Staying friends with an ex who may be in denial about his sexuality?
September 6, 2011 7:20 PM   Subscribe

A guy I was seeing abruptly decided he was not gay and cut off contact with me. How can I help him through what he's going through and preserve our friendship, or at least make sense of this?

Late spring this year, I started seeing a guy I had known online for a while through an online community. We'd known each other for a few years, but once our lives' paths brought us into the same area of the country, he started coming down to visit a weekend or two a month. We clicked instantly, and I knew I had found, at the very least, a lifelong friend. In between his visits (which were very difficult to coordinate, since he is in the military), we were constantly in touch over IM and texts.

Recently, we hadn't seen each other in a few weeks and things were building up to what would have been a 4-day visit over the holiday. The night before he was set to arrive, we said goodnight to each other and he said he'd call me in the morning when he was en route. I woke up to a text saying he wasn't coming, had lied, and was sorry. It was a complete shock. I sent back a text pleading for an honest explanation, emphasizing that I wasn't upset with him about what just happened but just wanted to know why it did, and that nothing he said would hurt me permanently. A few hours later, he sent me an email saying he wasn't gay, had been pretending the whole time just to be different, he was a coward and had wasted my time, was being forced to see a psychologist for the past few weeks (though it was unclear if it was over his sexuality or some other issue), that his security clearance was being threatened by bad social interaction, and that he would break off any contact with me as to not cause any more harm to me.

A few days later, I sent him an email that boiled down to saying that I'm here to support him, that his coming forward with what he told me was courageous, that I'm still his friend no matter how he thinks he's hurt me or whether or not he's gay, and that I would respect his wish to not reach out to him if that is truly what's best for him and not because he thinks he's hurting me. I ended the letter asking him to, at the very least, let me know he's out there with a simple two-word reply ("I'm ok"), which to my relief he respected, albeit depressingly ("I will be ok").

So, I'm writing here to ask if anyone else has been in a similar situation, as I'm trying to make sense of this all. What I want is to salvage what was an intensely deep and meaningful friendship. I am completely fine with him not being gay. On the other hand, I find it hard to believe that's true at all. His actions and words on that subject through every conversation prior to that moment revealed no wavering, and isn't the type to premedidate something like this. I believe he's confused, and it's compounded by being in the military and military culture. I'm worried about the mention of the psychologist and what role that's played in all this. But again, if he's confused, I have absolutely no intention of shoving him into the gay column. I absolutely just want to preserve our friendship and be a good friend to him, especially since he's mentioned being bummed out by military life in general many times before, and I feel he really needs someone to talk to outside the military. I'm also afraid the best thing for him right now really is to stay away to give him time to lose any attachment to me, but that's something that would genuinely hurt me instead (not being able to talk to him as a friend like I used to, not the relationship part). This whole thing has been devastating for me. It was my first real relationship (and likely his), so I know I don't have a lot of perspective, but I know that it's taken years for me to find a guy like him and it'll be nearly impossible to do it again. On top of all of this, there's a looming time limit of late November when he'll be stationed/deployed elsewhere, adding to the current difficulties in having to use discretion contacting him.

Again, I'm wondering if anyone can share any similar experiences or just general advice. I've registered another account "laborday" to post any follow-ups or responses. Thanks!
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
"Don't ask, don't tell" (DADT) is in effect until September 20, 2011. Could that be a factor?
posted by amtho at 7:34 PM on September 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


but I know that it's taken years for me to find a guy like him and it'll be nearly impossible to do it again.

Your system is designed to find someone else. It is not going to be impossible.

The most important thing you can do is start thinking about your needs. Your need to recover, your need to learn to be hurt and to love again. He has made a decision for himself. You need to make a decision for yourself.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:38 PM on September 6, 2011 [5 favorites]


His security clearance is at issue over "bad social interaction"??

You have no idea what is going on with this person as it seems he kept a lot from you. Further, his career trumps any friendship you might have had.

I'm so so sorry. You can not support this person because he can't meet you even halfway.

Leave the door open if you want, but move on.

