I’ve been dating a girl I’ve come to love so much these past months. We started out as friends a few years back in high school and I began to develop feelings for her last year. Finally able to confess, I was relieved that she still wanted to be my friend, although I didn’t get a clear yes or no response to my confession. A few weeks later, I confronted her about how I still felt and she told me she wanted to be with me as well. I was so happy! We started dating, but it was off to a rocky start due to keeping it a secret from our friends and families. But after the rain came a rainbow so to speak and now we’ve been together since February. However, we still are keeping it a secret. Our seven month-iversary (I believe it’s called?) just passed and I can’t stop thinking about her family. My mom and brother know I’m with her, as well as two of my best friends and a friend of hers. Her mother has been nothing but kind to me, so I feel guilty for not telling her, as well as my other, extremely close friends. The issue with all of this is that I’m also a girl. We were both brought up Christian, but my mom and brother are way more relaxed about things than I think her family is, as well as my extended family, but I’ll keep this within our physical household limits. Her mom has spoken before about loving others and not judging anyone, but I can’t help feeling that she’ll come to dislike me if she finds out I, a girl, have been with her daughter all these months without saying a word, not to mention my girlfriend’s mother’s husband has clear views about same-sex relationships. As in, they’re wrong.
Another thing that bothers me is that, although my mother and brother know I’m in this relationship, they still make jokes about me one day having a husband and kids as if I’m still the “straight” girl they raised. I know they don’t mean any harm, but it feels like they don’t see my relationship the way I see it, as something that can last long term. I don’t know what to do in this situation, so just keeping quiet and feeling guilty has been my song. My girlfriend and I have talked a lot about what to do before and we agreed to just keep it a secret, but this has been weighing on me so long now, especially when her mother calls me her “daughter’s friend” or says I’m “like her sister” (yikes) at times. Sorry for such a long message.
Thank you for reading this far! And thank you for your advice column, June! You as well, La Wally!
—Phlustered in Philadelphia
Please don’t feel that you have to apologize for a long message. It is much easier to answer detailed letters: less speculating, fewer alternate scenarios. And have you seen the length of some of my replies?
I can certainly understand why the situation with your girlfriend (let’s call her Adrian, a solid Philly name) and her family makes you feel tense and uncomfortable. It is no fun to worry that your warm relationship with them is based on their being—or pretending to be—unaware of the truth about your relationship with her, and it can be excruciating to have to watch what you say and do almost every minute you are with them, and to be forced into evasions and half-truths and maybe even some outright lies.
But I hope you realize that, even if you can’t help feeling guilty, you have nothing to feel guilty about. For one thing, it does not sound as if are going out of your way to create a false impression. (In fact, I wonder whether Adrian and her family are at the “don’t ask, don’t tell” stage of the coming-out process, with everybody preferring to avoid a confrontation. Of course, this might not prevent the family from being shocked, shocked if forced to face reality.) Besides, even if you were actively deceiving Adrian’s family, doing so would not be morally wrong, since having a same-sex relationship is not wrong in itself, and since you and Adrian apparently have good reason to expect some unpleasant and unwarranted responses if you do come out to her family.
Whether keeping the relationship secret from Adrian’s family is a good idea practically or psychologically is another matter—and, despite your references to “guilt,” I think that is what your letter is really about. There may come a point where the discomfort you feel around her family puts such a strain on your relationship with Adrian that her coming out strikes you as the only way to preserve it. From your letter, it sounds as if you may be reaching that point before too long. It may also have occurred to you that, either because one or both of you can’t maintain the “very good friends” pose much longer, or because you are out to other people and in other situations, Adrian should tell her family preemptively, while she can still have some control over how the family finds out. You may also have reason to fear that, the longer the two of you wait, the worse it will be when they do learn the truth.
On the other hand, one or both of you may sense that the better course is to keep quiet and let her folks catch on little by little, over time, on the theory that they will gradually come to know, and maybe even accept, the real situation through experience rather than some explicit announcement.
From your letter, I can’t tell whether either of you thinks that telling Adrian’s mother and stepfather about your real relationship will create problems for you, and her, beyond disapproval—some initial disappointment from her mother, perhaps, and a few distant harrumphs from her stepfather? Is there reason to worry that her mom and stepfather might go beyond just “disliking” you until they come around, but actually refuse to see you ever again, or even demand that Adrian stop seeing you? And what about Adrian—might they actually disown her? How much power—the bread-and-butter kind, not just emotional control—do they still have over her? Does she have a job? Is she still in school? Is she living at home? Is she financially dependent on her mom and stepdad for living expenses, tuition, or health insurance? Is her stepdad a seriously homophobic, patriarchal bully who controls the family dynamic and the purse strings? Does Adrian have a dad, and where does he fit in?
But here I am, speculating. I get the sense from your letter that, despite plenty of misgivings, you would come out to Adrian’s family if the choice were yours alone and that, at the very least, you would like to revisit the issue with her. Does Adrian know how stressed you are? Are you and she able to speak candidly about this stress and weigh it against some of the problems, even danger, that might result from coming out to her family? The two of you need to keep talking and, perhaps, reevaluate the situation.
As you seem to understand, the decision whether to come out to her family is Adrian’s, not yours. Few decisions are more personal and difficult; and if she decides that she is not ready, you will have to live with that. Bear in mind that, if her parents learn that you two are a couple, she is likely to be the one who bears the brunt of their anger and disapproval; her having deceived them, much less your having done so, will probably be of far less concern to them than her being in a same-sex relationship.
