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Couples Chronicles — Interview 7
Everyone Needs Someone to Love
by Demian
First published in September 1987
© January 7, 2018, Demian

Justine Michaud and Meg Bachtel have been friends for eight years, and partners for seven. They live in Stratford, Connecticut, where Meg is project director for a market research group. Justine has a law background and is in the executive search business, also know as “head hunting.” On May 25, 1985, they honored their relationship in a joining ceremony.

How did you meet?

Meg: We both belong to one of the Anonymous programs…

Justine: …like Alcoholic’s Anonymous. We became friends while we both served on the regional board of directors. The friendship deepened and developed. It was the first relationship with women for both of us.

I had many relationships with men prior to this, and always wondered about my sexuality. My wondering was confirmed when I had a surprise, wonderful evening with a friend of mine in college. That directed me very strongly toward women.

Meg: As my first relationship with another woman, it was exciting and scary. It seemed very right, so I went with it.

It wasn’t a sudden thing. I had time to emotionally grow with the friendship.

Did you know any gay people before your friendship?

Justine: I knew more gay people from high school and college than Meg did. My stepsister is gay. She was out to me before she had her first experience.

Are you out to your families?

Justine: Yes. My mother handled my stepsister’s coming out better than she did mine. It was more difficult with me because she felt her dreams were shattered, altered from what she projected my life to be.

She’s been slower to warm up to Meg than Meg’s family has been to me. During the seven years she’s come around a lot.

Meg: Originally, I had talked to my sister-in-law to get a feel for what my family knew. It turned out she’d had a gay experience, lived with a woman, and had chosen not to continue the lifestyle because she felt it was too hard. She was very supportive, but was, like the rest of my family, more surprised than I anticipated.

One of my two brothers is very supportive and one night, several years ago, gave Justine this big “welcome to the family” speech. It was very touching.

The other brother is supportive, but in the way of, “I may not approve, but you’re my sister, and I love you, so what you do is O.K.” When we go out to California, we always stay with them. They want to see us, and want us to be part of their lives.

My mother has had a very difficult time dealing with it, because she goes in and out of born again Christianity. When she’s into it, she has a lot of problems with it. But she’s come and stayed with us, and she’s at a point right now where she’s very accepting of it.

She’s going through a very bad divorce, and our relationship looks very happy and very stable compared to hers. She actually said, “you really have it more together than I do.”

My father sends us both checks at Christmas; there’s an acknowledgement of the relationship, but he doesn’t want to talk about it.

My grandmother, who is 95, thinks it’s great. She never said, “I understand that you’re lesbians,” but she told us about women who, when she was growing up, used to live together as “companions.” After taking her out to dinner about five years ago, she said, “you know, everyone needs someone to love.”

Are you out at work?

Justine: When I interviewed for my job, I dropped several very large hints. I don’t have a banner across my desk saying, “I am a lesbian,” but Meg has come to the office, and I don’t hide the fact that we moved here, do everything, and own a house together.

Meg: I’m out, in the sense that everyone knows Justine. She’s always invited to the Christmas party, and she’s treated like one of the family. I never said to my boss I’m gay, but it’s obvious. After I’d only been there a few months, one woman employee said to me, “So how long have you and Justine been together?”

When Justine broke her foot a couple of months ago, they were all very concerned at the office.

Do you get support from the gay community?

Meg: We’re both in our thirties and professional women; what would be thought of as up-scale. When we moved here from California four years ago, we lived close to New Haven, where the gay women’s community is very young, Yale-centered, separatist, and concerned with what is politically correct. It’s not a supportive environment for couples.

Here in Stratford, a more rural community, we’ve slowly gotten to know other gay men and lesbians who are of our own age and lifestyle.

Why did you have a joining ceremony?

Justine: It was a statement of commitment, symbolic of what we had. Meg is the person I chose to spend my life with. I wanted to make this statement to the world-at-large and those who counted in my life.

We had the ceremony at a New Hampshire inn that is mostly a women-only place. One of Meg’s brothers and a male friend from Arizona wanted to attend, but there is something about the spiritual feeling of an all woman’s group that we wanted to achieve.

We spent a lot of time researching different spirituality concepts, and wrote our own ceremony. We didn’t want to use the term marriage.

