Should I let him stay in the closet?
January 17, 2011 5:24 AM   Subscribe

I had a crush on a boy. It ended badly; he confessed to me that he doesn’t know if he is straight or gay or bi. There was crying, hugging, and complete regret from him since he has never told anyone this ever.

We have since hung out and worked together. Everything is basically back to how it was before, except I am not trying to date him and I know his secret. So far, the closest we have come to talking about it was that I mentioned that he ignored my text messages for four days, which was a record, and when we talked at work in front of other people I referred to his “future romantic partner” rather than “future wife”. He had said he never wants me to bring it up again. I want to help him. What’s the best way to support him? Should I really never bring this up again? Should I encourage him to talk to a professional or tell other people? Ask him if he wants to go to a gay bar? Pretend that I think he is straight? Continue to let our coworkers think we are dating, or tell them... something? What will be best for his mental health and life?
posted by jenlovesponies to Human Relations (31 answers total)
He had said he never wants me to bring it up again. I want to help him. What’s the best way to support him?

Never bring it up again.
posted by atrazine at 5:30 AM on January 17, 2011 [34 favorites]

Let him deal with it in his own way. You shouldn't really be part of the equation unless he asks you to be. Support him how he wants to be supported — which, it looks like, is by saying nothing.
posted by good day merlock at 5:30 AM on January 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

You should — you must — respect his decision and not mention it unless he does. Whatever he told you in an emotional moment about wishing he was out, he has since told you not to out him, so stop publicly hinting at it.
posted by nicwolff at 5:33 AM on January 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you have any respect for him - you will take his secret to your grave.
posted by Flood at 5:33 AM on January 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Listen if he wants to talk. Period.
posted by Namlit at 5:34 AM on January 17, 2011

Seriously, this is something he has to sort out for himself. If he wants to talk to you, he will. For the love of all that is holy, don't tell other people anything. If they ask why you guys aren't dating anymore just give a non-committal "it didn't go anywhere, we're just friends" no-one will ask more than that.
posted by atrazine at 5:34 AM on January 17, 2011 [3 favorites]

You can maybe tell him once that if he wants to talk about it you'll be there for him. Then you drop it and never speak about it again.

If your co-workers enquire you can tell them that you are not dating.

His mental health is not your responsibility. His coming out process (or lack of) is not your responsibility.

What you can do is occasionally refer to other gay people in a matter of fact manner, indicating that it is no big deal. You can make a point of speaking out if other folks make homophobic comments, and telling them that's not OK.

Should I let him stay in the closet

If you are seriously asking whether you should out somebody who has explicitly asked you not to do so, the answer is that this is not your closet and you should keep your hands off it.
posted by emilyw at 5:34 AM on January 17, 2011 [8 favorites]

Yup, never bring this up again (or until he changes his mind.) He doesn't sound unclear on that, so being a good friend you should respect that wish. And unless he seems desperately unhappy I'd not mention professional help or telling others either. Let him set the pace of working his problem out.

You've already provided him a non-judgmental confiding shoulder, and that's helpful, but it's also set in motion a lot of thoughts and emotions that will take time to get a handle on. Be the friend who's there for him, and whatever else needs doing he will make evident in time.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 5:39 AM on January 17, 2011

What atrazine said. You can help him just by being his friend. He needs to deal with this in his own time -- and it will be easier for him just knowing he has a friend he can trust.

And absolutely don't involve your co-workers in this -- not even by lying to cover for him. They don't need to know what your relationship is, but if they gossip, you're just friends, full stop.
posted by londonmark at 5:40 AM on January 17, 2011

I had a crush on a boy. It ended badly;

Oh, and this -- if this means it ended badly for you too, then I'm very sorry. We've all focused on your friend, for obvious reasons, but it's clear you've got his best interests at heart. Sorry things didn't work out.
posted by londonmark at 5:45 AM on January 17, 2011

If he's asking you to just be his friend, I dont see how his orientation is relevant. Treat him like a friend. Respect his wishes. Keep his secrets. Be there for him whether he wants to just shoot the shit or have a serious conversation. That's all you need to do.
posted by two lights above the sea at 5:47 AM on January 17, 2011

The best way to help him is to respect his wishes, which he's made quite plain.

