If there’s one thing I’ve learned about myself as an adult human, it’s that I’m a people pleaser.
“Hello, I’m Carey. What can I immediately do to make myself uncomfortable in order to make you completely comfortable? What about myself should I conceal and blur to make you feel better about yourself and better about me? How can I minimize my existence and desires to be the person you’ll be unable to find a reason not to like?”
That kind of thing.
I can contort my mind and sometimes my body to bend to the will of others. It takes many different forms, but regardless, each time I’m aware I’m doing it, the pain zings me somewhere inside and I’m able to spot the spectre—the illusionist, the shapeshifter that I am. In some ways, he and I had that in common.
I’ve maybe even been the liar, the thief, the manipulator, the doormat. It’s not always pleasant.
I’m someone who hates to disappoint, hates to fail, and lives to make other people happy. How many different ways can this manifest itself before I’m able to spot it at the apex? I’ll tell you two: Forgiving Rob, and concealing what Rob did from the world to help you forgive him, too. Letting you tell me how happy you were we’d chosen to remain friends, letting you see how well I was doing—it was a salve for the awkwardness of it all. I coated you all with my ability to forgive and move on.
And now, it’s become too much. Knowing he’s moved back to my town is too much. Seeing my friends supporting him is expected, but seeing them support Jake—that instigator, coward, interloper, liar, coconspirator—has simply become too much for me to bear. It feels like such a vicious offense against what I’ve been through and what I thought I meant to you that I’ve got to let all the chips fall on the table and then, in the mess of it, find a place to set down my whiskey glass. Because I’ve had enough.
In this situation I’ve found myself navigating the last two years, I’ve seen myself continually doing what I could to sanitize the issue so it was more palatable to others. Taking a PC tack, I generalized and eliminated details and allowed others to believe the version of the story that was most convenient for them.
Poor Rob, poor gay Rob who finally came to terms with who he was, lost his wife and cat and home, poor Rob, who had his world turned upside down, who had to face this difficult truth. Poor Rob, poor Carey, poor everyone in this unforgiving world with this weird thing that came out of left field.
Gender fluidity. The spectrum of homosexuality. Mind-numbing Schedule-II drugs popped like breath mints for a decade. Loving someone so much you try to will yourself straight for them. Fear. Shame. Society. Blame everything all you want. Blame the world. Hell, blame yourself. But for god’s sake don’t blame him, right?
Only recently did I realize that my ability to scatter daisies over this mess was preventing me from moving on. I put it out there on Facebook on the two-year anniversary of the day and even then managed to wrap that bomb in a bow. People called me brave, recognized the perhaps disingenuous tone to “take it easy on gay people” and lauded me for it as if still, nobody did anybody dirty.
It was meant to eliminate the rumors and lies that I had cheated. But in a flash of regret, I wanted to take it all back and tell the real real story, to uncover the depth of the deceit—the lies he told me and told himself. The way he let me fight for us when he didn’t want to, the way he always—from day one—chose me for the convenience of me.
Because at the very core of this situation, the black magic that made it all a possible was the ability to tell a lie—to ourselves, and to those around us. Perhaps to a lesser degree than lies is occluding the truth to keep a safe distance between you and those around you. I lived that, man.
As many times as it has come to a head and I’ve erupted in a volcanic display of recognition, I still wasn’t willing to claim justice for myself. It felt too permanent of a shot to take, and knowing my reflexive need to make amends and smooth things over, bearing witness to what really happened made me feel like I was an addict sheepishly turning down rehab. I didn’t want to give you guys the truth because I was worried I wouldn’t be able to take it back.
If there’s one other thing I’ve learned about myself in my adult life, it’s that I have a bone in my body that makes me unable to let go of certain things. I used to think it was a justice bone, but now I know it’s not. It’s an accountability bone. I just want people held accountable. I’m an accountability warrior.
I suppose I couldn’t quite let go of the idea that he could always admire me, or more so, I couldn’t let go of the upper hand, that spot on the top block that meant I’d always behaved with such perfect dignity and grace that I could never be held accountable for anything when they put me inside the ground.
That, well, that’s just too heavy a load for me to carry anymore.
