How should I approach my girlfriend - and myself - with my evolving sexuality?
January 16, 2012 6:22 AM   Subscribe

Help me figure out what's going on with my sexuality and what it means for my long-time relationship.

Three years ago I finally confessed my feelings for my girlfriend, a childhood sweetheart I've known since fourth grade. She had been harbouring the same feelings for some time, too.

At the start of last year I came out as bisexual. I had known of my attraction to men long before my girlfriend and I made it official, and I'm sure I was in love with her even when I knew of my homosexual inclinations.

But these inclinations have been bubbling up... I'm more attracted to men than I ever was, and I am as less attracted to women as I ever have been, too. I'm beginning to think I might, in fact, be gay. This is tremendously confusing, because I am certain that I was once passionately in love with my girlfriend... old IM logs are proof of this: I can barely read them without giggling at how lame I sounded. But now that I'm feeling more attracted to men, I'm wondering if back then, as a teenager, I was suppressing myself. I'm wondering if I am gay or bisexual... if I am gay, how could I have had the feelings for her I did? If I am bisexual, why have I suddenly lost all sexual inclination towards women?

Unless I regain my sexual attraction to women, I'm sure my relationship with my girlfriend has any future. But I'm faced with the terrible task of telling her... she's smart, funny, and beautiful, and I don't want her to feel otherwise. Additionally, she doesn't suspect a thing. And most importantly, I still want to remain friends. Am I asking too much?

Your help is greatly appreciated.

You can contact me here:
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (31 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
What is worse:
- being broken up with because your significant other is no longer super sexually attracted to your entire gender.


- being strung along (FOREVER? When will it end?) with someone who is not only not sexually attracted to you and your gender, but is also unhappy because of this.


"Girlfriend, I want to to talk with you. I love you and you're smart, funny, and beautiful. But I believe that I'm much more attractive to men than I had previously believed."

She will be hurt at first, but in the long term, since she cares about you, she'll want you to be happy.

PS, Sexuality is fluid. Gay and bisexual and straight aren't exclusive categories.
posted by k8t at 6:35 AM on January 16, 2012 [11 favorites]

Romantic and sexual preferences are not necessarily tied together. You can still be in love with someone you're not physically attracted to. Just use the famous Miko breakup guidelines with the additional note that the 'it's not you, it's me' part refers to your sexuality, which you need to define in your own terms at the moment.
posted by MangyCarface at 6:37 AM on January 16, 2012 [3 favorites]

Had you just "made yourself believe" that you were straight or bi in your youth, I think you would have felt about having a girlfriend the same way. You, of all people, would have known you aren't really in love and merely have an alibi girlfriend. That isn't the case; you know your feelings for her are real.
The question is, do these feelings for her - other than sexual attraction - have changed since you began questioning your orientation? Can it be there are other, unrelated issues in the relationship and focussing on something beyond your control seems the best way to explain it? After all, it wouldn't be anyone's fault if you discovered you are gay. There is no blame going around, unlike many other issues in a relationship.

Other than that, it doesn't sound like you're attracted to a particular guy. That makes the part to talk it over easier. I think a woman might be more understanding and willing to remain friends if there is no direct competition; no "the guy who took my boyfriend away from me" person.
Before you talk to her, you should figure out if your romantic feelings are still the same. If they are, and you want to keep this relationship, just tell her you are quite attracted to guys at the moment. But don't play the "I think I'm gay" card unless you want to end the relationship and head for a friendship. If you are bi, and that's what it sounds like, it might be a phase and the sexual attraction to women in general and your girlfriend in particular will come back. It would only make her doubt your feelings if you switched from being gay to being attracted to her again, where there is no such issue with being bi.
posted by MinusCelsius at 6:39 AM on January 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Other orientations available, besides straight, gay and bi, are

- attracted to people with X, Y and Z characteristics, which may or may not generally line up along gender boundaries
- attracted to men, except for this one special lady, or the other way round
- romantically inclined towards women but hot for casual sex with men, or vice versa
- attracted to Pat right now and Pat's gender is irrelevant
- veering across the map from any one of these things to another and back again.
- not really sure yet and hoping one day to find out
posted by emilyw at 6:43 AM on January 16, 2012 [27 favorites]

I encourage you to avoid labels. Instead, think of sexuality as being a sliding scale: at one end is absolute hetero and at the other absolute homo. You, like most people, fall somewhere in-between. Would adding a label help you in some way?
posted by Jamesonian at 7:06 AM on January 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

As emilyw and jamesonian said, way more options than straight, bi or gay exist, are you familiar with the Kinsey scale?