I'm sorry. Truly.
posted by jbenben at 7:44 PM on September 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


Whatever his deal is (dear god, I can't even tell), he's not down with being truthful with you right now, and clearly doesn't seem to be in a good space for a relationship. I think you are probably better off dropping him. He seems really weird and shifty and he's not treating you well if he thought this was okay behavior.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:47 PM on September 6, 2011


i'm really sorry you're hurting over this. it isn't fair and you have every right to be upset. however, if you really care about him, and i believe you do, i think you have to fall back to do what's best for him.

he was a coward and had wasted my time, was being forced to see a psychologist for the past few weeks (though it was unclear if it was over his sexuality or some other issue), that his security clearance was being threatened by bad social interaction, and that he would break off any contact with me as to not cause any more harm to me.

his entire livelihood is in danger, it sounds like he's telling you exactly what he needs from you. i know it seems like it will last forever, but your friendship could still recover if he wants it to. he's just not in a position where he can maintain it presently. it sounds like he's needing to prove he's all in when it comes to the military and his feelings for you are jeopardizing that.

but, i think you already know all this.

I'm also afraid the best thing for him right now really is to stay away to give him time to lose any attachment to me, but that's something that would genuinely hurt me instead

listen to that part of yourself - if your concern is for him, then do what he's asking. it doesn't have to be permanent, but it does have to be right now. go on, live your life, meet new people. let him know you are open to a friendship in the future if he wishes.

as for personal experience, i am a woman who dated a woman in the military. now i watch her FB page fill up with pictures of her husband and children.
posted by nadawi at 7:49 PM on September 6, 2011 [6 favorites]


fwiw, i don't think he thinks this is ok behavior. i think this was something probably mandated beyond his pay grade and he was told what was expected of him. the part about therapy and security clearance sounds a lot like another friend i have who "doesn't fit in" to army life. he was given similar ultimatums about his off base activities and interactions (and his had nothing to do with being gay - but all the same stuff about socializing was said to him).
posted by nadawi at 7:52 PM on September 6, 2011 [6 favorites]


I've had people do the 180 and suddenly deny things about their sexuality completely, in essence denying our relationship. It hurts, and it's scary because it's such a huge repression that you feel like it must be damaging to them. Add in the military thing and, well, I understand why this is shocking and upsetting and I think you have valid concerns about his mental health and general well-being.

I know you want to be his friend, and I think you've done a commendable job of letting him know that you're there for him. I don't think there's much else you can do now. I'm sorry.
posted by the young rope-rider at 7:58 PM on September 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


I would wonder if security clearance issues were concerned with whether he could be blackmailed or otherwise put in a compromising situation, not to mention DADT is still in effect.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 7:59 PM on September 6, 2011


This reminds me of how, in movies or whatever, a straight guy will sometimes tell a woman he's gay in order to avoid seeing her anymore. And hilarity ensues, etc. This situation sounds a bit like that in reverse. Except minus the hilarity, obviously.

Not saying that's what is happening here, necessarily, and I'm not trying to make you paranoid, but it's something to consider: Is there a chance this is a line he's feeding you to break it off for another reason?
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 8:04 PM on September 6, 2011 [3 favorites]


A lot of people have trouble adjusting to their sexual orientation, whatever it is, and sometimes those people act sort of badly in the attempt to deal with it, and I think it's important, with society as awful as it is still, to try to be forgiving. I was mad, mad, *mad* about a girl, once, who decided that she was Not A Lesbian and she was going to go back to her boyfriend. I had trouble coping and ended up going back to unsatisfactory relationships with guys where I didn't have to worry about coming out.

Ten years later, we're both in stable relationships with other women, both doing a lot better, and I've realized that it was just something we both needed to work through, at the time. We're not close anymore, but I feel good that I know she's okay. But it was really painful, at the time.

So. If this is really a sexual orientation thing, which it very well might be, I'd just leave it alone for now and let him figure it all out in his own time.

And if it's not that... well, you know, it's probably easier just to think of it as though it is.
posted by gracedissolved at 8:37 PM on September 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


i'm sorry you're experiencing this.
Please realize you have been perfectly clear that you are willing to be his friend, to help him through whatever, to be open to a different kind of relationship.
He, however, is not.
He knows how to contact you and any further contact from you sounds like it would be unwelcome.
posted by calgirl at 9:14 PM on September 6, 2011 [2 favorites]


You are getting a lot of advice about the military from people who aren't in the military, and judging from their replies, whose information mostly seems to come from movies and urban myth. I don't know if this will make you feel better or worse, but I would at least like to point out a few things so that you can judge for yourself how honest this person is being with you. Since you've posted anonymously, I can't be certain we are talking about the US military, but your descriptions and choice of words make me about 95% sure that you are. If instead you are in Canada or France or Nepal, then all bets are off, and this information doesn't apply:

Having a relationship with a person of the same gender does not disqualify you from getting or maintaining a security clearance. You just have to declare it. Which means writing it down on the initial or renewal form that is used as the basis for your investigators to begin their casefile. Yes, this is even true for active duty military members.

