Couples Chronicles ó Interview 32
Thereís No Better Place to Be
First published in November 1989
© 1999, Demian
Tom Conway and Hil Simpkins, both 48, have been together for 17 years. Both were previously married to women. Tim has two daughters, 22 and 25, and Hil has two sons, 17 and 20. They are employed as social workers at the same public agency and jointly own their home in Florence, New Jersey. Not long after a first interviw with this couple, in January 1987 [see Interview #2], Tom decided to permanently leave the relationship.
Where were you raised?
Hil: Florence, New Jersey. In fact, I lived in this house from the time I was born until I was five. Other relatives also have lived here, so Iíve been in and out of this house all my life.
Tom: The old family homestead. He was conceived in this house.
Hil: This was my parentís honeymoon home. It used to be on the farm and got moved into town when the farm was sold.
Tom: I grew up in Indianapolis and moved to the East Coast to go to seminary, where I was married. The marriage lasted 10 years.
Hil: Methodist and Presbyterian, but Iím Episcopal now.
Tom: I converted him. Iím an Episcopal priest, you see. My folks were Protestant.
When did you realize you were gay?
Tom: I think I always knew. I didnít really deal with it until after my divorce and a couple of other failed relationships with women. I dealt with and accepted it through extensive private therapy.
Did being gay precipitate your divorce?
Tom: Not as I looked on it then, I was a good husband and father. But being gay is so much a part of me that I canít help thinking it surely did. I rationalized that I was no different from most other men, but I really am different from the other 80 percent.
Hil, when did you realize you were gay?
Hil: After I met Tom at work and fell in love with him.
Previously, I had thoughts that I was gay, but went to counseling and figured out I wasnít. I then married and later realized I probably was gay, but stayed married for seven years. After meeting Tom I decided, ďLetís grow up and be what you are.Ē
I decided I could be myself best by leaving my wife and entering a relationship with Tom. I could love my children best by doing that.
How could you love your children best by being gay?
Hil: Because I felt that if I stayed with my wife it would be because of the children and Iíd resent them. If I could be myself and still have a relationship with them, Iíd care about them more wholly.
It was very difficult. When I told my five-year-old son I was leaving, he said heíd hate me forever. He doesnít. Now he accepts and loves me.
Iíve had a very close relationship with the boys throughout the whole period.
How did your wife deal with you wanting to leave?
Hil: First she was very angry. However, weíve been able to establish a good working relationship around the children. We also have a very good relationship as friends at this point.
We have joint custody of the children and I can see them whenever I want. I stay at their house when I go up to visit them.
It took a lot of work.
Hil: No, I worked things out with her before I left.
How have your parents taken your coming out?
Hil: Itís been most difficult for my father to accept. Heís a farmer and itís just against all he believes in. But he seems to accept Tom and our relationship, and is better able to deal with it as the years go by.
My younger brother is also gay. He came out before I did, so it was a bit easier for me.
Tom, how did your parents feel about you coming out?
Tom: They were most upset about the divorce. They saw themselves loosing out on grandchildren, I think. My parents and I have never been very close. We donít talk about things ó Hoosiers donít talk about anything ó so one has to read more whatís not said than what is.
My folks know Hil and love him very much, but we just donít talk about our sexuality.
Hil: Weíve both been very much accepted by our families in their own ways.
Tom: Iím very open with my older brother, who lives in the West, and Hilís parents live in a town nearby, so we see them regularly.
Any reactions at your workplace?
Hil: Yes, my supervisor and staff know. Itís not an issue for anybody.
Tom: I guess itís because weíve been together so long. Itís an accepted thing.
Hil: We have a very good support system, with straight and gay friends.
Do you have a ďmonogamousĒ relationship?
Hil: We call it ďexclusive.Ē
Has it always been that way?
Hil: Except for a few minor periods.
Did you make agreements?
Hil: Since we had both been married we were culturally tuned into a relationship with one person. It met both our needs, so it was pretty much an agreement right from the beginning.
A spoken agreement?
Tom: It got spoken when we were not exclusive. Feelings got hurt and expectations let down.
Hil: This happened ten years ago.
Have you granted powers of attorney to each other?
Hil: No, but thatís something we want to do.
Tom: I have a will giving everything to Hil, and we have talked about the need for him to do that for me. Weíve also discussed other kinds of partnership agreements. Itís a very important thing, I donít know why we donít do it.
