AN E-MAIL FROM WILLIAM:
It must seem like I have 2 lives, but in reality I think I have three. One is the life that most people know me for, the other is the life you are interested in, and the third is probably the real me … I was looking in the mirror over the weekend, and thought who am I really and how did I get here? It’s sort of cliché but if I had a soundtrack it would be Talking Heads “Once in a Lifetime.” Maybe that song is even somewhat symbolic, like that real me is somewhere lost in the 80s, because that’s where the 2 other me’s took over. You asked about going to college and coming into yourself. I think I did make some realizations, but always took the easy path. I didn’t have the courage to make any real changes … I enjoyed my life too much, so I pushed the me interested in men down. I kept on taking the easy path “letting the days go by—water flowing underground”. I do sometimes ask myself … “how did I get here?” Now I feel totally committed, maybe even trapped into continuing this life.
After he proposed to Lisa, William set about actively dismantling his other life. He had multiple e-mail addresses registered under false names, which he canceled, along with his online profiles. He removed the instant-message “buddies” he knew primarily for flings and flirtation. “I just stopped,” he tells me, “like a habit you would stop cold turkey.” He informed a handful of online acquaintances—the ones he considered friends—that he was moving in with a woman he loved. One of his closest friends, an openly gay man William had never met, was worried. Would he ever hear from William again? “I told him not to worry,” says William. “I said we would be in touch. We still are.” Others were harsher in their reactions. “They told me it couldn’t work, that I was crazy,” William recalls. “I told them that if they didn’t like it they could stop talking to me.”
William and Lisa bought an apartment together in a modern building uptown, a place with an extra room that would be perfect as a nursery. Eventually they would have a child, but in these early days, when they were free of responsibility, they traveled frequently and went out a lot, eating at the restaurants reviewed that week in the Times. They were seen by their friends, William imagines, as stable, loving, a good match. Sexually, he says, they had excellent chemistry; even now that the sex has become “routine,” he still considers it good “for a married couple.” When I tell him that I find this hard to understand—how does a man who considers himself gay have what he calls a “healthy” sex life with a woman?—he seems to find the question unsophisticated. “I have always liked being with women, and sexually I enjoy them as well,” he says. “Maybe I was deluding myself, but I just felt like she was the one.”
For a year and a half, she was. This changed the day William received an e-mail from a man in Washington, D.C., whom he had been with in the past: I’m in town for the weekend. Wanna play? William didn’t respond. The man wrote him again. This still your e-mail? The next day, during his lunch break, William met the man at his midtown hotel. “How’ve you been?” the man asked. William didn’t mention that he had gotten married. He didn’t mention that his life had drastically changed in any way, and, in a sense, he did not feel like he was lying. This life had not changed.
ANOTHER INSTANT-MESSAGE EXCHANGE:
Me: Is there less guilt now than there used to be?
Him: Not really, always the same. I rationalize a lot, I guess.
Me: What’s the rationalization?
Him: If I didn’t do this from time to time I would most likely go crazy. It’s like a release.
Me: Do you ever worry about your wife detecting something? That you smell different, for instance?
Him: Of course. I check for smells. I stay away from guys that use a lot of cologne.
Me: And what do you mean when you say you do things to make up for it?
Him: Extra time here and there. Surprise gifts.
Me: Have you ever thought it would be easier—in the long run—if you just allowed it to fall apart, and could then reconstruct things in a way that involved less secrecy and guilt?
Him: Sure, someday.