“We met at church. It’s cliche but true. I noticed Matthew on my first Sunday in that congregation. He sticks out, not just because of his height, but also because of his curly hair, infectious smile, and exuberance for life. After several weeks of seeing him across the chapel and successfully avoiding him (he looked like a player, and I don’t do drama), he came over to talk to me while I was walking out to my car. Inwardly, I sighed and resigned myself to what I thought would be a vapid conversation centering on working out as a hobby or other abhorrent small talk. I’m not sure how, but we started talking about books. In that short conversation, I learned we both loved books, care a lot about gender and racial equity, and might enjoy getting to know each other more. He asked for my phone number, I gave it, and we parted ways.
Our first ‘date’ was a complete and utter failure. It was supposed to be a group hangout, but because of a miscommunication on place and time, it ended up being myself, Matthew, and one of his best friends—a girl who apparently had ‘dibs’ on Matthew. So there we were at the movies, me, him, and his best friend who was in love with him. From the moment she got in the car, the ‘friend’ monopolized the conversation, talking about inside jokes and people only they knew. At the movies, she hurriedly sat between us and only turned towards Matthew, talking about the previews and making comments about the movie. About halfway through the movie, she turned to me once and said, ‘Wasn’t that so funny?’ Okay, I got your message: ‘Matthew is mine. Back off, if you please.’ I dropped her and Matthew off and decided it was over with him—no drama.
Several days passed, and because our short conversation at church had included some nerding out over Harry Potter, I forwarded him a joke one of my brothers had sent to me. Matthew then called me and asked if I would hang out with him—with just him. We went on an only-Matthew-and-Brynn date to the Japanese Friendship Gardens. It was like magic. We talked and talked, and he wove us beautiful crowns out of some pruned cherry blossom branches. Our next date was a nighttime stroll that ended up being a five-mile hike through the pitch dark of Papago Park. It occurred to me as I followed him semi-blindly over rocks and around cactuses that he could, after all, be a psycho about to murder me. Thankfully, that was not the case, and that night after we made it back to my apartment, we chatted on the couch for a while. We talked and talked, and it seemed like he had something on his mind that he wanted to tell me. When he said, ‘I’m gay,’ I wasn’t entirely surprised, but I also didn’t really care. If he was choosing to spend time with me, then why would his sexual orientation matter? He was choosing to spend time with me. It never occurred to me to feel threatened by his sexual orientation.
We dated over the next few months, during which time everything was heightened. I remember the weather at the Friendship Gardens, what I wore when we went to the movies, the taste of the salsa we made together, or the evenings he would bike over after work. When he abruptly broke up with me, I felt empty and shattered—I had never before connected with anyone the way I had with Matthew. Somehow, he just GOT me. In the months we were apart, I dated an old college boyfriend, and then went back to another on-again-off-again relationship. We chatted a few times; he was dating a man, but his family and friends disapproved. His dating a man was, if anything, a positive for me. I knew Matthew and loved him as a friend and human and wanted him to have a fulfilling life, even if that meant being with someone who didn’t fit into our religious lifestyle (heterosexual relationships only). We exchanged a few texts over the summer, and he agreed to babysit my cat while I was in Spain, but we both seemed to have moved on.
A few months later, the apartment I wanted became available, and with my busy schedule, I needed to get the move done quickly. I texted Matthew and a couple of other people (including my boyfriend) for help. When Matthew and I saw each other again, it was like…sparks? Fireworks? An explosion? Our eyes met, and we SAW each other. I was mad at the boxes, the things to move, I just wanted to spend time with him. I felt the same energy from him. It was strange saying goodnight and watching him leave. After he was gone, my boyfriend asked me why I wasn’t with Matthew because we seemed like a perfect fit. Although I had felt what was between us, I didn’t let myself think it could happen. Matthew had said no, and that was that.
After the move, Matthew broached the subject of getting back together, but I didn’t take it very seriously. He had broken up with me once before—I didn’t need to go through that again, but those sparks I felt… A couple of days later, Matthew came over, and we made dinner together. We were making a recipe that called for caramelizing brown sugar and adding vinegar. We did it wrong and turned the whole thing into a crystallized mess, so he called his mom on speakerphone to ask her for instructions. His mom, not knowing I was standing right there, asked, ‘So has Brynn broken up with her boyfriend yet?’ That was the encouragement and validation I needed to get back together with Matthew. If he had spoken with his mom about me, then he must be serious.