This isn’t about that marriage’s end being the right, good thing to happen. This isn’t about the new norms. This isn’t about how inherently wrong the marriage was, and how I’m free and have a second chance. It’s not about me being better off, or in a better place, or moving on—although those things are true. It’s also not about fidelity because no one’s perfect. But what it is about is lies and premeditation and accountability. And that even when shit sucked royally, I fought for it. Even when I didn’t want to fight anymore, I refused to give up. Even when I was ready to walk away, I couldn’t imagine hurting that guy.
Likely because I didn’t have the silver bullet he did to allow me to walk away: Being gay. The most convenient of inconveniences to an unhappy hetero marriage.
That’s the thing about Rob—he always finds a safe spot to land, it really is stunning to witness sometimes. A lot of that has to do with all our collective ability to forgive him, give him a hand, never hold him accountable, and just pass off long absences as “Rob being Rob.” He has this gift to conceal himself and yet somehow always tease up sympathy and support from those around him. Not that I’m not guilty of it; I was that worn-out mattress by the end of 2015, and I’m happy to pass the torch. Harsh, I know, since he certainly experienced his own trauma, but no matter how hard he’s fallen—and he has, he’s been through some shit—he has always, always managed to have someone waiting at the bottom with a soft, billowy parachute.
To which I say: If Jake were another woman, a mistress, not a man, not his longtime best friend, I guarantee you that you wouldn’t all be there waiting, eager to accept him after the fall. And I wouldn’t so easily be dismissed.
And that’s not on me.
Flipping the script.
On November 13 of 2015, 6 coordinated attacks occurred across Paris.
Suicide bombings and mass shootings brought the city to its knees, sending waves of hysteria and horror as people’s lives changed in an instant. One minute, it’s business as usual. The next, normal as they knew it had vanished.
That night, people were in cafes, at concerts, at football matches—smiling, unworried about tomorrow, cheering, surrounded by people they loved. There was a subconscious trust in the normalcy of universe around them—because how can you live any other way?. A complacency in normalcy. In those moments before the fallout, it’s easy to take for granted. And then it was as if everyone’s collective brain chemistry had changed—because of shock sustained, because of the new reality they rubbed their eyes to.
Now stop. Imagine for a second that there was no feasible way for the victims in these various locations to know that the same thing was happening to others nearby at precisely the same time—thus widening their lens to the actual truth, the real story of the threat. Imagine no TV, no phones, no internet, no communication. Cut off. Without that knowledge, they would have been isolated, unable to understand the sheer magnitude of the situation or to put the pieces together to solve it.
Out of the blue, you’d think, if you were there. Carefully planned, you’d think, had you pulled it off.
A random attack often doesn’t carry the same sinister weight as a highly calculated, coordinated one, right? And when it was all over, they’d be unable to help one another, to answer the questions: What!? Why? For how long had it been in the works? And how did we miss this?
A single shooter is one thing. Rogue, comprehensible, and manageable. However, expand their network, add more players to the mix, give them a common cause, and the motivations lignify. The script flips.
They lied to us, then they kept us from one another. And now you’re going to hear about it so you can choose whether or not you care about accountability.
The iron-clad eventuality of truth.
On September 5 of 2015, two men, best friends for over a year, both confronted their wives on an otherwise normal, sunny Saturday morning in Richmond, VA to tell them that they were gay. Normalcy as the two women knew it vanished. Trust in anything evaporated. The world around them was suddenly wildly foreign, uncertain, and what had just been taken for granted moments before—even the slow inhale and exhale of breathing—now seemed impossible.
You already know one half of the narrative—mine. Working my ass off, not bringing kids into a marriage that felt “off,” but refusing to give up on it. I struggled with my self-esteem and constant, tiny rejections and I fought questions of self-worth and battled resentment, I took things I was offered that I perhaps should not have—sustenance when I was starving—but I was as dedicated as I could be within the fragile boundaries of sanity. I was completely blindsided by the revelation after being with him on an extended European vacation—one on which he disappeared frequently before I’d even woken up in the morning.
He was pining for his love while I was nervously wondering why mine was avoiding me.
The other woman on that day is a fucking spitfire of a woman, a new mother in her late twenties, headed home from out of town to spend Labor Day with her husband. She’d tell it better than I can, but she was planning the food she was going to make for the holiday in her head as she drove. They had a new baby, and a happy, normal life.
Now, we knew each other and had spent time together as couples numerous times, but for the most part, they had left us behind as they forged this new relationship. We were afterthoughts, there to open the door when he came calling, to make him a beer in the kitchen, to leave the two of them be inside her own goddamned home, then to wave them off the front porch when they went wherever the fuck they always went. They fed off our trust. This and many other pieces would all fall into place, but not for many months.