Absolutely forget any thoughts you might have about outing him against his will. That is beyond uncool. This includes the use of conspicuous terms such as "future romantic partner" in front of other people. It's best to just avoid the subject of his romantic life, unless he brings it up.

He doesn't even know for himself how he wants to identify yet. Even once he decides, coming out is a Big Fucking Deal and a deeply personal thing, which must be done on his own terms and at his own pace.

If coworkers ask, just tell them the truth: the two of you are just friends, and are not dating. There's no need to bring his orientation (whatever it is) into the conversation.

This is something he needs to figure out for himself. It's great that you want to help him, but he does not want or need the kind of help that you're able to offer at this time. That doesn't mean you're a bad person, or that he doesn't like you—that's just the way things are sometimes.

Hopefully, he already knows that you would support and accept him regardless of how he ends up defining his sexual identity. (If he doesn't know this, the best way to let him know is to respect his wishes, drop the subject, and treat him no differently than you did before.) If there does come a time when he wants your help, he'll know that he can ask for it.

I'm sorry your crush didn't work out; that's always disappointing. Having a friend is a pretty good consolation prize, though. Make sure you treat him like one.
posted by ixohoxi at 5:58 AM on January 17, 2011 [5 favorites]

Never bring it up again. This isn't a decision you have to make - he told you what he wants. And making public hints about it isn't really what he wants either, and you know it. You would do well to file this away and not treat him any differently than you would if he were your completely-sure-he-is-straight friend.
posted by mrs. taters at 6:14 AM on January 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

I just want to clarify that I am not in any way saying I would out him, and I am sorry for my poor wording. I meant more along the lines of "Should I check in with him on this topic?" like, "Hey, have you thought at all about telling someone else?" or "I know you mentioned you want to go to finish college far away from your family so that you can sort this all out, have you thought about going to College X...." or " You know your ex- girlfriend is completely in love with you, stop leading her on".*

There are a lot of ways that sexuality can come into play without making it a topic and I am wondering how carefully I should dance around the it. I don't want him to think I am talking about Kurt on Glee because he told me he might be gay; rather I am bringing up Glee 'cause we have been talking about Glee for a year and a half. I don't want him to think offhanded remarks on gay celebrities or gay political topics or friends of mine he knows are gay are some sort of demand that he make decisions.

Thank you, btw, londonmark, for mentioning that it was painful for me too. I had high hopes, but I am glad we got to stay friends.

*I see though from the eleven or so responses so far that this is a not a good idea, and I will avoid that.
posted by jenlovesponies at 6:19 AM on January 17, 2011

I am puzzling over how to word this, and I can't come up with a better way, so I'll just say it bluntly: Your knowledge of his secret does not make you special, and it doesn't mean he "likes" you. It's easy to hold out hope like "well, he trusted me enough to tell me this, so maybe he really does have feelings for me and doesn't realize it yet!" And then it's like you guys are partners in this secret somehow, and you throw in a turn of phrase like "romantic partner" and you get to give him a knowing glance, because you're partners in this, after all.

That may not describe you at all, but it does describe quite a few emotionally needy women I have known, including a younger me.

Listen to his words and just drop it.
posted by cabingirl at 6:29 AM on January 17, 2011 [7 favorites]

Never bring it up again. Imagine YOU had a secret you desperately* wanted to keep. Wouldn't even this question freak you out? The greatest thing you can do is perhaps the hardest: never let anyone be able to guess you know. It comes with no excitement, no sense of usefulness, no sense that you're "doing" anything, no glamour or recognition -- you'd be like Brad Pitt in The Quiet American**, quietly protecting your own honor.
* or whatever adverb applies
** or any movie about secrets and honor without "quiet" or reference to a country in the title would be fine, too
posted by salvia at 6:32 AM on January 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

I had a friend who wasn't sure if he was straight, bi, or gay, and was struggling with whether he should come out - then he fell in love with a woman, got married, and has never seemed to have doubts about that side of himself since the single time he spoke to me about it. Please don't out him or say anything until he has realised who and what he is.
posted by mippy at 6:54 AM on January 17, 2011

Okay, here.