Although it is obviously difficult to research because of privacy and the whole DADT issue , the few studies that have been done indicate that demographically speaking, the military intelligence community has a disproportionately high number of gay soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines in it. To be more clear-- the intelligence community (and especially linguists and analysts) is pretty much the mothership for homosexuals in the military. There is no career field with as many gay servicemembers in it, or as much tolerance and discretion. Considering that there is a tiny amount a people who can both learn Chinese/Korean/Arabic in 18 months and are willing to enlist in the military, coupled with the fact that it takes 100's of thousands of dollars to train a linguist means that traditionally the service has been willing to overlook a lot.

For example, even in the 90's, I have been to promotion ceremonies where the servicemember's "friend" was there, and actually pinned the new rank insignia onto the sailor's collar-- a task traditionally reserved only for wives and husbands. And it passed without incident, and without (much) comment. Despite what the media wants to tell you, DADT was the order that we were given, and the vast majority of us follow our orders. Of course there were a few bad apples-- like the Air Force OSI investigators who went on anti-gay witch hunts. But the worst of those guys are now in jail for what they did, and most of the rest of them are working as minimum wage greeters at Wal-Mart.

But mostly gay servicemembers have been serving more or less openly for almost two decades, which is the length of a military career. The media needs to drum up controversy because that seems to be their business model, but the reality is that for most people in the service it doesn't matter as much as they would have you believe, and even the ones who disapprove rapidly learn to keep their mouths shut.

So, I went into enough detail above to try and give you some background. The other side of the coin is that most people who enter the military are teenage boys, and heavily steeped in traditional jock/frat boy culture. So it's not all peace and tolerance in the foxholes and flight decks. And young people are more susceptible to peer pressure, and some parts of the military are more open than others. It's an open joke that there are thousands of gay Marines, but none of them will ever admit it. To them it's more important to be a Marine than it is to come out as openly gay.

But now I think I've written enough for you to recognize that some of the things your friend told you aren't exactly true. Some of them are excuses, and he may be hoping to play on your ignorance of the military in order to break off contact. But your post makes me think that you already partially know that.

None of which helps the heartbreak. You have my sincere condolences. Love is the greatest thing in the world, except when it doesn't work. Then it is the worst. I wish I could tell you something that would make your friend come back, but the best I can offer is a view from inside the establishment that may help you process things a little more clearly. I'm very sorry for your loss, and my own advice would be to stay open and available for future contact, but don't expect too much, if anything to happen.
posted by seasparrow at 10:17 PM on September 6, 2011 [10 favorites]


How can I help him through what he's going through and preserve our friendship, or at least make sense of this?

You already did:

A few days later, I sent him an email that boiled down to saying that I'm here to support him, that his coming forward with what he told me was courageous, that I'm still his friend no matter how he thinks he's hurt me or whether or not he's gay, and that I would respect his wish to not reach out to him if that is truly what's best for him and not because he thinks he's hurting me.

That was it. If he wants help, he'll ask for it. It's awful, there's no way to know what is happening in his life unless he decides to share it with you.

And if he doesn't, it may be out of genuine concern for your safety or well-being. As painful as it is, sometimes that's most merciful thing one friend can do for another.
posted by hermitosis at 11:13 PM on September 6, 2011 [1 favorite]


my answer comes from dating and being friends with people in the military, not movies or urban myths.
posted by nadawi at 4:54 AM on September 7, 2011


I absolutely just want to preserve our friendship and be a good friend to him

Unfortunately, he doesn't seem to want to preserve your friendship and be a good friend to you, and you need two people to row that boat. No good ever came of anyone's trying to maintain a relationship or friendship solely on their own efforts.

Let this go for now, and focus on finding someone else to be with.
posted by orange swan at 5:22 AM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I would say there's a lot going on with him that has nothing to do with you, and a lot going on with him that is somewhat related to you. You've done what you can, and I think you did really well. You sent an email that was thoughtful and caring and struck a good tone, and you got a response from him.