A little while later we made the short drive down to Rocky Point, Mexico, with a mutual friend. We ate string beans out of a Tupperware, got incredibly lost, and slept out on the roof. We simply enjoyed each other’s company. When we got back, we went on our second ‘first date’ together. That night felt like the entire universe was aligning, our love for each other was palpable, tangible, touchable. We knew.
On Facebook, Matthew sent me an ad for really cheap tickets to Sweden. We booked tickets to go together in December, and then decided to go ahead and get married—it could be our honeymoon! After weighing the merits of eloping, we decided to get married in Utah where much of our extended family lived. A lost passport meant we had to abandon Sweden only hours away from our departure time, so our honeymoon was spent in happy hours playing cards, looking out at the passing scenery on the Starlight Rail, and of course, talking.
Because of our religious beliefs, there was a limit to our intimacy before marriage. Matthew told me that he wasn’t even sure whether or not he would enjoy having sex with a woman. But we knew we were attracted to each other in many non-sexual ways (e.g., a mutual obsession with books and traveling can apparently do a lot for a relationship), and we hoped that even if sex wasn’t the strongest part of our relationship, it wouldn’t be the worst part, either. Almost four years in now, and we are both encouraged with our trajectory. This does not mean that many tears have not been shed. This doesn’t mean that both Matthew and I have not spent considerable time wondering whether or not we were going to make it—whether we each met enough of the other’s needs (both physically and emotionally). And this certainly doesn’t mean that we recommend mixed-orientation marriages for others. With the help of therapists, our mixed-orientation marriage works for us, but that does not mean it will work for others.
Sometimes, because my past relationships were often centered around physical desire, and because Matthew’s sexuality isn’t completely linear, I am uncertain and feel insecure in our marriage. In some fights, I wonder if he’s imagining whether his life would be better or easier with a man. Is the grass greener? But then we hear about the marriage difficulties of our friends in same-sex marriages and are reminded that every marriage has problems. Many of the issues we deal with are not even unique to mixed-orientation marriages! The most loving thing Matthew has ever told me is that he never gets tired of me, out of all the humans he has ever known—that kind of compatibility doesn’t happen every day.
Throughout our relationship and marriage, we have talked about sharing Matthew’s sexual orientation. As an act of love and support, I created an Instagram account and started posting on it—thinking to share it with Matthew for his birthday. One day he was feeling tired and dispirited, so I sent him the account. He loved it. After that, we decided to make our relationship more public. Talking about sexuality is a significant and critical part of life—it’s part of who we are. We are monogamous and joyfully content with each other. Over time, Matthew has identified as gay, bi, and pan-sexual. I identify as heterosexual, but I am coming to understand that being heterosexual doesn’t mean you’re attracted to all men or all women, simply that most (or all) of the genders that you tend to be attracted to are men or women. Sexuality isn’t necessarily binary—I believe it isn’t that cut and dry. How could it be when nothing else is? There is a serious need for openness around this issue based on the number of suicides among LGBTQIA+ youth. We aren’t talking about it and need to be.
After our announcement, almost all our friends and family responded positively. We received texts and calls from friends, family members, acquaintances, and even a few strangers—mostly saying, ‘Thank you so much,’ or ‘I needed to hear this,’ even a few said, ‘I’m also in a mixed-orientation marriage!’ We’re so happy our message is helping others feel the validation and love they are missing. A handful were hurt or offended and made comments about how Matthew’s sexuality affects them. To those few who focused on themselves, I would say, there are just two people in this marriage: me and Matthew. I’m not sure how Matthew’s sexuality could be a negative in anyone’s life.
Right now, we’re living in Michigan with our two girls—Guinevere (1) and Amandine (2). Matthew is applying for professorships across the country, and we’ll be moving in six or seven months. I’m taking care of the girls and planning my next career goals. We want to keep sharing about our lives and our love: it brings us closer to each other when we are authentic.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Brynn Embley. You can follow her journey on Instagram and their blog. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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