Even though the choice is hers, you can try to persuade her to come out—but without pressuring her: a tall order! And of course you can break up if the stress of secrecy becomes unbearable, although I suspect that, at least for the time being, there are less drastic measures you can take, such as seeing less of her family, spending more time with mutual LGBT friends and other supportive people, and hoping that Adrian comes around. Or that the secret leaks out. Or that her parents wise up on their own.
These practical and psychological issues are all worth exploring not just with Adrian, but also with a trusted professional counselor, a local LGBTQ organization, or a peer-counseling group. If you would rather stay anonymous, or stay home, the GLBT (yes, I know the acronym reverses the usual order) National Hotline, or its Youth Talkline for people under 25, might help. Google them. Remember, though, that peers are just that: it can be very useful to consult them, but you need to make up your own mind.
Now on to your own friends and family. As to those “extremely close friends” you haven’t told yet, try not to feel guilty about them, either. Tell them when you feel comfortable doing so, and weigh the practical pros and cons. Think about how likely it is that confiding in your closest friends will result in your being outed to your whole social circle, and maybe even Adrian’s if you and she come from the same community. (More likely than you think, in my experience.) On the other side of the equation, it’s worth considering whether telling one or more of these very close friends could be of real help to you, deepening the friendship and giving you other sympathetic listeners. (I’m assuming that these close friends would indeed be sympathetic. If not, who needs ‘em?) It’s also worth weighing, but not very heavily, whether your close friends will be hurt or angry when they eventually learn that you have told another close friend, but not them. In most cases, a true friend can be made to understand how hard it is to come out, especially when your partner wants to stay closeted, but be prepared for some initial stiffness.
As for your mother and brother: this has to stop. If you say so, I’ll accept that they mean no harm. But they are not taking you seriously. I think you should be explicit with them the next time they allude to your future as a married hetero mom. If you are bisexual and have told them so—or if you haven’t talked to them much about your orientation, and don’t know or don’t really feel like discussing whether you may be bisexual—try saying: “Come on, guys, I’m with Adrian and I hope to stay with her. Please lay off with the husband stuff.” If you are a lesbian and have told them so, say something more like: “Come on, guys, you know I’m a lesbian.”
If they keep it up with the future husband comments, escalate. Tell them that they are hurting your feelings and that’s it’s really important to you that they stop.
Do they talk about your future hubby and kids only when other people are around? If so, you will have to take them aside and give them a little private speech. Again, start off light and friendly, but ramp it up
I hope that you and Adrian work it out. Falling in love with a good friend, and finding out that she loves you, too, is uniquely wonderful. Whatever happens, you will always have that great joy to remember.
La Wally says:
You need to talk to your girlfriend again! You have to make sure she knows how bad you feel. Then take it from there.
You also have to tell your mother and brother that you don’t want to hear those husband and kids remarks ever again. Don’t let them get away with this!
Ward would like to add:
You don’t have to tackle all these problems at once. Start by talking to your girlfriend—and try to be supportive no matter what she decides to do.
I’m a recent college graduate with mad STEM skills. I just started my first full-time job last June. My question is: should I quit it to go work on a political campaign until the election? I feel strongly about the candidate and even more strongly about the fate of the country. The job is unpaid, but my role will be important—and I think my skills could really help. Despite the fact that my parents are furious at the very thought of my quitting my job, the fact is that I am very employable, and could maybe even get my old job back, even though they are so pissed off at me they have refused to give me a leave of absence. I have enough money saved for college loan payments, health insurance, and really basic necessities for several months, and no rent to pay (since I never did get around to moving out of my parents’ basement). I have plenty of great places to couch surf in the other towns I may get sent to, and the campaign will help out with shelter if needed. There also seems to be plenty of food and coffee. What should I do?
—Eager in East Falls
If you’ve read more than a couple of my columns, you know what my answer will be.
In any event, you’ve already answered your own question: you listed several reasons for quitting and campaigning, and none at all for staying. The closest you came was mentioning that your parents are angry, and I do have some sympathy for their position. They probably worry about your future and feel that they have some stake in it after helping you with school, enduring the constant bass line from the basement that shakes the kitchen floor, etc. But, unless you are kidding yourself, you will get a new job with little trouble—which sounds right, since you are young and have STEM skills. In fact, your brief experience using those skills in a political campaign may have some resume value as showing versatility and a sense of civic duty.
Your folks may also think that you are being irresponsible. But it is not as if you are going off to lounge away your life among the lotus-eaters. You are trying to contribute to society at a crucial time—and not even for very long, since November is coming up. Go for it!
P.S. The magazine should already have emailed you a copy of this letter. Time is of the essence, and publication can take a while.
La Wally says:
If you are passionate about it, do it! Something good may come out of it. My only question is: will your parents kick you out of the basement, and if so, will you care?
Cleaver’s in-house advice columnist opines on matters punctuational, interpersonal, and philosophical, spinning wit and literary wisdom in response to your ethical quandaries. Write to her at [email protected]. Find more columns by June in her attic.
La Wally is the nom de June of June Cleaver‘s adult daughter. In real life, she’s an artist and entrepreneur. What’s up with her name? In choosing a pseudonym, the two of them considered the names of the original Cleaver family offspring, both boys, but rejected “Beaver” for obvious reasons. “Wally” alone seemed too masculine and generally hideous. But “La Wally” brings to mind Catalani’s wonderful opera. Speaking of which, have you seen the movie Diva? You should.