I know personally where I am on the scale does vary within a range over time.
posted by Z303 at 7:40 AM on January 16, 2012

I'm wondering if back then, as a teenager, I was suppressing myself. I'm wondering if I am gay or bisexual... if I am gay, how could I have had the feelings for her I did? If I am bisexual, why have I suddenly lost all sexual inclination towards women?

This is where traditional narratives of sexuality can be damaging. For many people (bisexuals!), sexuality isn't a category but rather a set of preferences at any given moment in time. That you're more attracted to men now doesn't invalidate the attraction you once held for your girlfriend. It doesn't mean you were repressed or deluding yourself. It just means those tastes have changed. They might change again. That's okay.

Rodrigo Lamaitre's right. What matters right now is whether or not you're attracted to your girlfriend.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:40 AM on January 16, 2012 [4 favorites]

Listen, I was your girlfriend. Trust me: The snowflaky details of your particular homo-to-hetero mix aren't going to be that interesting to her. You may lose her as a friend. You will almost certainly lose the No. 1 spot in her life that you currently occupy, and that will be hard for you. Especially when she starts to date someone else. That part is going to suck, and I'm sorry.

if I am gay, how could I have had the feelings for her I did?

Because it feels awesome to have a trusted, darling friend to say "I like you the very best" to, and it's amazing to have her say it back. Especially when you're a teen, exploring romance for the first time is so fun! And feeling like you've got this perfect partner in all that … who wouldn't love it?

But the relationship you're in as you transition into adulthood is not indicative of the way you'll always feel; folks who feel unambiguous about their orientation go through this too. Teenage love often seems ridiculous in hindsight. That doesn't mean that at the time it was false or hollow. It just means that you've grown up and moved on.

I wish you the best of luck.
posted by purpleclover at 7:40 AM on January 16, 2012 [5 favorites]

The grass is always greener on the other side, its natural to want what you don't/can't have. Are you no longer attracted to your girlfriend at all? It could just be a phase (sexuality isn't fixed for life at one point on the spectrum), it could be just the normal desire for something different to what you have or you could be now gay and you'll never be attracted to women again.
I'm far more attracted to women (visually anyway) than men but I'm not a lesbian. I'm very attracted to my boyfriend (of over 10 years)

How long have you been feeling this way? If you've not been attracted to your girlfriend for months then you should probably end the relationship and move on. Even if its just a phase or wanting what you don't have, its not fair to string her along if you're not feeling it and you're not sure if you're ever going to get it back.

Another option to consider is talking about opening up the relationship with your girlfriend (either on your own or threesomes) to allow you to explore these sexual desires without having to end an otherwise loving relationship.
posted by missmagenta at 7:41 AM on January 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

You may lose her in the short term, but if you are very decent about it, you may still have a close friend in the long term. It's a huge help if you do this while you're young -- some men keep these kinds of feelings and suspicions totally secret for many years, often well into fatherhood, only to have to leave anyway.

It's very likely that she's sensed something has changed, and has questions she's not sure how to ask.

You don't say whether you've actually had sex with any men. One of the things that's important to remember is that when you start experimenting with men, you will basically be starting over figuring out what feels right to you and what doesn't, and it can be very disorienting. The first few homosexual encounters I had were really awkward and unsatisfying, and I remember thinking, "This is what I went to all the trouble of coming out for? If I'm never going to enjoy sex anyway, I should have stayed 'straight' and at least gotten to live a normal life." I even started to date women again, hoping to reawaken some heterosexual feelings.

Fortunately a little time and a little more experience helped me understand what I needed, and what kind of people to pursue.

We weren't together for three years or anything, but a girl I dated for a while in high school -- whom I cared about passionately but was not attracted to, and with whom I ultimately broke up rather abruptly because I was too afraid to tell her the truth -- is still a close friend of mine today. She moved on and met a husband and had a baby, and I visit them all the time. Looking back, I wish I'd trusted that she loved me enough to understand and accept what was going on in my life, and I should have trusted her enough to tell her the truth.