Same day. Same scenarios. Same life-shattering news. With one big thing in common: Neither of the men revealed to his wife the truth about his best friend, the other man. In fact, they blatantly lied about it to protect themselves. And who knows how long they would have let our respective marriages drag out until they found that catalyst to walk away.
My situation in particular still makes my blood boil to this day because of the sheer cowardice of it all. Do you go for the big boom—detonate the whole building and face the rubble—or do you place landmines around its hallways for her to step on, month after month, trying to rebuild between explosions, only to have another knock her off her legs? He chose the latter (probably to protect me), and I’m still exhausted.
Jake was my very first logical explanation for this absurd revelation. In fact, he was the first words from my mouth when he said: “I’m gay.” “Is it Jake? It’s Jake, isn’t it. It’s Jake. Is it him? Is he gay too?” And his immediate reply, not missing a beat, was “No, it’s not. Jake’s not even gay,” a lie that would perpetuate in those darkest first hours as I struggled to make sense of it all.
Two days later, he admitted to me that Jake was, in fact, gay, but that they agreed not to be in contact with one another anymore. That he had “no idea what was happening with them or their marriage,” insinuating to me that she may not even know her husband was gay. How could I have been so foolish as to believe? We were in the car to go retrieve his suitcase from the hotel overlooking the Home Depot so he could come back home and regroup when he told me this. All I remember saying through gritted teeth was: “You are in seriously deep shit.”
I remember later hearing that Jake was infuriated that Rob had told me, for reasons I can only assume are that they’d made an agreement and Rob had deviated from the plan. “I had to tell her,” he’d said. “She’s being so nice, and she’s letting me stay. I can’t keep it from her.” I wanted to get in my car and find Jake and murder him—he felt so devious to me in that moment.
Worse, though, was nearly all of my forgiveness and compassion was fueled by one thing: I assumed Rob was totally alone, scared, and navigating this new world without me all on his own. It tore my heart out. I picture him on his knees in front of me while I sat in the armchair, sobbing, then taking his head into my lap and holding him, assuring him it would be ok, that we’d get through it, that I wouldn’t throw him on the street. I’d invite him over for lunch because I worried about his loneliness. When he ran the marathon a couple months later, I got out of bed and ran in the freezing cold to wave to him from the corner, tears streaming down my face at the thought he’d done this all alone with nobody to cheer him on. When he moved to Oregon, I’d mail postcards with song lyrics, cards, gifts, and little packages. I sent him across country with the cactus I’d given him riding shotgun behind the seatbelt.
Little did I know he’d had a built-in support system the entire time, someone who he had feelings for who could be the only person he’d ever really need. And it was such a betrayal, I can’t even tell you. I’ve never felt more foolish in my entire life.
Jake, meanwhile, a new dad, was still lying to his wife that Rob was straight as they continued to spend all their time together. That’s not even the worst part. The reason he gave for Rob and I splitting up? That we divorced because I was a hateful bitch who didn’t want children because I was worried it would ruin my body. Yes, you read that right. Leave me for your boyfriend, then say that I was the reason you left. Fuck me sideways, that one hurt.
Through clever manipulation, they kept us in the dark, separate from one another, clueless about what was happening. They even told Samantha that I didn’t like her, so not to reach out to me. Unable to draw the connection, neither of us was aware of the perfect ally who existed out there—the one other person in the world who could understand what we were going through. The one person who could help make sense of it. The only person who could share the pain.
And when we did finally speak, you can bet we put it all together. And as we faced them with the truth, they still managed to lie to our faces.
To which I wonder: How could they possibly think that it wouldn’t have all come out someday? Were they just that stupid?
Friend or foe?
If you’re hoping I’ll tell you right now that I got in my car after learning the truth, drove to his new apartment and slapped him fully across the face, you’re in luck: I did. I also took a shovel to his car because he refused to come down and talk to me to my face—coward.
I remember the first time I met Jake. If a person could nervously wring their hands with their eyes, he did. There was a weakness that came off him like steam, but also a hunger. I remember thinking the first minute I met him that he wanted desperately to have my life, to take my place. There was an unapologetic way to how he interacted with Rob right in front of me that made me feel like he was attempting to exclude me.
