The Gay Divorcée

Bridget Randolph used to be married and miserable, but these days she’s separated and delighted. A slender, ivory-skinned 39-year-old with perfectly arched eyebrows, she is stunning and yet remote, as though used to keeping people at arm’s length. In the country-chic living room of her Chelsea townhouse, she tells me her story with a mix of shyness and exhibitionism, like a geisha who’s smoked too much pot.

Raised in a conservative Catholic family, Bridget had always felt pressure from her parents to settle down early. She married the first man she slept with, Nathaniel, her boyfriend at Yale. “I promised myself that I wouldn’t have sex until I was married,” she says, “but once I did, I modified it that I would marry the first person I slept with.”

After graduation, they wanted to travel to France, but her parents said they had to get engaged first. “So we got engaged, and went to France, and we had set a date to get married because my parents wouldn’t let us get engaged without setting a date. Then we had to come back for the wedding. Everything was dictated to us.”

They moved to the city and she got a job in a Soho art gallery. One night, her gallery threw a party, and on the way back from the bathroom she spotted Nathaniel and her gay-male co-worker making out by the art racks. “They both looked at me and said, ‘What?,’ like, ‘What’s the big deal?’ And then they moved apart.”

Nathaniel insisted she had imagined the whole thing. “And for years I believed him because I wanted to believe the fairy tale that I had in my head.” She stayed in denial even though she knew that he had been abused by a man as a child, later had a relationship with him, and had gone to gay parties at Yale.

With the gay question, as with everything else in the relationship, her solution was to apply a Band-Aid, a temporary solution that would cover up the problem without actually healing it. One of her first Band-Aids was her decision to have a baby. “Hope springs eternal, right?” she laughs. “I thought if I had kids I wouldn’t be so lonely. But whatever you’re going through before you have kids is only intensified once you have them.”

They had a girl, but when she decided to have a second child it wasn’t as easy—though she was so out of touch she didn’t know why. “I remember going to my OB/GYN and saying, ‘I’m wondering if there’s something wrong with me. I’ve been trying to get pregnant for a year.’ He said, ‘Well, how often are you having sex?’ and I said, ‘Oh. Never mind.’ ”

Eventually she became pregnant with her son. They bought a townhouse, and as her next avoidance project, she poured herself into the renovation. “Everything was getting things neat and tidy for this future that never seems to be happening.”

The saddest moment in the renovation came when the bathroom was finished. She was getting in the Jacuzzi to take her first bath and had a panic attack. “I was scared to death to get in the tub. I didn’t think I deserved to live in a place like this that I had worked so hard to build. I thought I was going to be punished. It was the Catholic guilt. I had to have three glasses of champagne before I could get in.”

Over the next few years, as the house was completed, she and Nathaniel grew further apart, sexually and emotionally. “He had a single-minded focus on work, and then when he came home to relax, he drank. I got more and more depressed. I would sit at the dinner table and he was spewing facts about work, and the kids were asking me questions, everyone talking at the same time. I remember wishing I could just erase myself from the scene because I was not even there.”

He moved out shortly before September 11. For a while she didn’t date anyone because her sexual confidence was so low, but in the spring she went to the south of France with some friends for a bullfighting festival. They were at a restaurant when a 21-year-old Venezuelan bullfighter who had just won an ear and a tail walked in. Later that night, she saw him at a bar and he invited her up to his room, where he said he would sign a photo, though she hadn’t asked for one.

They play-acted a bullfight in bed. “He said the key to a good bullfight was despacio, slowly, slowly. I was the bull and he kept going, ‘Olé!’ ” But in the morning, after the champagne had worn off, she was repulsed, and when he asked her to come to Madrid with him for his next fight, she said no.

Back in the city, she started therapy, to try to understand what went wrong in the marriage. That summer, when a female friend invited her to Greece, she agreed. But for security, she brought her kids and gay manny. One night she met a 27-year-old bartender named Nikos. “He kept giving me drinks, and then I had a shot that put me over the edge. I started dancing with this gay guy. He went up on the bar and then ‘I Will Survive’ came on and I went up with him.”

Nikos drove her to her hotel on his motorcycle and they had “a very wet experience. He told me he’d never seen a woman come like that.” He sent her erotic e-mails, and later in the summer she went back for two weeks of wall-to-wall sex. “Sex with my husband had been debilitating. After Nikos, I realized I was really into sex, when all along I had thought something was wrong with me.”

These days she’s seeing someone new, a male friend, and feels relieved to be sleeping with someone she knows well. She and Nathaniel are closer now than they were during the marriage, but as for his sexuality, “I feel like I’ll never know. It would explain a lot.”

She feels more self-aware now than she used to, but then again, that’s not saying much. “I’m not afraid of getting to the bottom of things now, even if it involves finding out things I don’t want to know. My boyfriend and I have more clashes than Nathaniel and I did, but I’m not afraid of them. It’s hard sometimes, but it’s healthier.”

The Gay Divorcée