Couples Chronicles ó Interview 23
Delores Has Come to Me Freely ó
That Makes It Real Sweet
First published in February 1989
© 1999, Demian
Jeanne McCamish, 40, and Dolores Anselment, 54, first met in 1962 at an all-girlsí high school in St. Louis where Jeanne was a freshman and Dolores, then a nun, was Jeanneís teacher for several classes. They have been best friends for 28 years and have lived together as partners and lovers for the past three years near St. Louis, Missouri. Jeanne has worked for the postal service for 20 years and Dolores is now a massage therapist.
What did you think of each other when you first met?
Jeanne: Attraction, right away. I got to see quite a bit of her that first year. At that time she was a religious sister, when they still wore the full habits.
I had been attracted to nuns all through grade school and at that time I needed another mother, someone who could listen to me. I tested the waters pretty early on and found that she was a good listener. I always wanted to be with Dolores as much as possible, so Iíd stay after school to help her with whatever I could.
Delores: I did notice she was following me, but there were two or three that used to hang around regularly. I guess I was kind of used to that. Thatís all it was to me.
Later on, Jeannie hung around and followed me a little bit more. By the time she was a junior, she had grown closer to me. When she cut her ankle and had missed quite a bit of school, I took her homework to her. I think it was then I began to have some feelings toward her.
It became a friendship pretty quickly, although it was confusing because it was like a mother/daughter relationship. I gave her attention because I sensed she didnít have all that much at home. I was reaching out to her. I thought she had a crush on me.
Jeanne: I did have a crush on her. I attended a second class of hers and I sat right in front of the lectern and made goo-goo eyes at her all the time.
Did your age differences help create a mother/daughter tone?
Jeanne: If I show pictures, people will ask me if this is my mother, but the biggest thing is our backgrounds. We come from almost different generations.
If I had my druthers, we would be a little closer in age, in hopes that weíd live to the same ripe old age. But we have found other couples to have ten or more yearsí difference. Itís not a major problem.
Jeanne, what is your family background?
Jeanne: Iím an Irish Catholic, the oldest of three girls. We were always going to mass and devotions. I donít feel I had a very happy life as a child though. I knew I was different because of my attraction to teachers and nuns. I can recall having some feelings for one of the girls in my second grade class.
I was always athletic and a tom-boy. I got guns, boots and cowboys hats as Christmas gifts from my parents. I mowed the grass and learned how to drive the car at an early age. I guess I was the son my father never had. But that made it difficult because I always thought of myself as more masculine. I didnít fit in with the girls or the boys.
I didnít come out until the first time I walked into a psychiatristís office. He made me face the fact that I was a lesbian. I was 35 years old.
Have you had feelings toward other women as an adult?
Jeanne: Yes, I had one relationship with a woman for five years. When we broke up, we felt committed to each other and so continued to live together for 15 years. I donít think I would have had this other relationship if Delores had been there.
As a nun, she had all these other responsibilities, yet I always wanted her to be with me. It seemed she never had enough time for me, although she gave me a lot of time, more than she gave to any other person.
Dolores, what is your family background?
Delores: I grew up in a rural farm community. My parents are Catholic and German. We were always closely tied to church activities. I come from a family with 13 children.
I went to the convent when I was only 13 and was a nun for 33 years. Iíve been out of the community for three years now.
How was your time as a nun?
Delores: I feel like they were really good years. I did a lot for the community and they did a lot for me. But it came to the point when I realized that I could not be living two separate lives. Being attracted to Jeannie, I had to make a choice. It was a very difficult decision to make and it took a long time.
When I asked to leave to sort things out, the Provincial said ďnoĒ and gave me a couple of options. One choice was to seek counsel, which I did.
After counseling, they gave me a sabbatical and I went to Minnesota for a special program in holistic living for almost a year. All before coming to this decision.
Jeanne: It took a total of almost two years. We both were in a lot of turmoil. When she went to Minnesota I kept in contact with her, calling her almost every Saturday night and talking two or three hours. All this time we were in counseling.
The main reason she went on sabbatical was because of a difficult separation we had in June of 1984. We had a rocky road for about nine months when she first said she was going to leave the convent and come to me. We did not have a healthy relationship at that time.
What did you consider unhealthy?
Jeanne: Basically, I didnít have any other friends. My whole life was Delores. That, coupled with the stress of her leaving the community, almost destroyed us. I was pushing her to come out of the convent.
Because of Deloresí responsibilities in the community with her job as a religious education consultant, I was living my life completely in accord with hers. Whenever she could fit me in on the calendar, Iíd go with her to various functions.
What precipitated the separation?
Jeanne: We had an argument that didnít get resolved. Delores had had enough and ran away so I couldnít find her. That did me in because for months we had either talked or seen each other almost daily.
