It was a difficult secret to keep.
By Kim Kelly Stamp — Written on Sep 29, 2023
Photo: Alexandra Iakovleva |Getty Images Signature / Manu Reyes | Getty Images
One night, as I mindlessly brushed my teeth, the love of my life uttered a statement that caused me to question who I’d been sleeping beside all these years. After five years together, I thought I knew her well, but all that came into question one rainy January night.
A few months later, we proceeded single file through a metal detector and into the courthouse. The middle-aged security guard seemed bored and annoyed as he directed us into a hallway where we were to wait until called.
We stood anxiously, frequently searching each other’s eyes like an EMT checks a patient’s pulse, gauging their current status and trying to foresee a future outcome. At one point, my partner leaned over and asked if I’d told anyone we were there; I responded with a shake of my head.
As we waited, I felt guilty about not telling my adult children what was going on. She was very private, and with the weight of what we were preparing to do, I wanted to honor her wishes. Finally, we were ushered into a large courtroom and told to wait for the judge.
We sat nervously, not saying much to each other. There had been a strange tension between us since that night in January, and the feeling increased with each echoing tick of the courtroom clock. Are we really going through with this, I wondered.
With a flurry of importance, Judge Lisa Sutton walked into the courtroom through a hidden door behind her bench. Her black robe was pristine and without a wrinkle. She had a commanding but kind presence as she requested us to come forward. While she got our paperwork in order, my mind drifted back to the beginning of our relationship.
We met and became friends at work shortly before my husband and I separated after 25 years of marriage. I had known I was gay since childhood but had never had the courage to admit it to anyone.
I made a deliberate decision to marry a man, fully intending to live out my life as though I were straight. Our marriage wasn’t fulfilling by any stretch of the imagination, but it wasn’t horrible either.
During the final few years of marriage, I became increasingly distressed. I felt trapped by my choices, and lying about my sexuality became a burden too heavy to bear. Then, I found myself curled up on my closet floor with a bottle of sleeping pills.
The only escape I could see was to end my life.
As I clutched the bottle of pills, my children’s faces floated through my consciousness. Suddenly, I realized I didn’t want my story of agony to become a legacy of loss in theirs.
I emerged from the closet, both figuratively and literally, that day, vowing to embrace who I was no matter the cost.
We started off as friends.
When my future partner and I started going out on Friday nights with a small group of work friends, I had no idea we’d end up together. Which is why I was startled when I realized I was overwhelmingly attracted to her.
I’ve never been flirtatious, but I started relentlessly flirting with her. As my flirting grew, I didn’t recognize myself anymore, but I felt enamored with who I was becoming.
For years, I had fantasized about dating a woman. Often, I secretly created scenes in my mind that played like a movie I would hopefully one day star in. Now, I was beginning to live out my daydreams, and it was exhilarating.
I’ve heard people talk about falling hopelessly in love and, of course, seen it play out in rom-com movies. But that notion of love was elusive to me. I’ve experienced many relationships, but none that left me breathless, weak, or so thoroughly consumed that I could think of nothing else.
We tiptoed around our attraction to one another, and she was outwardly cautious of getting involved with me. It’s not hard to understand. Even though I was in the process of divorcing, I’d lived my life as though I were straight.
Admittedly, I am not fond of delayed gratification. So, one evening, when she was chastely kissing my cheek, I couldn’t wait to kiss her any longer. With all the grace of a bull in a china shop, I planted a kiss on her lips.
Our first kiss resembled more of a headbutt on the lips and has been the source of much laughter in our lives. It wasn’t until our second kiss, when she tenderly touched her lips to mine, that I lost the ability to breathe.
For decades, I fantasized about what being with a woman would be like, and I can tell you that reality surpassed the fantasy at every juncture.
Though we had an excellent relationship, her longing to be free to roam at a moment’s notice was evident even in the beginning. She loved being unencumbered and rebuffed words like legally binding and happily ever after.
I always held her loosely, never wanting her to feel tied down or suffocated. I was happy for whatever time we had together and learned to experience and enjoy the present without keeping an eye on the future.
Five years into our relationship, we celebrated by exchanging matching rings on our favorite beach at sunrise. Though the romantic in me had dreamed of a wedding, our private exchange was enough for me.
Perhaps this is why I was stunned when, out of the blue on a rainy Pacific Northwest night in January, she said, “I guess I’d be willing to marry you if we kept it a secret.”
I wasn’t sure if she’d show up when we met after work that Friday in April, but she did. Same-sex marriage was legal in Washington, but it would be another 14 months before it was legal at the Federal level.
Getting married in secret felt adventurous, surprising, and maybe slightly unnerving.
We have always prioritized being sensitive to one another’s needs. I look for ways to create time and space for her nomadic heart, and she has the uncanny ability to recognize and fulfill my secret desires.
It’s been nearly ten years since we walked into Judge Sutton’s courtroom, and we no longer keep that news a secret. I’m grateful that we enjoy the protections and privileges that marriage offers us.
With the current push by conservative politicians to repeal gay marriage, I’m hoping the closet I left when I came out doesn’t have a revolving door.
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Kim Kelly Stamp (she/her) is a writer and speaker who writes about authenticity, retirement, relationships, and life on the road.
This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.