I remember all the times I waved goodbye to Rob as he went to spend time with him, never questioning anyone’s loyalty. Things nagged at me—the time they went just the two of them to spend the night on Jake’s boat and didn’t invite the wives, the way they texted constantly, the unquestioning devotion to a new friend that meant we’d give him our mattress instead of putting it in storage—that I did my best to ignore. Then there were the transgressions I found it harder to ignore: the surrendering of every weekend morning to time with him instead of me, waking up to an empty bed, or waking up to a bed with someone in it on their phone, a smile drawing at the corners of his mouth. The time right before the end when we were at a destination wedding and had hours to spare, and I playfully suggested we spend them in the room—and he instead chose to go with his best friend to an all-male nude hot springs sauna. I lay on the bed in a robe staring at the ceiling that day, wondering what was so wrong with me.
It came to a blistering, mind-boggling head on the day their baby was born. We had done things together as a couple, but perhaps three or four times. In the year they became best friends. So as easy as it was to feel an approximate closeness to Samantha just by way of our husbands’ friendship, I knew they had lifelong best friends in this town who were supposed to be in that hospital room that day—not us. Not me.
The morning we awoke to news of the birth, he had a spring in his step. I’d always known Rob to love babies, but this felt misplaced. He hadn’t been this excited about the birth of either of his nieces. I felt myself falling quiet into that dark, withdrawn place I go when something’s wrong. I remember voicing that I didn’t want to go, which he met with what I can only describe as a threatening tone a voice—a “say that again and you’ll regret it” tone. When they needed more time, we stopped at a place down the block for margaritas. The tequila relaxed me, gave me a bit of optimism. I went into the beer-stained bathroom and took a picture that I posted with the caption: “Smells like college.”
When we arrived at the hospital, the confounding panic was rising from my feet up to my chest. I had no explanation for it, no idea where it came from. We shook hands with some family members in the waiting room, heard stories of the birth, and my chin—against all logic—began to quiver. I had to excuse myself quickly, racing down a hallway until I found a bathroom. I went in, put both hands on the sink, and exploded into tears. I sobbed, feeling such a weird, wide range of emotions: disgust, sadness, nausea, confusion, coercion, out of place, alienated, the distinct feeling you’re being forced to do something you don’t want—wrong.
I called my mom from that bathroom—something she and I still talk about to this day. It was as if neither of us could put our finger on what was so wrong about it, but we could agree that it was. “I don’t know why but I can’t be here, I don’t want to be here,” I sobbed. “He’s being mean to me about it, he forced me to come. I don’t want to be here.” I recall now his frustration with me at being reticent to go. He wanted to be with the man he loved on this important day—and my body was resisting it with everything it had.
I hope you think of this when you like their Instagram photos, by the way.
In hindsight, it’s clear: They had thrown caution to the wind that day to celebrate that moment together. She and I were just prisoners in that room and we didn’t even know it.
We sat in the hospital room and I watched in bewilderment as Rob planted small kisses on the newborn baby’s forehead—the new baby of people that for all intents and purposes were strangers to me. Every cell in my body told me to flee. I’ve never felt anything so wrong in my entire life, and I didn’t even know what it was.
My instincts from day one were that this man wanted my husband and was going to try and take him from me. In a way, I found it funny in its futility—as if I was “unleavable” and we were unbreakable. I think that underscored my confidence around him, that loitering spy. I hated the way he walked into the front door and his eyes would dart around, as if he was sizing up his future, picturing himself there in my absence. I would always be nice, but never too nice.
I also remember standing in the foyer one day and feeling bold, saying to Rob “I think Jake is gay.” He started, looked away and said, his voice peaking a bit, “Ya think?” He never confirmed or denied my suspicion.
I was close, but only about halfway there.
Beware the blue sky days.
Rob used to always talk about 9/11. Living in New Jersey, he was close to it. His town lost many people when the towers fell. “Clear, blue, not a cloud in the sky,” I think was what he used to say, a far-off look in his eyes. Whenever there’s a day like that, I look up and I hear him say that, and I say to myself, “No disasters today.” If I can’t confidently say that, I try to quickly assess the world as I know it for potential disasters. If I can’t think of any, I keep moving, like the thought was an intersection I had to slow into before driving on.