Your relationship as it was is over. A phoenix may eventually rise from the ashes - maybe it will turn out to be related to some change in his career in the military; maybe it's a personal issue; maybe gears will shift later on and he'll be in a new phase of life and give you a call. If you have a Christmas card list (or whatever the modern equivalent is, the "happy birthday" note on Facebook, whatever) keep him on it, make sure he has an annual reminder that he can come find you any time. It's out of your hands now. You've done your best, and you care about him, and he knows it.
posted by aimedwander at 7:07 AM on September 7, 2011


The long and the short of it is this: I have no idea what's behind his sudden about-face but there are a million possibilities. One thing I'm certain of is that, whatever it is, it's bigger than you and it's bigger than your ability to fix it or really even help him much with it. It's also something big enough that it wouldn't be something which could be resolved by the end of November.

And it sounds like it's going to eat away at you, the not knowing. I understand that. Sometimes we are not given closure by outside factors and we have to find it for ourselves. That's a long process, but that's much more within your power.

Were I in this situation, I'd maybe just send one last message to him saying thanks for letting me know he's okay, and that obviously there's something big going on with him and that if he's ever in a place where he wants to talk about it with someone - no pressure, no expectations - you'd love to hear from him.

And then I'd let it go, because at that point I'd know that I'd done everything I could.

I'm sorry this happened. Good luck.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 7:26 AM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


@nadawi, my comment was not aimed at you. You made the effort to answer sincerely, from the heart, and cited your own experience in an interesting and relevant way. Which is also what I tried to do. I'm sorry if you took offense at my words. That was not my intention.
posted by seasparrow at 7:41 AM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


There is no scarcity of love. He, nor anyone, is "the one" for you. At any given time, there are always any number of people out there capable of being a good lover and partner. He is not one of those people.

It makes me very sad when I hear stories like yours (and I have, without the military aspect, lived your story, so I'm not idly commenting here). A decent, stand-up gay guy who obviously has a lot to give of themselves to all those who deserve it.

This guy ... he does not deserve it. He lied to you. He engaged with you on intimate levels when he appears now to have had little intention on following through. He lead you on, telling you he was coming to visit, then abruptly canceling. At least he had the decency to tell you "I will be ok." so a little credit where credit is due.

His confirmation of your 'ok?' question? That's your 'out' (pardon the pun). You asked him directly if you could get an 'ok' from him, he provided that. All responsibility on your part is over. It is pretty clear he wants to break from you, regardless of the reasons. Now be good the rest of the way and let him go. Don't contact him again (and while I doubt he'll ever reach out to you again, don't answer if he does) and simply move on. Make room in your life for a better person who treats you with respect and is someone who deserves your attention and love.

When you begin to integrate the message 'there is no scarcity of love' into your philosophy, I trust you will find how much more simple it is to recognize 'good guys' when you meet them. Don't beat yourself up that this guy wasn't one. He sounds programmed to appear to go through the motions of being good, but his actions are clearly NOT the actions of someone who does good in the world.

Move on, move forward with lesson learned. You're going to be an awesome boyfriend to someone much better than this guy, believe me!! You do yourself no favor wasting emotional energy on losers like him.
posted by kuppajava at 11:26 AM on September 7, 2011


Thank you so much to everyone who's answered so far. You have no idea how helpful and reassuring it's been reading all your takes on my experience.

nadawi, the young rope-rider, FAMOUS MONSTER - thank you

seasparrow - thanks for your insights. You're right - I was referring to the US. From my conversations with him, I already knew that homosexuality wasn't really a big deal in his unit, though he had personally not come out.

kuppajava - separating myself from my situation as much as humanly possible and looking at things rationally, I completely see your point. The way he did handled this *is* shitty. Even so, I have a tremendous amount of empathy for people and I want to understand why he was compelled to do this. Aside from that, I now find myself pitting this event against the happiness I felt and the good memories from my contact with him.

dixiecupdrinking - that was one of my first thoughts before I received the email, and I was completely ready to accept that he found someone else or didn't want to continue a relationship with me for whatever reason. I was somewhat ready for that possibility from the start of this being unsustainable due to the long distance + military aspects. I was just hoping if/when it happened for that reason, he'd be honest about it. But I wanted to continue the great friendship that existed outside the relationship. It's been awful this week toiling away at work staring at an offline indicator, not having someone to talk to about random things through the day we shared interest in.

gracedissolved - what you wrote about the need to be forgiving towards people who are struggling with their orientation completely captures how I approached this. If that's truly what he's going through, then I understand what he's going through and want to help him through it.

On a related note, if anyone has any advice or recommended Ask MeFis on how an insanely shy guy can go about meeting new people in NYC, I'd appreciate it
posted by laborday at 2:37 PM on September 7, 2011


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