Meg: The term marriage is involved with cattle, property and one person owning another person; a very traditional heterosexual relationship that I didn’t want to mimic. I wanted our celebration to be uniquely our own and woman-based.

We went through many different names, like the Victorian term “trysting.” We both liked “joining” and felt it said what we were doing.

Did moving cross-country stress the relationship?

Meg: We moved for Justine’s job. It turned out to be more of a problem than we anticipated. Not so much career-wise, because I was ready to change careers, but emotionally. I was more tied to California than either of us realized.

I was involved with the community and did a lot of volunteer work. Also, I have an extensive family and a lot of friends there. I was very rooted.

Justine came to a job and I came to look for one.

Justine: It was a problem for me also. As I was involved in the new work, selling medical products, and trying to find my way around, we found ourselves falling into the role of hubbie going off to work and wife-y staying at home.

It deteriorated into an uncomfortable shift of power that was not healthy for either of us.

Have there been other problems you’ve worked on as a couple?

Justine: Our communication styles are different. I tend to have a very direct style of communication, almost confrontive.

Meg: I have a hard time asking for things directly. I often need to remember to say what I feel, need or want, and not be defensive when Justine says things directly.

How do you deal with style differences?

Meg: Therapy has been invaluable. When we first met, we were living 60 miles apart and had a commuter relationship for about a year. We talked about who was going to have to move; should we take a place 30 miles in between? So I said, “alright I’ll move,” and regretted it within 20 minutes.

I felt trapped. That was when we first saw someone, and worked on moving in together. It helped me and the relationship a lot. The therapist said, “I’m not going to solve any problems for you, I’ll act as a guide.”

Justine: After we moved here, there was a long gap before finding anybody. We found someone recently, after I got fired and I was devastated.

How did getting fired affect you?

Justine: I was working under a new manager, who would be better off managing paper instead of people. I’m not shy about sharing my views about things. He didn’t want to deal with me, so he found a convenient way of getting rid of me.

It was the best thing to happen to me. It caused me to look at my life and decide where I wanted it to go. Also, I finally discovered I was not what I did for a living. It helped me get closer to Meg and realize just how precious our relationship is. I can always get another job. Chances are, I’m not going to find another relationship like this one.

Did the counseling help?

Justine: Yes, and it’s been very helpful in sorting out our communication styles. It has also been useful in discussing our different sexual rhythm and needs. It’s sometimes easier to talk about those things when a third person is an observer.

Both therapists were refreshed and expressed satisfaction to work with us as people who were not in crisis, but in a healthy relationship, trying to make it even better.

Meg: In lesbian relationships, there comes a point where one person wants or needs more, or has a different definition of what constitutes sex and sensuality. That’s the point we’ve had to grapple with.

We came to that point a couple of years ago, now we’re doing something about it. It’s bringing us much closer together. I always hoped that it would go away. But I am dealing with it now, and in a way that’s very positive.

We’re redefining sex in terms of a lot more sensuality and physical contact, but not necessarily having orgasm as a goal. We don’t want to lose the physical intimacy, the connectedness.

Is your relationship “monogamous?”

Justine: Yes, very definitely. There has never been any question that’s the way it should be. Although, there was a time, with the strain of moving here, that I almost got involved with someone else. It was a real clue that we didn’t want it to be any other way.

Have there been changes in your relationship through the years?

Justine: It is deeper now. We’ve never lost the fascination of being together.

Meg: It’s evolved, grown much deeper, and more intimate. As my trust and respect for Justine grows, the relationship takes on new dimensions. I know that no matter what else is going on with us in our lives, my bottom line is Justine.

Have you drawn up legal papers?

Meg: We have Wills, as well as Powers of Attorney for medical and general purposes. We’re going to see an attorney this week to update everything; it’s been three-and-a-half years since they were signed.

We hold the house in joint tenancy, and have insurance on each other. We have both joint and separate checking accounts, but do not have contract partnership agreements.

Any words of advice for other couples?

Justine: Remember to keep talking with each other, no matter how tough it sometimes gets.

Meg: Share feelings and trust the other person. We get into trouble when we stop talking to each other about things that matter. Also, it’s helpful to talk to other couples, to know that you’re not alone.

Justine: If you need outside help, don’t be afraid to seek it.

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