When a married woman falls in love with a man other than her husband, it can be traumatic and life-changing for her. But when she falls in love with another woman, the experience is many times more intense and difficult, according to Carren Strock, author of Married Women Who Love Women.
Strock knows what she is talking about. She was married for 25 years and the mother of two children when she fell in love with her best female friend, Toby.
“In the space of six months my mind had become completely disordered,” she writes. “My value system failed me. Suddenly I, who had been so sure about everything, knew nothing.”
When she found the courage to tell Toby that she was in love with her, her situation grew worse. Toby rejected her and broke off their friendship, and Strock was left in a lonely agony.
As a way to help herself, Strock researched the subject of married women who love women, but even doing research was hard for her. She was almost too embarrassed to go into a feminist bookstore. As she rode home on the subway, she kept hiding the book she had purchased because it had the word “lesbian” in its title. It took every effort for her to find the courage to go a center for gays and lesbians to conduct more research. It was only when she got hundreds of replies to her advertisement asking women who had undergone similar experiences to write to her, that she realized her experience was not as uncommon as she thought.
Strock entered therapy, and after many months, she accepted that her entire identity and sense of selfhood had to change. She could not experience the deep levels of emotional attachment with her husband or any other man that she could feel with women, and she could not live an authentic life without that deep love. She compares her life before Toby as living in a dull gray world to the one with a “full spectrum of colors” that she found when she was in love with her friend.
Strock finally told her husband about what had happened to her. He did not take the news very well, and in one of the most touching parts of her book, she describes how they stayed up all night and cried together. Then she came out to her children, friends and family. She describes how their reactions ranged from supportive to shocked to rejecting, depending partly on their own issues about sexuality and marriage.
Strock takes the story of her life and interweaves it with stories of other women who went through similar journeys of self-discovery. She describes “the immediate sense of rightness” that she and others felt the first time they made physical love to other women, but she also discusses the complexity of figuring out what to do next, including solving practical issues such as child care, sleeping arrangements, and financial independence.
Strock and her husband ultimately decided to remain in their marriage, but to redefine it in a way that works for both of them.
“Seventeen years after coming out to him, our friendship is stronger than ever,” Strock writes. “Both our children our married now, and at their weddings, I danced with my husband and with the special women in my life.” She says that other married women who love women can create an authentic arrangement that works for them and their families. But she also cautions, “It didn’t just happen. I worked hard to make their world and mine, work.”
Strock, Carren, Married Women Who Love Women (Second Edition). New York: Routledge, 2008.