I fell pretty hard for someone once who was not out. And he was not out because he was not gay -- he really adored me, and he was definitely attracted to me, but he was in a confusing time in his life and he really looked up to me, and in the end I think 9/10 of his attraction was just hero worship kind of thing. We had sex a number of times, which he seemed to enjoy, though I know these experiences were confusing for him.

I knew we'd break up eventually because the whole thing was a real mess and he was really young, but it still hurt a lot when it happened. And afterward he went right back to being "straight", and that was hard to accept because in a way his rejection of homosexuality was also a rejection of me. I consoled myself knowing that one day he'd acknowledge himself as gay or bi and I'd at least have been a little responsible for paving the way toward that.

But you know what? It's been ten years. And he is still straight. Hasn't hooked up with another guy at all since me. And when we talk, we're still very candid with each other, and he would definitely tell me if he had. He's been with numerous women over the years, and while I don't think he's exactly a portrait of psychological health, he's just NOT gay. As crazy as that seems to me because of our experiences, in the end he has proven to know himself better than I do.

Anyway, enough about me. You need to do what everyone else here says, and just never mention it again. Respect his wishes. You really may not be helping him by patiently waiting outside the closet door -- and worse, you are not helping yourself by lingering there, no matter how supportive you are trying to be.

In my case, I wound up finding this so difficult that I had to cut off almost all contact and spend a few months in another state. If working together is going to make this intolerable for you, then you need to suck it up and find a way to get physically far away from him, and stay there. Otherwise it will be like radiation sickness, made increasingly worse by exposure. You will carry that torch wayyy longer than you ever thought possible, and it will distract you from looking seriously at other (actually available) people.
posted by hermitosis at 7:32 AM on January 17, 2011 [4 favorites]

Continue to let our coworkers think we are dating, or tell them... something?

No need to tell them anything, because it's none of their business. If someone asks whether you two are dating, you can tell them no, you're just friends. If someone asks you if your friend is gay, a good answer from you is, "Not as far as I know." That absolves you from having to make a definitive statement on it, and it also happens to be true.
posted by Tin Man at 7:33 AM on January 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

the closest we have come to talking about it was that I mentioned that he ignored my text messages for four days, which was a record, and when we talked at work in front of other people I referred to his “future romantic partner” rather than “future wife”. He had said he never wants me to bring it up again.

It sounds like he is increasing the distance between you, after divulging this intimacy. Don't try to hold on to the intimacy as it will just drive him away as a friend. If he's still confused about all of this, the kindest thing you can do (and the best thing for your relationship) is act like normal, be happy to see him, but don't pressure him to be your friend (or answer your texts at all).
posted by Omnomnom at 7:36 AM on January 17, 2011

Adding to make it clearer: If he's ambivalent about his orientation, he may be feeling ambivalent about the person he admitted it to, too. You may now be too closely tied up with his internal storm for his own comfort.
It's unfair, but maybe he needs you to take a step back. Making an issue out of it by even mentioning it or signifying that it's still on your mind may actually increase his discomfort.
posted by Omnomnom at 7:43 AM on January 17, 2011

Hermitosis and cabingirl, I will definitely watch out for my own heart here, too. Even if he decides he is interested in women, I don't think it would make sense to date him, but I can see how it would be very easy here to become some sort of romantic martyr even if it doesn't make sense logically. I will try to give him space- and space for myself as well. I like him as a friend, but I am going to try going on dates with other people and try not to hang out with him too much or, I don't know, go dancing together.