Tom, are you active in the priesthood?
Tom: I just started substituting on Sundays at a nearby parish, which I will do until January.
Hil: I go with him and sit and behave.
Does the congregation know you are a couple?
Tom: Well, we donít talk about that, but they know that Hil comes with me and he belongs to me.
Hil: Although in other parishes we regularly attend people know weíre a couple and have accepted it.
Since you live in a small town I would imagine the rumors have flown.
Hil: Itís not an issue any more.
What did you first think of each other?
Tom: Love at first sight.
Hil: Yes, for both of us. We were very attracted to each other.
I was a trainer and Tom was a trainee in a week-long residential program.
Tom: I was pursued and courted all week. And it was delightful.
Incidentally, Hil thinks he was pursued and courted also.
Hil: And thatís the way itís been ever since ó mutual.
Have your feelings for each other changed over the years?
Tom: A lot of things have happened ó particularly in the last couple of years ó that have made the relationship even better.
There were times when feelings were not so deep and the relationship was not so wonderful. Two years ago I decided I really didnít want any relationship.
What precipitated your decision to leave the relationship?
Tom: In particular, I wanted to be alone to work on some things with my children. I saw their adulthood as challenging my fantasy that they would eventually come and live with me; that we would be one big, happy family. With one daughter in California and the other in Florida, and both of them now adults, it looked like that was not ever going to happen. That was hard for me to accept. I also thought to make some career changes.
How did you deal with these concerns?
Tom: Before making a permanent decision to leave Hil, I agreed to see a counselor. We had originally thought that, of course, the therapist would have to be gay and male. When I went to a counseling service to find help ó incidentally, an Episcopal service ó I got assigned a straight woman. As it turned out, that was the best combination for our particular needs.
I think the best kind of person for gay couples is someone who understands relationships and people; someone who knows what they are doing, whether they are gay or straight.
Hil: In particular, she helped us focus on ourselves and what we needed to individually strengthen so we could bring more to the relationship.
Tom: It wasnít so much that there was a problem with the relationship. The relationship had become like a bag that personal problems were getting put into. She helped us figure what could be worked on together and what we needed to resolve as individuals.
What is so important is that when you project a personal problem from childhood into an adult relationship ó thinking itís the fault of the relationship ó you really cheat yourself and your partner and you never grow as a human being.
The counseling was a growing experience for the two of us. Not only did we grow individually, but we then came into the relationship as grown-ups.
Hil: It was a very exciting time. Also very scary.
Tom: We worked with the counselor for a year.
Tom, you must have had some commitment to the relationship to stay through a year of counseling.
Tom: She helped me to immediately see that I would be carrying a lot of the same baggage whether I stayed here or went out West to live next door to my daughter. It was important to get that cleared up.
She felt that there were only two reasons for a relationship breaking up: psychosis [loss of contact with reality - ed.] or addiction to drugs or alcohol.
Hil: Everything else could be worked on.
What issues did you work on?
Hil: Not relying on Tom for everything, but looking to other people for support.
Tom: The therapist was very skillful in helping us look at the dynamics between us ó the things that everyone does ó like projecting, stereotyping and oversimplification.
One of the things we both did was thinking that the other was capable of only one kind of reaction or feeling. I used to think that Hil never wanted to be alone and always wanted to be with me. In reaction, I wanted to be alone. Actually, we each want a mix of both ways of being.
Our therapist helped us appreciate not only our own complexity but each otherís.
Did the counseling time change your mind about leaving?
Tom: Yes, I realized that the relationship was a lot better and met more of my needs than I had thought. I actually was pretty happy here.
Plans for the future?
Hil: We want to remain together. Do whatever ó together.
Do you have a commitment to stay together?
Tom: Very definitely.
Our therapist was insistent that we have a commitment ceremony, like a big wedding, and invite all of our friends, relatives and neighbors. I almost agreed to it, but it felt like we were pretending to be straight.
We decided that we did not want to have a commitment ceremony because we had already made commitments to one another.
Hil: Everyone already knew we were committed. It really wouldnít be news to anybody.
Tom: I decided to stay. And Hil decided to keep me.
Hil: Because I love him.
Tom: This is what I am choosing after considering all of my options. Yes, I do like being here. Thereís no better place to be.