The lessons I have learned about love and happiness over the past few years have been numerous and life changing. Now that there has been some time for me to reflect on my life before and since coming out, I see things with such greater clarity than I ever thought possible.

My story may sound familiar to you.

I grew up in a small town in Michigan. I am an Eagle Scout. I spent my summers on my best friend's dairy farm. I was in 4-H. I was a multi-sport athlete in high school and then ran track & field at the very conservative institution of Hillsdale College, which The National Review once called "The Conservative Harvard." I was a "true jock" and was an active member of one of the campus' fraternities.

You get the picture.

I got a teaching job immediately out of college at an equally traditional and fundamental high school in Colorado. My continual love of sports got me immediately involved in coaching at the school. I soon married a young teacher there, a woman. In just a few years, I was a husband and father in a stable and loving family of four.

But I was gay. Gay then, gay now, gay always.

Reason would suggest that no gay person enters into a heterosexual marriage with the intent of ending it someday. In fact, most research supports the notion that gay individuals choose to marry a heterosexual in order to bury their true nature and deeply repressed attraction to their same sex. That's what I did. That was the real choice I made. In reality, that choice led to a great deal of pain for people that I love.

Life in conservative and religiously intolerant environments, a deep love of sports, and then marriage converted my closet into more of cell. While I might have been able to see the world and myself outside of this prison, in my mind, there was absolutely no way out of it.

Along with my marriage, the addition of children in my life turned my cell into more of a vault. Brick by brick I had built an impenetrable barrier between living my life as a genuine person and the actually fraudulent life in which I was immersed. I chose to live a life that had been clearly defined by the culture around me. I chose a life of complete heterosexuality and rejected anything other than that.

Even though I was not free to be my authentic self, I cannot say that I was unhappy. I was very much accustomed to the context of my life. I had been surrounded by wonderful husbands and fathers my entire life and I believed I knew how to be one. I worked hard to create the "perfect" family and the "perfect" home.

It is nearly impossible to describe the feelings and emotions that I struggled with daily as a deeply closeted and gay husband and father. In no way can I say that I regret getting married and having raising two wonderful children. My ex-wife was a caring spouse and a wonderful mother. So much joy came from those relationships. My son and daughter are the joys of my life. I embrace everything about being a dad. I love it. Though it is very different now as my children are older, I absolutely still love being a father. I would never trade those experiences and the opportunities and joys of parenthood for anything.

I can even convince myself that if I would have embraced my sexuality earlier in life, I would have never met my partner, Brandan. We have a deeply loving relationship of nearly four years. We will be together for a long time.

Before that relationship could start, ending my marriage and embracing my sexuality became the greatest dilemma of my life.

Do I shatter everything I had built for my family and myself in order to be my true self? It seemed so selfish. Or was it selfish to be lying to those I loved? The answer just never seemed clear. Slowly but surely, a deep sense of guilt and the need for honesty kept hammering away at me. Those secure and comfortable walls that I had built began to lose some impenetrability. My life was not what I wanted, nor was I the person I truly wanted to be.

Once deep depression and guilt took complete hold of me, I realized that I needed to tackle the reality that I was a gay man living a lie. I was lying to my spouse, whom I had vowed to love and protect. She saw me as a lifelong partner to raise our children and build a home. And we did. For a while.

Other than the growing and intense reality that my true sexuality would never go away, I cannot pinpoint a single experience or event that led me to telling my wife and being honest with myself and everyone in my life. I do know that a major part of my motivation was my children. How could I be a good role model if I was living life as a fraud?

For years, I played it all out in my head.

I would tell my wife first. She would be deeply hurt. We would talk through it and I would tell her how sorry I was and that I would always care for her.

We would then talk about the realities of divorce. It would be amicable and we would stay friends. I imagined that our children would see their mom and dad working together to deal with the difficult but necessary end of our marriage. My ex-wife would find someone to love, and he make her happy. So would I. We would attend events for our children and have an understanding of each other because we had lived, loved, and worked together for 13 years. We would be a family, but just a very different family.

I saw it being hard for both of my children as they navigated through difficult teenage years, but it would be OK. I had seen hundreds of seemingly well-adjusted kids who had experienced broken homes. They would be OK. It would all be OK.

The "self-talk" was very reassuring.

I just celebrated my 42nd birthday. I am now in my fourth year as an openly gay and very happily partnered man. For the most part, things have been OK.

But let's be honest, dismantling the inauthentic life I had created was tough. It has taken a great deal of support from my partner, family, and friends for me to be where I am now. Time has allowed for some wounds to heal and painful memories to fade. I have had to essentially start over financially and have had to carefully plan out my new future. While it is very exciting, it has also been scary and difficult.

But I am happy.

Clearly, choices matter. Years ago, I chose to live my life as a married heterosexual and the culture around me expected that choice and supported it. TLC's new show "My Husband is Not Gay" is a stark reminder for me of that choice I once made. This program is an incredibly dangerous and irresponsible mockery of the real pain and struggle that many gay individuals face every day. It pains me to see a program on the air that promotes an exclusive heterosexual culture and suggests that ignoring one's true sexuality is the right things to do. Following such a message will ultimately lead to depression, unhappiness, and pain.

You, and those who love you, deserve more than following some archaic culture norm. Trust me on that one.

Micah Porter is the boys cross-country and track & field coach at D'Evelyn High School in Colorado. You can follow him on Twitter @MicahPorter.

Micah Porter (right) with his partner, Brandan.

Don't forget to share: