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'Could I be gay after all these years?' For these women, the answer was 'yes.'

I was 19 when I met my wife, but it took another decade before I got comfortable with words like "lesbian" and "bisexual."

Since then, I've openly shared my life and relationship — in essays for publications like Cosmopolitan and on Bravo television.


Then a funny thing happened this year: Women began coming out to me.

Women reached out to me through various forms of social media.

When we think about coming out, we usually think of that awkward adolescent time of emerging sexuality. But for older women, coming out can be a whole other experience — an especially challenging one that creates a delicate new identity.

Take Sarah, who came out at 28, after nine years with a man to whom she was also engaged.

In an email to me, she explained, "I had to confront a lot of internalized homophobia in myself, even in subconscious ways like being ashamed to appear gay or let people find out that I was."

Sarah (right) and her partner. Photo courtesy of the couple.

Then, there was the email from "Jen" (not her real name) — over 1,000 words long — sent from a fake account.

She was 41 when she reached out to me. "How did you reconcile with the fact that you'd be with a woman the rest of your life?" she asked. Jen told me she made a female friend at work in 2007. The woman had a husband and Jen had a boyfriend. They became inseparable. They've kept this secret for eight years, and Jen confesses of her girlfriend, "One of her sons told her he'd never talk to her again if he found out something was going on with us." The e-mail closed with: "I've changed our names to protect our silly secrets."

The secrets she shared didn't feel silly. They were about love — both romantic and familial — and lies.

They were about unexpectedly falling in love with another woman and the ways in which it could change both of their lives at a point when they thought they were already settled in their identities. They were about guilt and fear and doubt.

Sure, we all expect to change some as we grow older, but we expect certain things — seemingly core parts of our identity we take for granted — to stay the same.

Says Jen, "For 30+ years I envisioned myself with a husband, not a wife."

Dr. Darcy Sterling. Photo by Omar Guerra, used with permission.

Dr. Darcy Sterling, whose practice Alternatives Counseling specializes in the LGBT community, knows this struggle firsthand. "As someone who came out later in life, I too wanted certainty around my orientation." She explains, "I didn't dislike sex with men but I preferred it with women." Ultimately she made peace with her fluid sexuality and chose to identify as a lesbian. "I find it easier to wrap my complicated head around than making overarching declarations about my orientation, past, present or future," she says.

Kathy Prezbinkowski, Ph.D., M.S.N., and leader of the Washington-based support group Coming Out Women, points out that older women who come out often have to confront a lot of ingrained expectations. The group aims to create a safe space for women to listen and share stories and strives to help them break out of the "mold to fit in the heterosexual box." Women in the group range in age from mid-30s to their mid-70s, and many have already started families. Prezbinkowski says:

"More than 50% of the 2000+ women at our group had been married to men — some still in marriages — and had children, and even grandchildren. The vast majority knew that they had attractions to women, but followed the societal norm."

Admitting their feelings to strangers is one thing, but opening up to loved ones remains a daunting conversation.

"I practiced saying the word 'gay' to my infant," Natalie, 34, told me by email. She had both a husband and a newborn before she identified as a lesbian.

Natalie (right) and her wife Carrie. Photo courtesy of the couple.

Christi, a 38-year-old mom twice married to men, admits that telling her kids wasn't easy. In an email, she said she was worried about hurting her relationship with her daughter: "There is a lot of fear and guilt involved in coming to terms with your own sexuality and many more layers of it when it comes to telling other people."

But there are also some benefits to coming out when you're older and wiser. As Christi put it:

"I didn't understand what I was feeling when I was younger. For me, coming out at 35 was a million times easier than it might have been in my teens or 20s. By 35 I had a lot of life experience, more confidence, and I cared less what other people think."

Coming to terms with a new identity is hugely challenging, but for many of these women, it marked the beginning of their path to real happiness.

Not long after our initial correspondence, Jen wrote to me again, sharing her real name and information. She said that talking to me about her identity helped her to see her life in a new light. "I feel forever indebted to you," she wrote. The reason our conversation changed Jen's life? I listened with openness and compassion. That's it.

She shared another secret: She proposed. The couple is not fully out to their families yet, but they're working on it.

Jen and her fiancee with their new rings. Photo courtesy of the couple.

Meanwhile, Christi and her wife are expecting a baby this winter, and Sarah and her wife were married earlier this spring.

Sarah says this is not how she pictured her adult life when she was little, "but I'm ever so glad that I'm here."

Coming Out Women's mission statement asserts that all women deserve empowerment, authenticity, and wholeness. That doesn't begin with having all the answers. It can begin simply with finding someone who will listen. We are all empowered when we project the compassion we seek in others.

"When women first arrive at group," says Prezbinkowski of those who gather at Coming Out Women, "perhaps after numerous attempts, they know they are 'coming home.'"

Nature

Pennsylvania home is the entrance to a cave that’s been closed for 70 years

You can only access the cave from the basement of the home and it’s open for business.

This Pennsylvania home is the entrance to a cave.