I also want to clarify to the hive that I when I referred to "future romantic partner" the context was that he was talking, at work in a group, about this weird plan he has to name his future children, which he has done before. And in the past he always referred to his future co-parent as "she" and this time he used "they" so I was trying to respect that. I was not trying to hint at anything to our coworkers. He also did not mention being mad about it when we were talking privately later. Incidentally, because I not interested in getting married ever, I often use those kind of slightly-clunky phrases so as to not assume people want to define their relationships in any specific way, so I don't think anyone would have been too confused about that.

And I should not have named the post what I did. I hate trying to come up with titles, and I should have thought about what I was writing a little better. Again, I would never try to out him against his will. I should have gone with something like "Should I never mention Neil Patrick Harris to him again?"
posted by jenlovesponies at 7:52 AM on January 17, 2011

I think I'm reading you differently than some people- I get the sense that you liked him, braved telling him, and he disappointed you- but then further took advantage of your moment of vulnerability to sort of dump his problems on you. Is that what it feels like? I have known some guys like this, who may or may not mean well, and may or may not know they're hurting you- I think they usually have a thought, like, Oh, maybe telling her this will hurt her, but it's so OVERWHELMING and so POWERFUL that his emotions sort of override yours. This is true of any big problem, much less determining sexual orientation, and that doesn't make it any different. If you feel like he's burdening you and taking advantage of your interest in him, it's okay to cut him off a little. It is NOT okay to tell people his secret. But you can call him on making you uncomfortable, if he is. In fact, that's probably the best thing you can do- it may make him realize that he's got to talk to a professional or take further action to sort himself out.
posted by Nixy at 8:22 AM on January 17, 2011 [2 favorites]

The worst thing you can do is get all tip-toey-on-eggshells around him. Just act normally, like you did before. Really. Mention Neil Patrick Harris if you would have mentioned him anyway. Talk about Glee, just like you did before. Nobody around you is trying to decode your words for secret meanings, about your coworker or about any other topic.

Follow his lead. If he wants to talk to you about what's going on with him, he will. In the meantime, treat him like any other friend, and not someone that needs to be handled with kid gloves.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 8:27 AM on January 17, 2011

"Should I never mention Neil Patrick Harris to him again?"

The answer is yes, never mention Neil Patrick Harris to him again. Never mention anything that indicates you even remember the conversation, that you know anything about any questioning of his sexual orientation - don't ever mention any of it to him again.

Who knows what he is thinking or what he will decide - the fact is that he had an emotionally wrought relationship with you, and he quite possibly regrets mentioning his confusion. I know you are also upset that things didn't work out, so it may be most helpful if you deal with your own feelings about the end of the crush and take your own distance from him.

He is clearly trying to create distance from you, likely because he doesn't trust that you will keep his personal information to yourself. I'd suggest you do keep it to yourself because you are a good person and because you respect others' need for privacy. (I believe you would feel guilty and horrible if you accidentally "outed" him, so don't even create a situation where it would be possible).

He will reach out to you to talk if he wants (and feels comfortable), but it is quite likely he will never speak of it again to you. Try to make peace with either outcome.
posted by rainydayfilms at 8:32 AM on January 17, 2011

His life, his decision. If he wants to talk about it, listen. If not, butt out.
posted by fso at 9:36 AM on January 17, 2011

Some people have expressed what I think is right, but in a very harsh way. I would look at this fact as something you just know about someone, like if he told you his mums name was Debby or he used to have a dog when he was a child, it is just something that you about him and that's all. The rest is up to him though.
posted by tumples at 9:54 AM on January 17, 2011

Omnomnom: It sounds like he is increasing the distance between you, after divulging this intimacy. Don't try to hold on to the intimacy as it will just drive him away as a friend.

I think everyone else has pretty much covered how to support your friend, so I'll just say something about how to support yourself.

A weird pattern that has happened strangely often in my life is that I'll be interested in a guy, and one day we'll hang out, and he'll suddenly spill ALL his deepest darkest secrets to me even if I don't know him very well (lasting trauma over a parent's death, or childhood trauma over a sibling's secret mental illness, that kind of level). And after that he will completely avoid me and not want to be friends anymore.

