I'm a 40-something man, straight and happily married – or so I thought. After a drunken throwaway comment from my sister-in-law at a family gathering, the penny suddenly dropped. It appears I've acted as a "beard" for my wife for many years, and I'm the last one to know.
With hindsight, I should have known something wasn't right. When we first met, I was low in myself as my previous partners had cheated and broken up with me due to my inability to satisfy them sexually (because of erection and stamina-related issues), which crushed me.
I was so relieved when I met my wife that she wasn't like my previous girlfriends, but I see now that my gratitude blinded me to the signs. The intense friendships with other women, usually one all-consuming best friend, who was always either single or in a dysfunctional marriage; all the spa weekends away and theatre trips and skiing holidays to which I was never invited. And of course, there's the easy-going attitude to our sex life, totally non-demanding.
On finding out about her apparent infidelity with a series of women, I'm not emotionally crushed or blaming myself as I did all those years ago. The thing I need advice on is what to do next. One part of me desperately wants to stay quiet and avoid rocking the boat. Another side of me feels I'm actively standing in the way of her living a more authentic life. I want to set her free to be her true self, but know I'd be unlikely to find another partner.
You have very rapidly jumped to a highly unlikely conclusion based on one drunken joke from one drunken person. This is extreme behaviour.
I think the reason you have done so is because of your own self-esteem issues left over from previous relationships. You were treated badly, and because you never worked on healing old wounds and locating your self-worth outside of relationships, you are clinging on to the false belief that you are disappointing and unworthy, and that this will inevitably be proven.
Maybe your wife's friendships are intense, which your sister-in-law and others judge due to their own insecure assumptions
This is why you have latched on to this idea of your wife’s sexuality and infidelity so easily: it feels correct to you that a woman would need an ulterior motive in order to accept you, that of course a partner would be unfaithful – but it’s also a relief to think that her alleged lesbianism means her lack of satisfaction isn’t your fault, this time.
But your previous partners’ ill-treatment of you was never your fault, and the “evidence” that your wife is gay – again: there has been one single drunken comment from a person who is not your wife – is non-existent. Women can have close, spa treatment-enjoying friendships. Maybe your wife’s friendships are intense, which your sister-in-law and others judge due to their own insecure assumptions regarding your wife’s independence or how friendships “should” operate.
Even if we take a giant, erroneous leap, maybe your wife is bisexual and some of her friendships include some crush energy. Neither of these options mean her love for you isn’t authentic or that she is cheating.
You need to speak to your wife. If you really want to “set her free”, she should be given the chance to clarify whether “freedom” would involve living authentically as a lesbian, or just going to the damn theatre without people making wild, life-changing speculations about her sexuality. However that conversation goes, I think some therapy would be a good idea to excavate your previous relationship trauma and how it affected your view of yourself.
You deserve any romantic partner you have to be loving and faithful. Please don’t continue moving through life assuming the opposite is true, and destroying your existing relationships in the process.
Roe McDermott is a writer and Fulbright scholar with an MA in sexuality studies. If you have a problem or query you would like her to answer (max 200 words), you can submit it anonymously at irishtimes.com/dearroe. Only questions selected for publication can be answered.