretofore unknowable, inside a variation on a theme I hadn’t realized could feel so impossibly good. I could look away and turn back, and she was still there, present, available, quietly asking: please.

We lay there in the shadows, tracing the lines of our bodies over and over again. In the beginning, there wasn’t much beyond that.  An inch more would have been a mile too much.  Anything beyond the tiniest half steps would have taken my breath away.

*         *        *

I returned to San Francisco to the house I owned with my husband.  The first thing I did when he picked me up at the train station was eat dinner. The second thing I did was throw up. The third thing I did was secretly call Mary.

While all this was going, I had a recurring dream about an enormous disembodied vagina that sat atop a volcano against a black landscape. I’d squint my eyes in the distance and watch it tremble, threatening, always threatening, until in one charged explosion, the lava would start pouring out and head straight for me. I’d scream and have to run like anything until the pit of my own gut turning inside itself would cause me to awaken.

Then while I lay there recovering, I’d think about the patriarchy. Had I too been unwittingly sublimated by our misogynist culture? How could a lesbian be afraid of a vagina?  The whole thing felt like a satirical take on a parody.

The next time I saw Mary, I lay her back on the bed and removed her clothes. This nonsense had to be wrestled with, I told myself.  Vagina hot lava, for pete’s sake.  I mean, come on.

“You ready for this, Zemser?” she said.

I was.  I loved her.  And so.

Just when I didn’t think anything could possibly be any greater?  She got up and told me to lie down.

Remember that scene from Season 2 in Girls, when Lena Dunham starts making out with the addict who lives downstairs?  It’s like he’s never had anyone touch him before.

“Oh my god,” he says.  “Oh my god.  Oh my god.  Oh my god.”

When I went home to my husband and slept beside him, I’d have more dreams. An intruder, for example, dressed in black and with a black hood over his face, would steal through the window and creep past us while we slept.  He never took anything and he didn’t talk.  He would just pass through. I’d lie there, terrified, frozen. Other nights I would lie in bed next to my husband and long for her body against mine with such intensity I felt I’d die from the emptiness.

“Don’t do this,” my therapist said.  “You don’t know you’re gay necessarily.  Maybe it’s just Mary.  Maybe you’re confused.  This isn’t the time to just pick up and leave.”

But it had been three months. I’d told my husband. Mary was still keeping a secret. She wouldn’t leave her partner for a few years more, at least.  It was time for me to go.

I packed as many of my things as I could into my 1989 Volvo Sedan and prepared myself for a solo drive across the United States.  I’d never felt lonelier. But after eight years in San Francisco, it was time to get back to New York, to my family and friends and eventually Moira. A few years beyond that, and I’d be heading straight for Lynn.

The above is the 8th installment of a hilarious ongoing series by author and squirrel hunter Amy Bronwen Zemser called “How to Thaw Your Unborn Child.” Start at the beginning here. Return next week for the next installment. And read more of Amy’s adventures on her blog, AmyBronwenZemser.com

Amy on coming out, homophilia & sexual identity:
My Husband Has No Penis


  1. In this new gay-is-in millennium, it’s easy to read this as a triumph of personal identity and self-acceptance.

    Now let’s think about this husband guy for a second.

    He’s like, “wait a minute… you MARRIED me, now you’re cheating on me, leaving, and claiming that there was always an absence of chemistry? Oh, and you just found out you’re gay? Just now, after a lifetime of male partners and, ahem, ostensibly inviolable vows to one of those partners? So, where does this leave me? Alone and wifeless and humiliated? What the FUCK!?”

    I’m glad that the author found herself, but let’s not gloss over that someone got MAJORLY dicked over for that to happen.

    What if a 50-year old man decided that he hadn’t felt it for his 50-year old wife in a decade? He wasn’t dying to come home to her at night, he certainly didn’t want to have sex with her anymore… and frankly he felt young at heart. So he meets this 22 year old girl who lights up his pleasure centers, starts an affair with her, and he leaves 3 months later. And they have a great time together! The guy is definitely pleased with his decision! He’s never been happier!

    Do we give him a pass too? To we look to him for memoirs and advice? I think we all know the answer to that…

    I’m glad things are working out for the author, but she’s no hero just because the two people in this story are both women.

  2. See, this bothers me. This is how women cheat. They overlap. Like, it’s ok to cheat on your partner if it results in a new, passionate relationship. Because then it’s true love, right? And you have to be true to yourself, right? And what force natural or artificial could stand in the way of true love? It’s like, the cosmos planned it and little baby Cupid shot you both in the ass with a heart-shaped arrow, so, cool, right? And let’s not forget emotion. Oh, you fell in LOVE. That makes it SO much better.

    This is a story about 2 women cheating on their spouses. It deserves no applause. In the author’s case, there wasn’t even anything wrong with the marriage. He was a good guy and there was love between them.

    Sorry, there is nothing special about this relationship. You’re just two cheaters who did something wrong together. One was sick of her partner, the other was just excited by a new parter. That’s how so many cheat situations go.

    I’m less judgmental about the actual infidelity than I am about the whole tone here. Like, if you can cast the bad thing you did as a journey of self-discovery, then it’s all cool.

    Nope. To me your motives, your entire inner process… irrelevant. Married guys who stick their dicks in other women, shower off, and go home to their wives like nothing ever happened have their reasons too. You succumbed to lust, and now you want a pass. Well, nope. Good read, but you still did something bad to someone you made oaths to, lady.

Comments are closed.