I left my husband for a woman

Pride, London

Gay pride in London

Maria, 58, has been married three times. Her first marriage lasted 17 years and produced two children. Her second marriage lasted nine years, and her third lasted five years. She left her third husband to live with Sophie, 28. Maria says she was not attracted to women until she met Sophie.

Question: After three unsuccessful marriages, have you at last accepted you are gay?

Maria: Over the years I have found out that each side, heterosexual or homosexual, is eager to claim you as one of theirs. I am sure there are people who fit neatly into one of the two categories, just as there are others, such as myself, who do not.

At this point, I would not call myself straight, lesbian, or gay. Perhaps I'm bi-curious or heteroflexible. The labels don't matter to me. I think of myself as having fallen in love with a person, Sophie, who happens to be a woman.

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Question: How did you lose your interests in men?

Maria: It was a long process. I'm from an old-fashioned, rural background. Back then, women got married not only out of love but because they wanted to leave their parents and have a home of their own. A husband was a way of providing you with that.

I went back to school in my 40s, did a bachelors, then got accepted straight onto a Phd program in linguistics. I read a lot of books, did a lot of analytical thinking, and I started to question the role of men in my life, how much I had sacrificed to keep men happy. I started to resent men in general, not dislike them ... I lost interest in them without being interested in anything else to replace them.

Question: You had no romances with women during your marriages?

Maria: No, nor did I have affairs with other men. I had lots of women friends, I liked women's company, much more so than male company. I find men selfish and self-absorbed. Women spend a lot of time listening to men telling stories about themselves. Men don't seem terribly interested in listening to women's conversation.

Question: You think women understand each other better than men understand them?

Maria: I certainly do. I don't think men understand women, and they don't want to understand women. They don't know how to satisfy women. Men are usually self-serving and selfish. If a woman doesn't mention her needs or doesn't complain, the man will take what he wants and not think about her.

Question: Were your marriages physically unsatisfying?

Maria: After 17 years of marriage, there was no deep or satisfying intimacy. I learned to live without it. In my second marriage, it was ok initially but my husband was in his mid-60s and had performance problems. My third husband was better but was very selfish.

Question: Did you talk about intimacy with your husbands?

Maria: In my experience, men take any suggestion as criticism of their technique, then they sulk.

Question: How did you live through so many unsatisfying years?

Maria: I'm not saying every time was bad. There were times there was genuine warmth and affection, but it was never deeply satisfying. I diverted my energy and needs into other activities. I was a competitive long distance runner until my late 30s. That burned a lot of energy. Then I did a huge amount of reading, studying, and research, which was immensely satisfying to me. Children were a huge part of my life, but marriage never was.

Question: How did you meet Sophie?

Maria: My third husband was a foreign correspondent. He spent weeks and weeks on assignment. We had this big empty house. I advertised for someone to rent the ground floor and Sophie was one of the first people to answer the ad. She was doing graduate work at design school. She was intelligent, artistic, organized, tidy. I liked her. She moved in.

One evening a few years ago, she was making dinner for a friend of hers, a gay guy who had just split up with his lover. He was terribly upset, crying. Sophie invited me to join them, I don't know why, to lighten the atmosphere I guess.

Question: What happened?

Maria: We spent the entire evening complaining about men. I whined about my husbands, Sophie complained about her boyfriend. Her friend talked about all the lovers who had broken his heart. We all agreed that men can screw up your life.

I remember looking at Sophie and enjoying how she was dressed, her enthusiasm, her laughter, her ability to listen and really participate in a conversation. I liked her youth, too. I was in my 40s, she was in her 20s. She had that fearlessness that young people have. It was energizing. We touched a few times, I didn't pull away, but it was no more than that.

Question: Did you invite her to see you again?

Maria: No. I was worried about being thought of as too old. I didn't want to be this old woman chasing a young woman. I kept my distance. Sophie pursued me. We went to movies together, restaurants, galleries, walks. When my husband was around, it was still easy to spend lots of time with Sophie because he didn't imagine that anything could be going on. He liked that Sophie and I spent a lot of time together, and he liked going out with the two of us. It made him feel good.

Question: You still don't consider yourself to be lesbian?

Maria: That's a label that can apply to some people, but it's not helpful to me. There are so many stereotypes and labels. Guys think all lesbians look like Janet Napolitano. It's nonsense! I fell in love with a person, not a gender or a sexuality. I don't need long term relationships with men anymore. But nor am I drawn to the lesbian movement. I don't feel pulled in that direction.

Question: Sophie had a boyfriend when you met? How does she describe her sexual orientation.

Maria: She says she's bisexual or bi-curious. She's had mostly heterosexual relationships but she likes women. You would have to ask her for details. As I say, it's all just labels to me. It doesn't capture the complexity of who we are as individuals.

Question: Did you tell your husband about Sophie?

Maria: Of course. I think he was relieved. He was ready to move on. I'm pretty sure he wasn't completely faithful during our marriage. There were no dramatics. We divorced cooperatively. He's living in Paris now with a woman he met there. We talk once in a while.

Question: What do your children think of your relationship with Sophie?

Maria: My daughter is only a few years younger than Sophie. They get along fine. The three of us spend a lot of time together. My son, who's 19, wasn't so understanding. His friends made fun of him, but he has nothing against Sophie. He thinks it's odd that his mom lives with a young woman. His father probably thinks I'm weird.

Question: Do you have any close male friends today?

Maria: I have never had that, so nothing has changed. The only difference in my life now is that I am not dependent on a man for my happiness, my security, or my future. I don't have to worry about keeping a man happy, looking after him, washing his clothes, cooking, all the stuff that men think women are born to do.

Question: Do you have any advice for women who are going through what have have been through?

Maria: It's so individual. Don't accept the boxes that people want to put you in if you don't think you fit. It's ok to be attracted to me, to women, to both, or to neither. Do what is comfortable for you, what makes you happy. Don't expect men or women as a group to make you happy or bring you fulfillment. Happiness will come from important individuals in your life. They might be men, they might be women.

By Giles Devos