For a while after the decision was made, I really just didn’t know what to say, so I didn’t say anything. Neither of us did. We told a few close friends, had the grim conversations with our families, and that was as much as we could handle. But a person can only maintain that for so long. There will be questions to answer.

I’m a playwright. I’m better when there’s a script to follow. So I sat with my friend Mandy, and we crafted a standardized response for use in social situations. It goes like this:

“Hi Topher. How’s your husband?”

“Hello, person in my life. My husband is doing well, under the circumstances. We’re going through a divorce. We’re handling it respectfully and privately.”

“Oh my god, what happened?”

“There was no event, it’s just sad. We’re handling it privately.”

I’ve tried it out a couple times. The script does not work. I’m forced to acknowledge that I’m in no position to suddenly request privacy, having never asked for it before.

The night I met my husband Tommy can be found in an April 2007 issue of David Magazine. Our entire courtship was chronicled, as was our engagement and home-buying experience, leading right up to the full-page photo of our Massachusetts wedding in October of 2009. I went on to detail our suburban adventures here in the GA Voice, in my Domestically Disturbed column. I wanted to share the trials and triumphs of our relationship to communicate the idea that “marriage equality” isn’t just lip service: When two people, regardless of gender, set out to make a home together, we all end up facing the same challenges.

Unfortunately, sometimes those challenges prove insurmountable. The truth is, Tommy and I respect and admire each other far too much to continue living in a painful situation. It has been difficult, and quite humbling, for me to accept that what I thought was persevering eventually just became suffering.

Nobody can prepare you for how much this experience messes with your head. You get by from day to day, but if you grow cocky and think you’re doing fine, you’ll be sucker-punched by circumstance. A thought or feeling sneaks up, overwhelms you, and you’re suddenly asking yourself, “Really? I’m gonna have a breakdown in the Kroger? AM I THAT PERSON NOW?” And then you abandon the cart of groceries and head for the exit, because you are absolutely that person now.

Then there are the logistics, which extend far beyond who keeps the coffeemaker. This isn’t a breakup, it’s a divorce. We stood before a judge and signed a legal document. But Massachusetts law requires at least one of the parties in a divorce to be a resident of the state. And because our home state of Georgia does not acknowledge our union, it also does not recognize our right to end it.

I do not regret a single moment of the last seven years. I wince at choices we made along the way, certainly, but how could I have regrets? I had the gift of sharing my life with a brave, funny, wonderful man. He supported me fervently, and we’ve tried so hard to be good to each other. We love each other still. Despite what the State of Georgia may claim, this has been a real marriage in every possible sense. I am heartbroken to see this end, but I am forced to concede the necessity.

Divorce is the ugly element of the marriage equality conversation. We’re far more hesitant to discuss it—I know I certainly was. It’s embarrassing. It sounds like failure. We fear it will somehow weaken our argument if we acknowledge same-sex couples will be contributing to America’s divorce statistics. We want to believe our unions will be stronger, more carefully considered and nurtured. We argue, “Britney Spears can get married for a weekend in Vegas, but here’s two women who’ve been together for 50 years, and they can’t legally wed?”

Eventually, our unions will be recognized in every state. There will be those who stay together for the rest of their lives, and there will be embarrassing weekend-long unions in Vegas which make us collectively roll our eyes. There will also be couples like Tommy and me, who love each other and work very hard for years, before arriving at the sad realization that they are simply incompatible.

Whatever inspires you to marry a person should be strictly between you and the other person. And if the union ends, that’s your business as well. Once strangers are no longer able to stand in the way of either decision, then we will have achieved marriage equality.

The pain will subside with time, the awkward social encounters will become less frequent. In nearly every way, we will move on. But for the foreseeable future, my husband and I will continue to fight for the validity of our marriage to be acknowledged, if only to make it possible for us to conclude it with the respect it has earned.

5 Responses

  1. Stacy

    I’m so sorry. Divorce just sucks, gay or straight. The best metaphor I’ve come up with is that it was like getting into a car accident. Every day. For about two years. The sense of disbelief, wondering how the hell you ended up there….yeah, it sucks. But one day it’ll suck a little less. I promise.

  2. Mo

    I went through a similar thing last year. It does get better, it just takes time. At first, I was sad, hurt, and felt lost. When your life is so intertwined with someone else’s to the point you can look at each other and know what the other is thinking, it hurts when that person leaves after almost eight years. Even worse is running into him unexpectedly, and he doesn’t even acknowledge you are in the room. He still is the person I want to tell when something great happens, or when something bad occurs, but I am finally getting used to the fact that he is gone, and I am the better for it. I realize now that the one thing I don’t miss was the fighting we did the last several years. There was anger on both sides and we couldn’t seem to resolve it. I also realized that I was tired of the one trying to fix the relationship, and I couldn’t do it anymore. I’m in a better place now, and you will be too, one day.

  3. John

    Topher, thank you for sharing your story!!! And, I sincerely wish you well as you move to the next chapter of your life. Yesterday would have been a ten year anniversary for me and my former partner. My former partner and I were “fortunate” to get a divorce because we married in California and the law there also allowed us to divorce without the confines you and your partner face as you try to divorce in Massachusetts. Reading your story last night before I went to bed provided comfort as I felt that I was not alone because in many ways your story very much runs parallel to mine. While my former partner and I have mutual respect, like each other and had an amicable divorce, nothing prepares you for the actual divorce process and outcomes. After two years we still see each other twice a week because we share custody of our dog. We have the view that our divorce was/is a private matter and because we still like and respect each other we want to be example to friends, family and the community with how to gracefully end our marriage. For the most part it’s worked well, we’ve had some emotional bumps, but probably the most difficult challenge was/is accepting how our friends reacted and behave despite respecting our wishes. Some friends have disappeared from our lives, some still around but distant and other friends surprisingly supportive. Maybe one day, sooner than later, Georgia will one day recognize marriage equality for all. Until that time, continue to live your lives and be the best graceful examples to yourselves, friends, family and our community that your marriage matters and should be respected whether together or not. Wishing you all the best!

  4. Matt

    You hit the nail on the head with “Divorce is the ugly element of the marriage equality conversation.” People generally don’t think of divorce when discussing marriage equality, but access to the justice system when marriages fall apart is a very important marital right.

    This is a powerful story, and my heart goes out to you and the countless others who are stuck in similar situations.

  5. SJ of Kirkwood

    It sounds like Massachusetts wants y’all to acknowledge the community spirit they profess and move up yonder!
    After all, the North doesn’t speak of Southerners as, “Damn Southerners” the way, “Damn Yankees”, [the Northerners who transplanted to the South], are often referred to.
    Also, I admire an amicable model- and especially if kids are involved; the situation can become extremely complicated when non-autonomous young people are intertwined.


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