Fear of rejections goes both ways in these cases -- you're afraid of causing her pain by rejecting her, and you're afraid of being personally rejected and hated by the person you're closest to. It's tough, man. Memail me anytime if you need to talk.
posted by hermitosis at 8:10 AM on January 16, 2012 [3 favorites]

See also this comment from Hermitosis. It was very helpful to me when I was in a similar situation.
posted by Houyhnhnm at 8:14 AM on January 16, 2012

Don't label yourself. It sounds like you are very confused and would benefit from counseling. Tell your girlfriend that you are having a crisis and need some time apart while you sort things out and get into therapy.

I know a lot of gay advocates will hate me for saying this but, you may not be gay. Get a complete physical from your doctor, including checking your hormone levels. If you were once attracted to her and not men, and it has changed, then you may have something wrong with you physically.
posted by myselfasme at 8:18 AM on January 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

This Cary Tennis advice column may be of help to you.

It fucking hurts being a girl and knowing that the relationship was all a lie. Fucking hurts.
posted by Melismata at 8:21 AM on January 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

>>And most importantly, I still want to remain friends. Am I asking too much?

Yes, sort of. You don't get to decide how she reacts, and that is what you want, with regard to something that will be extremely emotional for her. All you can do is work on figuring out and doing the right thing for you, and the right thing by her. You can hope she will want to remain friends, but you shouldn't focus on it.
posted by J. Wilson at 9:02 AM on January 16, 2012

She's smart, funny, and beautiful, and... she doesn't suspect a thing.

Not all of these things can be true at the same time.

Listen: if you're even half as close as it appears, she already knows most of what you think you're hiding.

So respect her intelligence. Talk to her, and start with something really simple like what you typed here:

"I'm more attracted to men than I ever was, and I am as less attracted to women as I ever have been, too. I'm beginning to think I might, in fact, be gay."
posted by rokusan at 9:06 AM on January 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

I see to recall reading somewhere, quite recently, that bisexual men tend to lean more heavily one way or the other, and that this leaning can change over time (I can't search for the link right now, but I'll try to find it later today). So, your sudden increase in attraction toward men does not necessarily mean that you aren't bi. It's entirely possible that you'll swing back toward being more attracted to women.

That said, you might be gay. Stringing your girlfriend along when you're no longer attracted to her isn't really fair. If possible, try to get a surer sense of your true feeling before you talk to her. There's no point in coming out as "maybe gay" if you are only going to realize a few months later that, actually, you're bisexual and she was totally the one for you all along. Don't drag it out for too long, though. That's not fair to her.
posted by asnider at 9:12 AM on January 16, 2012

I still want to remain friends. Am I asking too much?

Yes. You will be breaking up with her, and so it is up to her if she wants to remain friends. This is going to be painful for her, and if she came her asking how she should cope with it, we would all tell her that she should cut off contact with you for a while. The decent thing for you to do is respect whatever she wants to do as far as your post-breakup interactions go.

And you should break up with her if you're not attracted to her anymore, which I assume is the case, otherwise you wouldn't be asking this question. The wondering about your sexuality is a separate issue from the question of what you should do about your girlfriend.
posted by Ragged Richard at 9:25 AM on January 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

First, let's can the "sexuality is fluid" trope. It's not "fluid" for everyone and is not the advice this man needs.

I-gay nonfluidly sexual gay man here- have had sex with more than a handful of married man since I came out in 1983 and every one of them- and I mean EVERY ONE- had the same story. They are only attracted to men, they fuck around with men, they only consume gay porn, they talk incessantly about other men (my colleague, my partner, my best friend) that they'd like to have a three-way with, and they're forthcoming about this. BUT their wives are their "soulmates," the only woman they've ever been attracted to, the only person they could imagine sharing a life with.

And in every case? They're lying to their soulmates. IN EVERY CASE. "I told her about my past and it didn't go over well. I had to promise I'd never have sex with men." Or the awesomely fucked up "I love her too much to hurt her by telling her."

If I had to affix a label to these guys. It's be "gay man who found love with one woman." But is still gay and needs sex with men- sometimes a whole lot of it.

Your future is probably going to end up being like these men's. I know that there are men who are openly (and actively) bi and who are honest with their female partners. I've just never met one. Ever.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 9:29 AM on January 16, 2012 [15 favorites]

Well you know – not that I want to contradict a user with a name like ethnomethodologist – there have been times in history, ancient Greece being the most obvious but Victorian England not far behind - where it was entirely possible for a married man to have gay sex as well and for the situation to be viable.

