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  • Writer's pictureJ.L. Whitehead

Dealing with the Woulda, Shoulda, Coulda's

Updated: Mar 2, 2020

The last girlfriend that I had was between 1978 - 1979. In retrospect, the time that I spent with her seems so much longer. She was a sweet girl who was actually the second person that I met when my family relocated to Mt. Airy, Pennsylvania in 1977. She became my friend and then later, something more. We had fallen in love without effort and being with her was easy...perhaps the easiest thing that I had ever done.

But in my youth and being a damaged boy, to some degree at heart I knew that I couldn't be the man that she needed me to be. Honestly, at the age of 17, I had no way of knowing what I was supposed to be much less what she needed in a man because at that time, I was still after all, a boy.

It had been four years since the last encounter with molestation. I hate referring to it in that manner but that's the simple truth of it. I was molested by three different predators at the age of 13 and all three of those instances were encounters.

Like most teenagers, I thought that I knew everything. I thought I was grown. But hindsight is 20/20 and it's often crystal clear. The trajectory of who I was as well as who I were to become had been permanently altered. It was going to take more than the love of a teen-aged girl to change that.

I never sought any psychological counseling for what happened. Grooming teaches you to keep secrets, and those secrets are like silent scarlet letters branded on our hearts and minds. You don't tell anyone because you want to dismiss what had occurred. I was too young to know that all three of these men violated my trust in ways that I couldn't imagine. Each one of them left scars upon my heart regardless of whether I understood it or not.

But the unwitting victim of my abuse came in the form of a chubby girl who fell in love with me. She was my sole companion. She was bright and funny...but most of all, she loved me unconditionally.

Every day I think of her and with those thoughts comes a guilt that sits on my shoulder like the proverbial devil and angel. Like it or not, I play the woulda/shoulda/coulda game. I imagine what life would have been like had I not been born a gay man. Would I have been a faithful husband? Would we have stayed together for the rest of our lives or

would we have separated when we got into our twenties?

We would have had children...this much I am sure of because she told me so. She said to me, "Jerry...I had a plan. I was going to wait until I graduated from high school and then I was going to get pregnant and then we were going to get married."

I played the woulda/coulda/shoulda game in my head for years. I try to hold onto the wonderful memories that I had with her because for the one year that we had been a couple, it was a time that I had been seeking ever since I understood that boys and girls should be dating.

I was trying to fit myself into a mold that I should never have tried to force myself to fit in. The thing that I need to come to grips with is that it doesn't matter what happened with my ex girlfriend or not. The fact is we are not a couple and have not been for several decades. I had given my heart to her for the brief time that seems in retrospect all too short now.

But to play the woulda/coulda/shoulda game would be to deny all of the aspects of my life that has made me grow into the man that I've become today. I have a husband that loves me dearly today...right now at this very moment.

I can choose to live in my past or I can dwell in my present. I think that for any gay man that fell in love with a woman before they came out, playing the woulda/shoulda/coulda game is easy. You wonder about things like what your children would have looked like? You wonder what your life would have been like.

At the same time, if I had stayed in lock step with her, I would have denied myself the opportunity to be happy in who I am today. And that is, after all what matters.

I don't know how many of you play the mental game of what could have been. We all know what is going on right now. Being "out" is not without it's trials and tribulations. The battles fought and won come with their own sets of scars. I wear these scars with pride now. Being gay was not acceptable in the seventies. It is, to a lesser degree acceptable now.

We can chose to be what we were destined to be or live in a fantasy world that will never be. At the end of the day, I knew that I had to make a choice. As much as it pained me, I knew that as I walked into manhood, I could not take her with me.

I try not to harbor any regrets as to the choices that I made. After all, I found a man that loves me with the same intensity that she did. And that was my dream some forty plus years ago.

The message is clear...We can choose to live in what was or we can dwell in what is. The choice is ours.

~ J.L. Whitehead

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