Fifty years ago, Cathy and I were married. December 31, 1972 was a rainy day on Long Island’s south shore. At the urging of her father, we had the ceremony at 11:30 pm, and were pronounced husband and wife shortly before midnight. Both of our fathers performed the ceremony. We were children, really. I was 21 and Cathy was 19. I was a senior in college and she was a sophomore.
We spent one more year in Kentucky before moving to upstate New York, and four years later Jonathan was born. Jael came two and a half years after that. Jana arrived in December of 1980. By the time the girls were born, we had moved to Long Island and were living about 10 miles from where we married.
Cathy and I were committed to each other, and to the institution of marriage. We assumed we would remain together for the rest of our lives. We were loyal, thoughtful, and kind with each other, even though we had the same kinds of issues common to all marriages. It is difficult living 24/7 with another human. Nevertheless, neither one of us ever strayed, and we never contemplated splitting up. We were committed for life.
The painful details that led to our separation are detailed in my book, As a Woman, What I Learned About Power, Sex, and the Patriarchy After I Transitioned. Writing that part of the story was supremely difficult.
We were at Mike Solomon’s office. Mike was our wise and seasoned marriage therapist and he had decided to retire. We just happened to be his last clients on his last day. I asked, “How many couples are willing to work this hard?” Mike, not given to hyperbole, answered, “One percent.” I asked, “How many couples get this far in working out their stuff?” Again, he said, “One percent.” Then he spoke the sentence we both found devastating. Mike said, “Which is what makes this so tragic. You are a lesbian and Cathy is not.”
The two-hour drive home was in silence. Our separation was slow and painful, moving through all the stages of loss. Today, Cathy lives about twenty-five minutes away. We share an office in the home we built together. She is here three days a week seeing clients. We often have dinner together. She stays at the house when the kids and grandkids are in town. We vacation together. But little else is as we would wish it to be.
I have gone on record a number of times saying I hope they are able to determine what causes a person to be transgender and change it in the womb. I wanted to be married to Cathy for life. But I also know I had little choice but to transition. Everyone with whom I was close, including Cathy, knew it was no longer sustainable for me to remain living as Paul. Therapists and close friends have all used the same word to describe our circumstances – tragic.
For Cathy and me, that language is descriptive, but not very helpful. Neither one of us wanted this, and it is profoundly difficult to know how to move forward. There are no examples before us, no counselors with the wisdom of experience to guide us, and no clear path ahead. These are uncharted waters. We navigate as best we can. Our respect for each other remains, as does our love. We both miss the intimacy we had in our marriage, but it is what it is.
On our anniversary we had a wonderful dinner together at our favorite restaurant. We spent the evening watching movies and talking, as we did through most of the holidays. We do not know where we go from here. We will write the script as we live it. While our life is not as dark as a Bergman film, I’m pretty sure no one but Jane Campion or Martin McDonagh would want to make it into a movie.
Life is difficult. It is that way for everybody. I do not believe our lives are any more or less difficult than most, and we are grateful for the abundant blessings we enjoy. Our children and their partners bring us great pleasure. Our granddaughters are our delight. We both have deep friendships and good work.
This fiftieth anniversary was bittersweet. We have lived authentically and conscientiously, but there is pain and sorrow. Nevertheless, life goes on and we do our best to love each other well. Love is, after all, what makes the world go round.
And so it goes.
9 thoughts on “Fifty Years”
I think your story is wonderful….that you both have stayed within reach of each other and share dinner and office space and family holidays sounds glorious to me…..please don’t let me offend you but I don’t see tragic as a way to describe your relationship….you and family are still together, love and blessings shirlene tarboxoklahoma
Thank you, Shirlene.
Thank you for sharing your life with us. It means a lot. My struggles and pain are very different from yours but it still helps and makes me feel less alone.
Thanks so much for sharing, Paula (and Cathy)!
deeply touched by this heartful post… honoring the love and the pain and the Grace, the fullness and wholeness and beautiful, vulnerable fragility of life…honoring the authenticity and inspired by the tenderness that flows through in this soul-share. Thank you Paula. Blessings…
You both are beautiful people from my experience knowing you from many years ago. I know in college you were both very kind. I pray you’re able to live your lives as you desire. Our early tribal experience would not want to bless you except for very few. I have two clergy from our tribe that speak to me and receive me with any grace. May the divine presence in your life be sufficient to give you the strength to live your life with purpose and love.
You are a beautiful person. Your honesty, vulnerability and persistence are beyond my comprehension yet what I aspire to have! The world needs more of the love you share and live by! Thank you 💜
Hi Paula, It’s been a minute. It’s strange…..I heard the song Blue Bayou by Linda Ronstadt playing on the radio today and thought of you. And not just about you but about you and Cathy. Is that strange or what? Not sure why that song makes me think of you guys but it does. In any event, I’m sorry for all your troubles. I know things are hard for you in your life, and for Cathy, too. But you’re right that life is hard for all of us. We all have a cross. And there are times when that cross feels heavier than usual, and that’s when we meet good people along the way to help us carry it. Sending you both prayers and good vibes ♥
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Thank you so much, Red.