Of course most of the societies where this happened, the woman's role was more circumscribed than it is for us today. She would be home, being the lady of the house and the mother of the children, and he would be earning the living and going out a lot.

But this is not to say it doesn't still happen.
posted by zadcat at 9:34 AM on January 16, 2012

You have the right to be who you are, openly. Both you and your girlfriend will be much, much happier in the long run if you're upfront about what you want.
posted by sugarbomb at 10:24 AM on January 16, 2012

I firmly believe that orientation is multidimensional, with romantic orientation and sexuality being somewhat independent of each other. You might be biromantic and homosexual.

See the Klein Sexual Orientation grid, with a test.

Would you be okay with an open relationship? Mixed-orientation relationships and marriages are discussed in the excellent book Opening Up.
posted by the young rope-rider at 11:03 AM on January 16, 2012 [3 favorites]

i'm a bisexual woman married to a man. i've gone through phases where i was sure i was a lesbian. i've never gone through phases where i was sure i was straight. if i had gotten married to a man before i had relationships with women, i'm sure i would have thought i had made a huge mistake, that i was really a lesbian, and that i wasn't attracted to men.

i think it's especially important for bisexuals to sow their oats. it's a confusing place to be because a lot of people will tell you it doesn't exist (women are generally told we do it for attention and men are generally told they do it because they can't admit they're gay). it's important to get it out of just a fantasy realm so you can know how you really feel. it's important to not just do it on the down low because then you're mixing it up with forbidden sex stuff, which muddies the waters.

i absolutely believe bisexual people can be monogamous, but i don't believe that bisexuals who aren't open about their bisexuality can be happy in that situation. part of being open is giving yourself the space to really figure out how you feel. my marriage works partially because my husband knows about my past partners, knows that i lean further gay than straight, and isn't intimidated by me identifying as queer. i've been in other relationships where my bisexuality was treated as something that was wrong with me, something to be ashamed of, and i always felt my "other side" tugging at me.

unfortunately, it's rarely fair or successful to try to change the rules about all this within a current relationship. i think you know you need to be single right now. that's going to be heartbreaking for your girlfriend, but not near as heartbreaking as it will be if you try to bury this, because it will come back up and it'll come back up in a completely damaging way. i wouldn't tell her "i'm not attracted to you/women right now" - maybe more like "i'm bisexual and i'm experiencing some confusion. it isn't fair to either of us for me to be feeling like this and keeping the security of a relationship." whether you stay friends or not is mostly up to her, but i wouldn't bet on her being able to watch you figure this all out.
posted by nadawi at 12:12 PM on January 16, 2012 [7 favorites]

Your future is probably going to end up being like these men's. I know that there are men who are openly (and actively) bi and who are honest with their female partners. I've just never met one. Ever.

Well, that's likely influenced heartily by biphobia and bi erasure, which unfortunately still happens within the queer community, to the extent that it's very likely that "actively" bi guys stay closeted for fear of shaming or censure by other people on the queer spectrum. Bi men who are monogamous with their female partners are still very genuinely bi, though you may never know it because they're happily committed to women (so why would it ever come up?!).

Anyway, OP, I suspect the reason that people brought up fluid sexuality here is because you seem to be trying to find ways to redefine your past sexual experiences and feelings in a way that fits your sexual identity now. There's significant stigma attached with residing somewhere in the grey area of sexuality, especially for men, so you might be facing pressures to deny your more complex sexual past. This bisexual wants you to know that it's okay if you identify as gay now, or bi now, or even if you don't want to identify now and no matter what you do, it doesn't mean that your former life was a lie or anything to feel ashamed about. People change.

The important thing is honesty with your girlfriend. Talk to her openly about how you're feeling, so both of you can find ways to navigate your changing identity without shame or lying.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:16 PM on January 16, 2012 [5 favorites]

Your future is probably going to end up being like these men's. I know that there are men who are openly (and actively) bi and who are honest with their female partners. I've just never met one. Ever.

maybe that's because you've never been the female partner? i've dated openly bisexual men both in monogamous and open relationships. a lot of their gay friends told them they were really gay because there's no such thing as bisexuals. that sort of attitude might account for why you've never met them.
posted by nadawi at 12:24 PM on January 16, 2012 [3 favorites]

Oh dear, I've been there and I totally empathize with your situation.

