One Long Island Woman Reflects on her Experience Coming Out
Carolyn and Nick were high school sweethearts, dating since they were 14 years old. “We were best friends,” Carolyn says. They got engaged at 19 and married at 21. “We were like Barbie and Ken.”
Growing up in an old-fashioned Italian household, Carolyn was brought up to cater to her spouse. “I came from a family where you didn’t think about anything but your husband.”
They were married in the 80s, a time when weddings were elaborate, over-the-top affairs and friends would try and outdo each other with a bigger headpiece, or by adding 30 minutes to the Viennese Hour.
After their marriage, Carolyn kept working and Nick began to travel a lot. “We kept delaying having kids,” she says.
Looking back, Carolyn remembers that they never stayed in one place for very long. “We were always moving, keeping ourselves busy,” she says.
Over the next few years, they had two children. Financially they were doing well; they hired a nanny and Carolyn decided to open her own business.
At home, Nick seemed depressed. “We had a long conversation, and got the family involved, and decided that therapy was going to fix whatever it was he had. We had a handful of sessions and decided to stay together. It was agreed that whatever ailed Nick was just a phase.”
As Nick was depressed, Carolyn suffered from low self-esteem. “I didn’t know anything about myself,” she recalls. The only thing that made Carolyn happy was her children.
Even with problems at home, Carolyn was an astute businesswoman. After their third child was born, she opened two more businesses.
The family lived in an upscale town on Long Island, where large homes are surrounded by manicured lawns.
Carolyn’s daughter was excited about having her first play date with a little girl down the street. When she dropped her daughter off, Carolyn met her neighbor, Nancy. They became fast friends and began socializing as a foursome with their husbands on a regular basis.
The couples spent a lot of time together, but Carolyn and Nancy’s relationship became more intimate.
“It started to be more than a friendship, and one night there were fireworks and it all came to me,” Carolyn says. “I was in love with her.”
“As soon as I had the experience, there was no turning back,” Carolyn says of their first sexual encounter. “I knew I was not bisexual.”
At 38 years old, Carolyn’s sexual epiphany was typical for a woman her age. She fell in love rather than having a sudden realization that she was gay.
Falling in love with Nancy changed the way Carolyn saw herself and others. Her self-esteem soared.
“I started to do things for myself,” she says. “Nancy taught me that I should care about myself more.”
Although Carolyn was deeply in love with Nancy, there was pain involved as well. “I couldn’t tell my friends. I kept it a secret,” she says.
Growing up in a strict, religious home, she knew that telling her family that she was a lesbian just didn’t happen in her generation, so she finally told them through a letter.
When someone has built their life living in the straight world and then turned everything upside down by announcing they’re gay, there can be many victims from the fallout. Both couples got divorced. Carolyn and Nancy bought a home together out East.
“It was our own place,” she says. “We spent six years together living as a couple. It was our safe haven out there.”
Eventually there were cracks in the relationship.
“Nancy started pulling away. I wanted to move forward and she broke off the relationship. She began dating a man,” she says. “I had to ask myself, ‘What am I? Gay? Straight? Was it just her?’”
Carolyn started seeing a therapist who asked her to reach back into her memories to see if she could recall having those feelings in prior years. Carolyn realized that there were some signs, but at the time wasn’t aware of them. She recalled having feelings for close friends, an infatuation with some of her female teachers and some actresses as well. “I loved beautiful, strong women role models back then,” she says. “More than the average girl my age.”
Carolyn never acknowledged or acted on those feelings until she met and fell in love with her neighbor. “I had no other experiences except with Nancy,” she says.
On top of feeling different, she didn’t think that she was even a typical lesbian. “I kept thinking I was weird or different,” she says.
But as Carolyn went on, she realized that there were many other women like her with long hair and who wear the latest fashions—who just happened to be gay.
“Now, it’s invigorating to be me!” Carolyn says. To find companionship, Carolyn says she has to travel into the city. “I’d like to make friends closer to home,” she adds.
It’s never an easy decision to confess one’s deepest secret to friends and family, but after decades of lying to themselves and everyone else, more and more women are finding the power to tell the truth about their sexuality.
“I know there are more women like me,” says Carolyn. “I have children and a business here. I’m not going anywhere.”
As a divorced mother of three and a successful business owner, Carolyn says it’s difficult to find time to develop new friendships and relationships. As a gay woman who discovers her true self later in life, she knows it’s even more difficult to find other women in a similar situation.
Carolyn’s mission is to connect these women together via telephone, social media, or in a support group.
“I need to let other women like me know they’re not alone,” she says. “If you think you are, you’re not.”
This article was originally published in Milieu Magazine.