The first few times, when I was a teenager, I was totally mystified and thinking those same kind of thoughts: "how can I support him? How can I help him see it's okay he told me these secrets?" That usually ended in disaster. Now I'm way on the other end of the spectrum where if I sense a guy is about to make an emotional offloading on me and we haven't been good friends for a really long time already, I grab the conversation wheel and steer hard in another direction.

So I just want to say, I don't think it's unexpected that he's pulling away from you in some ways after making a big revelation like that to you. (Ignoring your texts for 4 days, etc.)

If my experience is any guide, if he's doing this, just give him total emotional space. Don't worry about whether he's seeing a professional. Don't worry about his college situation. Don't worry about the implications of bringing up Glee or Neil Patrick Harris under circumstances when you normally would have done so. Don't walk on any eggshells. If he's saying "This is my issue, not yours," then make it not your issue, not your problem. This is to support *yourself* just as much as it is to support him.

Because sometimes, and I'm not saying at all this is necessarily the case here, situations can become unbalanced towards only meeting one person's needs, even if neither person intends that or even realizes it. You may find yourself in a situation where one day your friend wants emotional support, then he doesn't want to speak to you for 2 weeks, then suddenly he'll want emotional support again, and you're walking on eggshells in between. It's good to support our friends, but not at the price of a situation that's not fair to you and doesn't meet your own needs.

You said his ex-girlfriend is completely in love with him and he is leading her on. So that makes me think he might be prone to allowing himself to treat people unfairly when that meets his needs in the moment or satisfies his own emotional issues. So I'm just saying, you might have the urge to stick up for his ex-gf in that situation, but make sure you're sticking up for yourself too, even if that's just by detaching emotionally a bit.
posted by Ashley801 at 1:09 PM on January 17, 2011 [3 favorites]

I have a couple of friends like this and I know how awkward it can be.

It sucks to keep someone's secret for them. It sucks more for him, I'm sure, but it sucks for you because maybe you let something slip, maybe you don't know how to respond to something without's a weird spot to be in.

Solution: stop thinking about it, just do your thing, talk about whatever you want.

Part of this is probably continuing from your crush which led you to overanalyze your behavior and his behavior all the time, right? Get busy thinking about other things.

Good luck.
posted by the young rope-rider at 3:20 PM on January 17, 2011

For what it's worth, after I outed myself for the first time to two friends (girls) both of whom had massive crushes on me (their words, not mine), it actually helped that they brought it up again. I want to tread very, very lightly here because I pretty much agree with what everyone else has said here, but what I'm trying to say is that just talking about it with someone really helped me with the process. If I hadn't had someone to talk to, I'd still be back in the darkest corner of the closet.

That being said, if he's clammed up and explicitly said never bring it up again, well, I guess never bring it up again. Everyone is different.
posted by hafehd at 3:23 PM on January 17, 2011

Thank you to everyone who responded. There were some very interesting perspectives I hadn't even thought to ask about, and I appreciate those who took the time to offer me feedback.

My friend and I went out last night, and I tried to put some of this into play. No gay-related topics came up at all, but not because I avoided them. We even joked a bit about our coworkers who assume we are dating (we have always denied it, but there was one coworker who I confided I bit in, and should she ever imply anything again I am going to say, a bit more firmly than the usual giggly denial, that it isn't going to happen. We probably aren't going to say anything else to anyone else, other than to continue to deny it while realizing we probably can't change their minds anyway.)

I don't think he is avoiding me, and I don't want him to think I am avoiding him, but I am going to pull back a bit and give him space, or at least let him initiate contact. And I am going to let him sort out his own stuff, while maybe dropping an "anytime you want to talk..." the next time he seems to be bummed. And get some hobbies and/or go on some dates, because it is ok to focus on myself right now, and probably better because I can work on me, but I can't work on him.

And I promise, promise, promise that I will not out him. Promise.
posted by jenlovesponies at 8:50 AM on January 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

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