Eighteen years ago, in 2005, I sat down with my wife of twenty-six years in our dream home on Main Street in the utopian town of Franklin, Tennessee. I will never forget it: the classy Lane recliners, the marble fireplace, the horrendously expensive Oriental rug, the aroma of Spring flowers coming through the open French doors, the tension in the room. For the first time, we addressed the elephant in the room. Our paths had diverged in every way. She was firmly ensconced in the Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) organization and her ultra-conservative faith and views. I was questioning everything I had once believed. We were no longer companions. We were two people trapped in success.
Living in that tiny enclave of repressed Evangelicals, we let the fear of other people’s thoughts influence our decision to suppress the truth. It was the single greatest mistake of my life. If we had publicly acknowledged the fact, our life paths would be much different—possibly with less estrangement, devastation, and regret. Thousands of ordinary people get divorced and separate daily without shame, just not in our repressed community.
When I say equal companion, I realize what an impossible phrase that is. To be equal means “regarding or affecting all objects in the same way.” The American ideal of the nuclear family, particularly the Evangelical concept of one man and one woman wedded forever, has doomed many to, at best, an unfulfilled existence and, at worst, a traumatic existence.
No one person can be another’s equal. No one person can fulfill another person’s every need. And no one should be forced to shoulder that responsibility. It is an impossible task. And yes, I realize my writing and thoughts are heretical to some.
I could not deny the deep longing within me for an equal companion. Almost two unfulfilled years later, the inevitable companion was a woman ten years my junior in age but ten years my senior in knowledge. The moments I treasure from that brief affair sixteen years ago were the times when we passionately discussed literature, art, religion, and most of all, when we dared to voice our most profound questions honestly. Alas, the sex was inevitable and much-needed for two sensually starved people. But it was the intercourse of the mind that I cherish to this day. And it is why I have no regrets about the affair (the first of my life). My sorrows are only for the devastation it caused when my wife and I repressed the truth on that fateful Spring day in 2005 instead of honestly acknowledging it.
But I failed again in my quest for an equal companion—a soulmate. And so, like a good Christian, I confessed my “sins” and limped back to a miserable and shame-filled existence for the next five years. It was not a pleasant time.
Until another woman came into my life, someone three years my senior in age and decades older in wisdom and encouragement. Yet another search for an equal companion. The highly sensual being that I am inevitably seems to lead to sex. And for the second time in my life, I had an affair. This time, I barely tried to conceal it. I was done with life as I had known it for fifty-three years. We carelessly gave ourselves away, and the result was devastation, at first, because of religious beliefs. Still, gradually, it proved to be the way to freedom.
Today, at age sixty-five, I have had sex with three people. I am embarrassed to write those words because that is almost laughable for those who did not grow up in a repressed and religious culture. But for those who did, two more than one (three) is a heinous and unforgivable sin.
Have I, at long last, found an equal companion?
My beloved wife, muse, and companion Gina and I have discussed this subject endlessly. And we both agree that it may be impossible to find an equal companion—a soulmate. Nor do we place that expectation on each other. We feel the cultural and religious ideal of a nuclear family, one man for one woman forever, is a damning lie.
We do regard and affect many objects similarly. But we have differences—because we are human. Yet we have chosen to celebrate our strengths AND differences and encourage and nurture them in each other. For example, Gina dislikes reading, and I cannot comprehend life without four books at a time. She loves comedy and laughter, and I like tragedy and somberness. She is content, and I am insatiably curious. She loves meat, and I love fish. You get the idea.
Yet, we love cooking together, sex, travel, new adventures, intimate conversation, and whiskey. We value questions, and we love being together. And because of those commonalities, we have determined that we are each other’s “home base.” She is the person I choose to sleep and cuddle with every night.
But are we equal companions? Do we regard or affect ALL objects in the same way? No, we do not. And we do not expect each other to do so. However, we are each other’s closest companions. And we have the most intimate companionship each of us has ever had. We treasure this fact, equating to a joyous, beautiful, and meaningful life together.
So then, what shall I do with this lifelong yearning for an equal companion?
Here is one solution of many. I have a dear friend of almost thirty years. And she happens to be female. She is equal to my curiosity and sensual and is one of the few people I’ve met who loves reading and learning as much as I do. She is a gifted communicator and is unafraid of honestly expressing her mind. And so, two or three times a year, we get together for a long weekend with our spouse’s blessing.
In my past life of religious repression, this would have been taboo. But for us, it has been a beautiful thing. And when I say us, I mean all four of us. Gina recognizes the glow I have when I return after a weekend of stimulating conversation with a companion who shares my incessant curiosity and love of learning. The time is life-giving to me. And Gina is secure in who she is and who we are; more than anything, she wants me to be fulfilled in every aspect of my being. And I wish the same for her.
I have another companion whom I’ve known for almost thirty years who is the same age demographically but decades older in sensual experience. He and I express our minds and honestly share our love for all things sex. He is an intimate companion of my soul and happens to be gay.
We are not afraid to caress and greet each other with a kiss. He is helping me grapple with my sexuality and gender spectrum. He understands my phallic thrall that has erupted in second life. He is also a discerning reader, a person of great intellect, and a gifted conversationalist.
The freedom to be honest and open with these two companions (and their spouses) and Gina is priceless. I love and trust them thoroughly. Each of these very different companions completes me in different ways. They hear me and know me, and I them. Their uniquenesses provide as close to equal companionship as I can imagine. Could this be what is meant by true communion?
Unlike my first extra-marital companion, I have not had sex with either. And I’m not entirely sure why. I know if the time comes, that is okay—and if not, that is okay. But we have had blissful intercourse with our minds and spirit. And my companionship with them has proven a treasure, a Holy Grail, a way to wholeness and joy.
When Gina and I discuss what I will miss when we move to Spain, my answer requires no thought. I will miss these two dearest companions the most. The three of them personify my equal companion. And I am grateful.