I broke up with a long term partner because my sexuality shifted to another gender and I was no longer attracted to him. It was terrifying, upsetting and invalidating. I did the whole soul-searching bonanza complete with letting confirmation bias colour my past experiences to line them up with my sexuality at the time. Ultimately, I would've been better off accepting that sexuality can flipflop around in an absurdly irritating way instead of trying to pigeonhole myself into one of three categories (gay, bi, straight).

Consider your level attraction to your girlfriend. Has that changed? Because, really, that's the only question you really need to solve right now - the whole "what is my sexual orientation?" can of worms can be dealt with later (years later even). For me, my attraction to my partner as an individual was gone. If your attraction to your girlfriend is gone, you need to tell her and go from there. If you are still attracted to her and want to stay with her, then still tell her what's going on in your head (chances are she has noticed you behaving oddly anyway) and go from there. It is entirely possible to be bisexual in a monogamous relationship with one of the genders you are attracted to - I know plenty.

Once you figure out what to do with this relationship in particular, you can try to figure out your sexuality in general. You might find that it is extremely fluid over time. You might find that it's rigid and focused on a certain gender or genders or gender expressions. This is a process that takes quite a long time. I've been out and aware of my queerness for 7 years now and my sexuality still manages to surprise me from time to time.

Unfortunately you don't get to choose whether or not you stay friends. It takes two willing parties for that kind of relation. My ex-partner and I tried to remain friends but it was really hard for him so we spent a while not speaking to get our bearings. Think of it this way: being broken up with sucks. Being broken up with because of something you cannot control sucks more. Being broken up with because something you assumed to be stable about your partner changed... that's extremely upsetting. She'll likely need some time to get back on solid ground.

Feel free to memail me if you need someone to talk to. Good luck!
posted by buteo at 1:24 PM on January 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

"Your future is probably going to end up being like these men's. I know that there are men who are openly (and actively) bi and who are honest with their female partners. I've just never met one. Ever."

I've met more than a few, and some of 'em are here on MeFi. I will say that they tend not to be the dudes hanging 'round rest stops or out in Elysian Park's bushes, but some of 'em have been open enough to take their girlfriends to gay bars with them and hook up with dudes there. (This may also be a generational thing, as all of the bi dudes I know who have stable, healthy relationships tend to be younger and pretty out and open.)
posted by klangklangston at 2:22 PM on January 16, 2012

I'm surprised no one else has mentioned this but you sound very young. I'm only 19 but the last time I saw anyone I knew since the fourth grade was on a very awkward bus ride. Issues of sexuality aside, very few people end up with their high school sweetheart, let alone their "fourth grade sweetheart". The way you describe it (and I'm trying not to extrapolate because you wrote so little) it sounds like you had the kind of high school relationship that just wasn't meant to last. Teens often put early relationships on a pedestal, but gay, straight whatever sometimes people have sexual growing to do.

Being queer can come with baggage and expectations that are hard to shake. Sometimes I shudder to think what would've happened if I pursued relationships with girls when I was in high school. I feel like I'm making a lot of assumptions but if you're young as I imagine than you have a lot of exploration to do. So if you feel like this relationship is falling apart then let it.
posted by catwash at 9:20 PM on January 16, 2012

If you're young that matters, yes.

Either way you owe it to her to tell her the truth and respect her reaction. A relationship lacking that sort of basic trust is no relationship at all.
posted by ead at 9:28 PM on January 16, 2012

I'm not understanding - are you no longer interested in your girlfriend? As people have said, that's a reason to break up. If you are still okay with her but notice that your wandering eye wanders toward men, I'm not sure if that's different that the idle crushing and what-if fantasies most people have. Being attracted to and thinking about X doesn't mean you shouldn't be with Z.

Maybe this isn't about your sexuality. Maybe it's about limits. Perhaps you shouldn't be in a deep, serious, committed relationship right now.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 10:53 AM on January 17, 2012

Your future is probably going to end up being like these men's. I know that there are men who are openly (and actively) bi and who are honest with their female partners. I've just never met one. Ever.

I'd be curious to know whether or not the OP has felt sexual about women (aroused by them, sexually fantasized about them, etc.) before, or just felt romantic attraction.
posted by melissam at 1:47 PM on January 18, 2012

In summary, it's not static.

Your sexuality is generally more well-rooted than your preference in food, music, etc. but we change - evolve - as we get older.
posted by at 1:37 PM on January 21, 2012

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