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Q: So, about a week ago, I started dating this girl I’ve been liking for a while. She likes me back, and we are happily dating, but she’s been hiding it from her family. I understand the fear of coming out — I and many of my friends have gone through it. And I understand her reluctance to tell her family, as she’s in a religious one … However, I really like her and want to be open about my relationship. Another friend of mine said to put it on pause until she comes out, but I’m afraid of how long that’ll be.
— Come Out, Girlfriend
A: Why isn’t there a term for the kind of love that’s between unrequited and requited love? If there were a term, I’d tell you that’s the kind of love you have. And it seems, from your letter, that kind of love isn’t going to be enough for you. It’s that “Perfect if we were on a desert island” love where the complications of life and others can’t interfere.
I can only imagine what it will be like for you, now that the weather is warmer and couples are cooing all over each other and hand-holding up and down sidewalks from The Highlands to the Waterfront. That heartache that will overcome you when your love says something silly and the sunlight is washing her in a golden glow, and you want more than anything to lean over and kiss her, but can’t because someone might see and that someone might out her to her family.
You have every right to want more — you deserve more. But that right doesn’t mean you deserve it from her specifically. When we express our needs in a relationship, and our partner tells us what they can and can’t give us, it’s then up to us to decide whether to stay or whether to go. And if it were her writing in instead of you, I’d tell her the same thing — that it’d be unfair of her to demand that you wait it out in this relationship until she’s ready to have that conversation with her family. You are both asking something huge of the other person very early on in your relationship. That’s tough.
Because I can’t speak directly to the coming-out experience, I want to share with you what a couple of friends shared with me:
Anthony L. — “There are plenty of reasons why someone hasn’t come out to their family. They shouldn’t take it personally, as coming out is a specific experience for everyone, and you can’t put a timeline on it, so there shouldn’t be external pressure to do so. But I guess if it’s bugging them, or whatever the circumstance is, they should be honest about their own feelings and communicate with their partner realistically about what they need from their partner (as well as what they’re willing to give their partner). Coming out to family members is intense for some people, it can involve a lot of trauma. People should not be pushed to come out to their family for someone else.”
Carrie C. — “I’m queer from a super-tight, religious family, and we all have our own journeys. In my experience, it was a really long one. Sometimes people’s steps in life just don’t align, even if we love them madly. I’m super out now, but not with my family because I just can’t deal with them. I generally keep loved ones away from my family, because they can be awful, and they are not a big part of my life. Once I finally freed myself from that shit, I decided to stay away from them (But again: Super, super long journey to get there).”
This isn’t to imply her family members are awful people because of their religious affiliation, but since you mentioned religion I wanted to provide a P.O.V. from someone with a similar background as your girlfriend and show how religion can sometimes make the journey longer or even more challenging.
In the end, you must do what’s best for your emotional health and allow her to do the same. Unfortunately, that may mean taking a step back in your relationship. Don’t be surprised if there’s some back-and-forth, on-again-off-again before you all really decide what you want. It’s hard to let go of someone you care about — whether that’s your family or your partner.
Stay cool this summer,