Speaking of moving on, I’m aware of how easy it is to see that I’ve moved on (and I have) and to take that as permission to feel comfortable supporting him in his new life—especially given his apparent fragility and victimhood, or his victory against such terrible odds. (Your choice, I suppose.) I can see how for some people, supporting a newly gay couple can make you feel good: benevolent, accepting, a better member of society. Maybe it really does just make sense to you and you’re happy.
I’ve tried everything I can to understand it, and I can’t. I’ve sat alone for hours and tried to transport myself into his shoes through meditation, imagining a life where I date women and marry one because it’s what I’m supposed to do, only to realize one day I like men, and what a revelation it would be to finally be with one. But I can’t—I can’t make it click. Because I would have always known I’d loved men. I’ve taken those long looks in the mirror, those long necessary looks inside to find the things you don’t want to find but need to find. I can’t make sense of it, but that’s not the point—the way it all unfolded is. It tinges it with malevolence. Really, though, this isn’t about me. I support him finding himself and being gay, I just can’t support him being with Jake. I hope that makes sense. I’d be right by him and in his life if he were with any other man—just not that one. Not the one I didn’t trust from the minute I met him.
Why now? Because I stepped on another landmine recently, and I’m convinced Jake put it there on purpose.
On another blue sky day, a bullshit social media account dedicated to broadcasting their new life back in my town on Instagram—a life they can already broadcast respectively on their own accounts—was thrown directly into my face with a notification it was now following me. Are two just not enough attention? Are you trying to get a new sponsored deal with Pull-ups, or to get a feature on the Ellen Show? This dumb thing completely pressed the reset button on all the progress I made over the last year. Again, it reset all the dignity and forgiveness.
In Rob’s and my tenuous, light shell of a post-divorce relationship with its ups and downs, he has never said Jake’s name aloud. He never mentioned him, or how he was, or when he was coming to visit, or that they were even together. It was as if he didn’t exist. That night, the Instagram night, suddenly both accounts were public. With snot running down my face as I sat in a heap on my closet floor, I went down a rabbit hole to see all of their photos I’d never seen, to see all of the friends who had supported these photos without me knowing, and it reset my understanding of the situation. Noses pressed into the other’s hair for a kiss. It reset the reality of every moment from that day until now, and let me tell you—realizing you were living a lie for 8+ years is bad enough. Going on to live the next year and a half in another, new, worse lie—it will fuck a person up in a bad way.
“Why now?” Because it’s time to regain my dignity. I’ve looked like a clueless fool for too long, continuing to forgive the unforgiveable and put him on a pedestal. Because it’s time to set the record straight. Because it’s my goddamned story to tell. Because too many of my friends still don’t know the truth and are too afraid to ask. Because of my accountability bone. Because too many people have no idea what I’ve been through, and it’s time.
“Why now? It’s been over two years, Carey, why aren’t you over it?” That’s a complicated question for me to answer because I have so many different audiences here: a boyfriend, family, friends who have supported me, friends who have supported him, people who will call me a bigot and a hypocrite, and people who will call me weak. I’ve written drafts of this in my head when I couldn’t sleep at night, my heart pounding, for over a year. Because it still hurts.
But I’ve had it. I’ve had it up to here and above and beyond that. And up until just a few days ago, he was still a big part of my life: a crutch, a sympathetic ear, a source of advice and help, someone to share silly photos with, and someone to share success and happiness with.
I realized it wasn’t doing me any favors at all.
Let me leave you with a message—one I’ll go into more detail in when I write the book. And the message is: It’s ok to not be sure from day one. It’s ok to be confused. It’s ok to be scared. It’s ok not to know who you are until later. It’s ok to fear what you might see in when you look inside those dark places of yourself.
But it’s not ok to marry someone, to get down on a knee and ask them to promise to love you for life, if you’re not sure, if you’re confused, if you’re scared, or if don’t know who you are. You absolutely, 100% must know what’s in those dark places before you ask someone else to promise to love them for you.
I can’t get those years back, but hopefully, I can keep the next gay man from taking them from another woman.
The road to hell is paved with good intentions, but I’m here to tell you that there are alternate routes.
And to beware the clear blue sky days; they exist to take you out at the knees.
I’ve had the reset button hit for me every time the hard truth I so desperately needed to hear was kept from me, then eventually revealed, and it’s wearing on me. I can see it wearing on Chad. I just wanted it to stop, so I pulled the plug. Part of that is putting this here. I’m un-encircling my arms from around him, that protective embrace that willed no one to hate him or blame him.
It’s not my cross to bear anymore.