When she left I went into deep depression. I thought I would die. I had no other life, friends or people to be with.
What did you do after you separated?
Jeanne: I found a lot of support and made a lot of friends. I flew to different conferences trying to get myself well. In doing that, I found out I wasnít so much alone. There were a lot of people in similar situations.
Delores has received a lot of support from Conference for Catholic Lesbians, Dignity and the local PFLAG group.
Did any good come from the rough period?
Jeanne: We now look back and count our blessings. If Delores had left the convent in early í84 when she was going to, we feel our relationship would not have worked. We were too turned in on one another and probably would not have made it.
That year of separation gave us time to get healthy. Delores was then able to make her own decision. It wasnít Jeannie pulling and pushing anymore. I know now that Delores has come to me freely. That makes it real sweet.
What would you suggest for maintaining health in a relationship?
Delores: Itís important to reach out to other people. We do things like becoming active in Dignity, serving on the board, helping make policies that benefit the poor and disadvantaged.
Developing good communication and building trust also make a relationship healthy. Even now, I donít think our trust level is always perfect, but we have certainly grown a lot. That has a lot to do with making our relationship healthier.
Jeanne: Delores gave me a book, Unconditional Love, which should be required reading for all couples. We get caught up with ďshe loves me because I do this or that for her.Ē
We try to base our love on the kind of love that Jesus loves us with, and thatís unconditional. No matter what we do or who we are, Jesus loves us. Thatís exactly how weíve tried to pattern our love relationship, not what we do for one another.
Thatís a difficult concept.
Jeanne: Yes it is. Itís not a concept the world teaches.
Delores has had a lot to do with this relationship being very successful because it was she who has had the more theological experience and education. Itís her success, really, her inspiration that makes us as wonderful as we are.
Our religious background and our love of God are really the points that bring us together more than any other. It brought us together initially and has kept us together all these years.
Any other health-promoting activities?
Jeanne: We feel that itís important to be out as much as possible. The year after Delores was out of the convent she was marching in the gay pride parade. We get frustrated here in the Midwest because people donít seem to want to get involved. They just want to stay in their nice little suburban homes and take care of each other.
I think we could do a heck of a lot more for the gay and lesbian community. As long as we live, weíll continue to be out as much as possible and do for others because we see the great need to work for our rights. Itís not only for ourselves, itís for those who follow.
Did being raised Catholic present a conflict for you as a lesbian?
Delores: My biggest conflict was in dealing with religious life and the lesbian relationship more than Catholicism or my Catholic background. When I came to realize who I really was, I had to deal with all the other conflicts, like whether or not I could live a vow of celibacy and still have a relationship with somebody.
I do have problems with the Catholic church and teachings of the church concerning homosexuality, gayness and lesbianism. The church just doesnít understand. Sometimes the church doesnít take into account peopleís experiences. Hopefully, some centuries down the road, theyíll come to understand a little better.
Jeanne: Iíve had a lot of conflict trying to balance out the two. When I was in my other relationship, I would return from mass every Sunday, crying and saying, ďI just know God understands the fact that I am different.Ē I had a lot of guilt for a long, long time.
How did you counteract the guilt?
Jeanne: Iíve learned a lot from my involvement with Dignity, as well as from reading and going to conferences and retreats. I now believe I have no problem with my salvation. Also, I can still be Catholic, even if the Catholic church says Iím ďdisordered,Ē or whatever they said in that last document.
If Pope John Paul would call us to Rome, heíd hear about our experience of 28 years together. We didnít have genital sex for 24 of those years. Sex is not a first issue with the two of us. God has always been a part of our life and we have prayed together a lot.
The church doesnít see that. All they see is what the papers print about the bar scene. There are a heck of a lot of Catholic couples out there that the church would do well to listen to.
I am no longer in conflict, I am past that point now. I know that Jesus loves me and that Iím a better person in this relationship. Since Dolores has come to live with me, Iím a better person all the way around.
Have you prepared legal documents that recognize your relationship?
Jeanne: Yes we have. We donít have good relationships with our families, so we have Powers of Attorney papers. We are each otherís beneficiary on our life insurance policies. We also had another document drawn up to deal specifically with health matters.
Karen Thompson was here in St. Louis this summer. When I heard her speak, I was even more convinced to get whatever legal supports are out there.
Do you share income?
Jeanne: All the way.
Delores: There have been times when I have been unemployed, but thatís not a problem for us because our monies are one money.
What do you see as the future of your relationship?
Delores: We will continue to be a committed couple and hopefully continue to grow in unconditional love.
Jeanne: We know that it will never end, even through death, because we really feel like there was some reason that God got us together.