What Happens When Your Role Models’ Marriage Hits The Rocks

If they can't make it, is there hope for us?

I remember when I got together with my first girlfriend in college. I wanted us to work—I wanted us to be great, actually, in order for me to justify my gayness with my perfect relationship—so I looked around for someone to look up to. At that time I did not know one married, stable, “grown up” queer couple. And between my fellow-college-student peers in LGBT relationships, and in the lesbian relationships I saw on TV (I came out when the L-word did), I mostly saw examples of the kind of relationship I didn’t want. So, my girlfriend and I noted the things we wanted to avoid, and we made the rest up as we went along.

Since that time, circumstances have improved for me, both in the relationship and in the relationship role model department. My wife, Julie, and I have been lucky enough to have some good gay lady friends and mentors, personally and professionally, and now we have some LGBT marriage role models to emulate as well. Which made it even more complicated when we recently became aware that one of our lesbian married couple role models was struggling. I mean, nobody is thrilled to hear that their friends are dealing with a rough patch, but when those friends are some of the only happily married gay people you personally see, it’s much easier to make it into a harbinger of imminent personal doom. We talked about our friends while we walked our dog in the park, and Julie half-jokingly said what we’d both been thinking, “They’re amazing. If they can’t make it, there’s no hope for us.”

The worst part was, the particular struggle this couple was having hit uncomfortably close to home. They’ve been dealing with differing viewpoints on baby making, and that metaphorically socked us both in the gut. Because, let’s be real. Lesbian baby making is not exactly straightforward, and we already know we’re headed down a steep and twisty path. Now, suddenly, we had incontrovertible proof that this process we’re right in the middle of considering could be perilous.

We knew, abstractly, that babies would be hard (the hosting another human in your body thing, the sleeping thing, the working thing, the whole possible inability to protect them from peril and tragedy and heartbreak thing), but now it wasn’t abstract at all. Acquisition and parenting of a kid has the potential to take us—take our marriage—right up to the edge, as demonstrated by our friends who we pretty much thought were much better at all of this than we were.

Of course, we’re not the only couple to be undone by parenting and marriage role models. Our friend, I’ll call her Lena, and her husband have a five-month-old baby. He is absolutely darling, and it’s good that he’s cute because his parents haven’t actually slept since he was born. Lena is a wonderful, loving, devoted parent—and a very smart woman. She put her formidable brain to work on the problem, and asked herself, in this situation, what would Bridget do? Our friend Bridget and her husband do seem to do everything well, and they are indeed wonderful parents to their toddler daughter. However, once her son refused to sleep for, well, his whole life so far, Lena lost some perspective. When she considered what Bridget would try, she forgot about the stories Bridget had told about buying every product on Amazon that promised some relief when her daughter refused to sleep for the first six months. She no longer remembered that Bridget and her spouse had moved into the guest bedroom in their stunning mountain home for a month because their baby was awake so often while they tried to teach her to sleep in her crib, that climbing the stairs from their room to hers fifteen times a night was no longer feasible. Instead, when Lena’s son finally slept in his swing, her sense of relief was washed away by doubt. She just knew that Bridget never would have had to resort to the swing. She would have instinctively known the answer, and it would have been perfect, and Lena would never be like that. And when finally Lena told Bridget, she laughed, because obviously she’d let her daughter sleep in the swing… or anywhere else she’d sleep even for a second. Obviously.

No matter the circumstances that led you there, feeling like you’re at the end of your rope always feels the same—no way out, and all alone. The email from our friends that detailed their current circumstances felt so familiar to me, because we’ve been there already, not the exact same situation, but crying and yelling at each other from opposite sides of the room, opposite sides of the damn planet. And feeling so shitty, not only because we’re fighting, but because, at that moment, deep down inside, we know that the people we admire—successful people—don’t ever, ever act like this. Strong people never let it get to this point.

But the whole point of community is to show us that’s a lie. When we start to look up to people, we don’t do it because we think they’re perfect. We do it because we like them, and we admire them. But then we get lost, and we end up comparing ourselves, and finding ourselves wanting—completely without evidence. To have people around us to remind us of the real truth was one of the whole points of having a wedding for me. We needed our community around us, to have a stake in our marriage, to remind us not only that we have their support but also that we are not alone in our wild imperfection. That they have also let their babies sleep in the swing, that they have gone to bed angry, that they struggled when they discussed the direction they wanted their futures to follow, and that they kept going forward anyway.

But now, it’s our turn to remind our friends that they’re not alone. And then we need to remind ourselves of that same thing. If deciding to have a baby isn’t what makes us doubt the strength of our marriage, then it will be something else, and we have to believe that we’ll get through it. Or maybe we won’t. But since we have no way of knowing, why not try? At least by trying, and believing, I know we’re modeling what I want anyone looking up to us to see.

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