Have you ever seen something in a movie or online and thought, "That's totally fake," only to find out it's absolutely a real thing? That's sort of how this house in Pennsylvania comes across. It just seems too fantastical to be real, and yet somehow it actually exists.

The home sits between Greencastle and Mercersburg, Pennsylvania, and houses a pretty unique public secret. There's a cave in the basement. Not a man cave or a basement that makes you feel like you're in a cave, but an actual cave that you can't get to unless you go through the house.

Turns out the cave was discovered in the 1830s on the land of John Coffey, according to Uncovering PA, but the story of how it was found is unclear. People would climb down into the cave to explore occasionally until the land was leased about 100 years later and a small structure was built over the cave opening.

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via Pexels

A couple celebrates while packing their home.

One of the topics that we like to highlight on Upworthy is people who are redefining what it means to be in a relationship. Recently, we’ve shared the stories of platonic life partners, moms who work together as part of a “mommune” and a polyamorous family with four equally-committed parents.

A growing number of people are reevaluating traditional relationships and entering lifestyles that work for them instead of trying to fit into preexisting roles. It makes sense because the more lifestyle options that are available, the greater chance we have to be happy.

A recent trend in unconventional relationships is married couples "living apart together," or LATs as they are known among mental health professionals.

Actress Helena Bonham Carter and director Tim Burton, actress Gwyneth Paltrow and producer Brad Falchuk, and photographer Annie Leibovitz and activist Susan Sontag are all high-profile couples who’ve embraced the LAT lifestyle.

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Family

Professional tidier Marie Kondo says she's 'kind of given up' after having three kids

Hearing Kondo say, 'My home is messy,' is sparking joy for moms everywhere.

Marie Kondo playing with her daughters.

Marie Kondo's book, "The Life-Changing Art of Tidying Up," has repeatedly made huge waves around the world since it came out in 2010. From eliminating anything that didn't "spark joy" from your house to folding clothes into tiny rectangles and storing them vertically, the KonMari method of maintaining an organized home hit the mark for millions of people. The success of her book even led to two Netflix series.

It also sparked backlash from parents who insisted that keeping a tidy home with children was not so simple. It's one thing to get rid of an old sweater that no longer brings you joy. It's entirely another to toss an old, empty cereal box that sparks zero joy for you, but that your 2-year-old is inexplicably attached to.

To be fair, Kondo never forced her way into anyone's home and made them organize it her way. But also to be fair, she didn't have kids when she wrote her best-selling book on keeping a tidy home. The reality is that keeping a home organized and tidy with children living in it is a whole other ballgame, as Kondo has discovered now that she has three kids of her own.

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Pop Culture

YouTube star MrBeast sponsors 1,000 people's cataract surgery to help them see again

"I had never heard of MrBeast so I almost hung up. But gratefully did not hang up."

YouTube star sponsors 1,000 people's cataract surgery

Blindness touches people's lives around the world and YouTube star Jimmy Donaldson, more popularly known as MrBeast, is trying to do something about it. Donaldson made it his mission to help 1,000 people regain their eyesight with the help of Dr. Jeff Levenson, an ophthalmologist and surgeon in Jacksonville, Florida.

Levenson has been operating a program called "Gift of Sight" for over 20 years. The program provides free cataract surgery to uninsured people who are legally blind for free, so long as they meet certain criteria. Levenson had never heard of Donaldson, and he almost hung up on him when the YouTube star called to ask about a partnership.

"I had never heard of MrBeast so I almost hung up. But gratefully did not hang up," Levenson told CNN.

After figuring out that Donaldson was indeed a real person who wanted to help others, the duo called around the Jacksonville area to determine the people who needed help the most. They got their list of clients from free clinics and homeless shelters, which covered the United States portion of the surgeries.

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A mom makes sensory sand by putting Cheerios in a blender.

A parenting influencer who goes by the name @ellethevirgo on TikTok has shared a brilliant hack that can turn a simple box of Cheerios into a fun sensory sand experience. The great part is that the sand is edible, so you don’t have to worry if your child puts some in their mouth, which they will inevitably do.

The recipe for Cheerios sensory sand is pretty simple:

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Gaël Monfils makes tennis a must-see.

Tennis isn't always the most entertaining sport to watch, especially if you're not particularly interested in seeing a ball get slapped across a net at 1,000,000 mph approximately 17,000 times. You could probably get whiplash or eye strain if you focused too hard on it. While some people love the sport, others need a little more than grunts and sneaker sounds to capture their attention.

If you're in the group of people who need to be entertained, look no further than Gaël Monfils, a professional French tennis player that has earned the nickname, "The Entertainer." Monfils turned pro in 2004 and has multiple championship matches under his belt, and yet he still takes the time to be...extra while playing.

In a compilation video uploaded to TikTok, we see the 36-year-old tennis player dancing after hitting the ball across the net just out of his opponent's reach. But of course, he also doesn't hit the ball like your average player, either. In one part of the video, Monfils jumps up extremely high and bicycle kicks as he hits the ball with his tongue hanging out of his mouth.

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