It's so much better than marriage

You start off saying, `I am flexible'. Then you say, `I have lots of gay friends'. Then you say, `I'm bisexual'. And finally its: `Help! I'm a lesbian!' Why do wives leave their husbands for other women?

Dalis Walker has known her husband since she was nine years old. "He is absolutely my best friend. We were neighbours. I enjoyed hanging out with him. He is very much a part of my family. It was a question of, do I go with passion or do I marry my friend?" At the time she was only vaguely aware that she might be a lesbian. "I grew up in a very typical suburban upper class family where there was no gay community so I didn't have a frame of reference for it." Her husband, James, knew that she was attracted to other women but, like many men, didn't really perceive it as a threat. "He knew that I might want to investigate my attraction to other women some time and although he wouldn't be crazy about it, he wouldn't say no."

They were great friends but something was always missing for Dalis sexually and a few years into the marriage she began going to lesbian bars and making friends in the gay community, imagining that she could have affairs and remain with James. "I knew [James and I] had a great connection so for me the issue was who I was going to have sex with." What she didn't anticipate was how she would feel on a non-sexual level. Her first affair with a woman was an epiphany. "The things James and I had talked about and the way we were with each other had been so satisfying until I found it with another woman. It was so much more enriching, deep and connected, and then the whole sexual thing fell into place."

Within months she had met and fallen in love with her present girlfriend. "It's the intimacy. She kind of reminds me of my husband but our daily life, the chores and how we truly enjoy hanging out with each other, it is everything I had in my marriage but so much more," she says. "The ideal situation now would be for my girlfriend and I to live happily ever after and for my husband to maintain a close relationship to both of us. I've even talked to him about the possibility of donating sperm and he's agreed." But the breakup wasn't entirely painless. "He decided to love and support me through it but it was very hard on James because he didn't have a choice," says Dalis. "I felt terribly guilty about that. But I think it would have been really hard for him if it had been a guy."

Bill Hollins, whose wife Gill left him for another woman after ten years, agrees. "It made it easier that it was a woman. I think I'd have been jealous of another man. The chances are I'd have felt more wounded and made to feel small because then you make comparisons, don't you?" In Bill's case the breakup was relatively painless, emotionally, even though they had been together a long time. The children also adapted very quickly. "The new partner had been on the scene for a while as a visitor to the house and they liked her, so when their mum moved in with her they just went along and set up their own little bedrooms," says Bill. "I don't think they knew what gay meant. The women made it their business to tell them and to explain that, you know, there's nothing wrong with it." Bill's parents had a harder time. "In the end I had to say, `Look, Mum, they're not dangerous!"

Marci, 27, told her husband Sean that she was bisexual when they first met. It was what she believed. "I didn't realise that you could identify as lesbian and still wear stockings and makeup and skirts and all those things until I learned about the concept of being `femme'," she says. "You start off saying, `I am flexible.' Then you say, `I have lots of gay friends.' Then you say, `I'm bisexual.' And finally you say, `Oh my God! I'm a lesbian!'" Marci's epiphany came when Sean accepted a job that took him away from home for nine months and she met a woman and had an affair. At first he didn't mind. "In fact, he really liked her and they are still good friends. I have been out with about three other women and we'd all go out to dinner and it would be like he had two dates. But as my girlfriends got more and more butch he lost patience with it. When your date looks like she could kick his ass, it's a bit different."

Even so, it was Marci's decision to split up. "My husband offered to let me see women on the side, but now I feel it would be a huge step back for me to be involved with a man again. Having a relationship with a man is like wearing your shoes on the wrong feet. You walk around like that all the time and you don't realise. But when you switch shoes it's like, `Oh yeah!'" she says. "I prefer the company of women. We have that much more in common." And when it comes to sex: "Women know how everything works because they have the same set," she says. "They're not so orgasm driven. You know how with a guy, they will do everything -- at first. Well, with a woman that just doesn't go away."

"One of the things about dating women is that there are so few boundaries," says 35-year-old Sheryl, who had never even had lesbian leanings until she fell in love with her present girlfriend a year after leaving her husband. "Women's communication skills are so strong and their ability to have intimacy is so much more developed. To meet someone who loves to talk, who loves to debrief, who has insight, who loves the same things you do -- we cook together and planted a garden together - it's so different." It is that level of communication and intimacy, as much as anything, that makes the sex so good. "I felt like I had good mature sexual relationships before, but with Nancy the intensity of the connection is so much stronger. It was as if heterosexual sex had been about 10 per cent of what's possible and all of a sudden I saw this other 90 per cent."

But it's not all about sex, says Marci. "It's much more of a companionship and a chance to have a relationship with more parity. The excellent sex is just a bonus." Nevertheless, Marci doesn't believe that her marriage broke down solely because of her lesbianism. "There were exacerbating circumstances. I don't think you can steal something that can't be stolen and, to tell you the truth, I was lonely and emotionally vulnerable," she says. "I would probably give this advice to a man: if your wife is really that lonely and that vulnerable, keep her the hell away from women!"

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