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April 18, 2019 7:52 AM   Subscribe

My boyfriend is still pretending to be happily married to his lesbian wife. How do I move forward without losing my mind?

I'm (still) in this relationship. He's an amazing person and I want to be with him. Please assume this is 100% genuine, we are very well matched.

However, he still hasn't sorted his side of this issue out. His wife has come out to her parents recently, but he is still keeping me/their separation a secret from his. Living with this 'happy marriage' scenario over the last six months has resulted in me having a constant fear of rejection and inadequacy; whether these are real or imagined.

On the plus side, he says he is travelling home (from the UK, where we live) to file for divorce in a month, and is likely to tell his family in person that his marriage is over. I don't expect him to mention me for another year or so if I'm still around, which makes me a little sad - but I understand.

Generally, I feel like I have no control. He says that I'm not just a passenger, I have agency, but I don't know how that can be true. It feels like my options are either walk or wait. In the meantime waiting is making me a bit cray. The more feelings I develop, the more I stand to lose, so my lizard brain tells me it's best to try and tamp them down - which makes me feel awful and snappy. 'You think you can reject me, well I'll reject myself better!'

So, how do I keep my terrified feelings in check until a) he divorces b) he acknowledges our relationship? I know it's not a great foundation for a partnership, although I appreciate the genuine reasons he got into/stayed in this mess. I hope that moving forward with my own processing will help.
posted by teststrip to Human Relations (59 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Have you met/discussed the situation with his wife yet? Because if you don't have that kind of independent confirmation of what's going on, I'd be wondering if the whole thing was a giant structure of nonsense.
posted by LizardBreath at 7:54 AM on April 18 [10 favorites]

Yes, I've met her, and verified the situation independently.
posted by teststrip at 7:56 AM on April 18 [6 favorites]

You can't keep your feelings in check without doing some kind of damage to yourself. Feelings are informative. You're asking for strategies to ignore information that is coming from inside the house, which is a nearly impossible task. You could try setting a regular exercise routine so that you can work out some of the feelings, or you could try doing some volunteer work so that you have something to put your mind on that isn't him, or you could pick up some kind of new absorbing hobby or interest, but honestly? Your best bet (no matter how well matched you are) is to break up with him and fill your wild and precious life with things that only make you feel secure and good.
posted by sockermom at 8:00 AM on April 18 [40 favorites]

You don't have control. Your partner is doing something disrespectful to you, by pretending you're not together to important people in his life. You are committed to this reality.

Maybe talk about the timeline for meeting your partner's family. Ask him to check in a couple times a week and reassure you that you are important to him and he wants to work towards you openly bring his partner. Or maybe meditation in general to stay I the moment and not consider these issues.
posted by Kalmya at 8:00 AM on April 18 [9 favorites]

At that point, it's still a super weird situation to be in, but... is there a reason you're expecting a long delay after he comes out about his wife having left him before he moves on? That is, is there an independent issue between him and his family where being in a new relationship after a divorce would be a problem?
posted by LizardBreath at 8:00 AM on April 18 [9 favorites]

This relationship is making you feel terrible, anxious, and insecure. You don’t have to put up with this. Why wait around for someone who may or may not want to be with you, when you could be with someone else who’s 100% into you? This dude is wasting your time.
posted by a strong female character at 8:01 AM on April 18 [24 favorites]

You might consider separating and seeing other people until your boyfriend is truly free.
posted by 41swans at 8:04 AM on April 18 [37 favorites]

Think way longer term. How your relationship is now is a good indicator of how it will be. Secrets, lies, lack of choice, worries about what the family back home will say.
posted by theora55 at 8:15 AM on April 18 [48 favorites]

DTMFA. Seriously, this sucks. You deserve much much much more.
posted by masquesoporfavor at 8:18 AM on April 18 [24 favorites]

I try to focus on having boundaries not rules in relationships - so you can't control how your boyfriend behaves and whether he tells his family about you or not. But you can decide whether to be in a serious, exclusive relationship under those conditions. So decide what timeframe is acceptable to you and then state that firmly - for example, "i'm going to step back a bit and we can only have a more casual, dating setup until you're in a position to commit to me in the eyes of your family but i don't want to spend more than another 3 months like that "
posted by JonB at 8:20 AM on April 18 [16 favorites]

You have a timeline for his telling his parents about the divorce, and it's Soon - which is great! After that your relationship should be "out" to most people, right? Will that help you feel good about it? Is there anything else you two can do to help you feel better about it?

I didn't ask metafilter about my own similar relationship struggles because I knew it wouldn't be good at giving me the help I needed. A therapist was more helpful.

The things that helped me as my now husband worked his (years long) way to divorce were to a) acknowledge the things about the situation that are sucky, and talk about them with him, b) look at whether it's worth the bad feelings now to also be in this relationship now as well as the long term. For me it was pretty clear that it was worth it to deal with the discomfort in the shorter term to have all the great things about being with him - both now and later.

So the comment above about boundaries is spot on. What can you do to feel good about yourself both in and outside of this relationship? Where are the pain points? What can you control? What can't you change? What will change soon (his familial status)? What will take more time?

Especially if you've been doing a lot of supporting him emotionally through this process, ask him if he can help you emotionally, too. Because this stuff is hard, and you're struggling because it's hard. His behavior in the face of that can help you determine whether and how you want to stick with him. Good luck, and feel free to memail me if you think it would help.
posted by ldthomps at 8:26 AM on April 18 [6 favorites]

Whoa, just thinking long term, let's say you do put up with this bullshit for a while and they get divorced and then he can be open about y'alls relationship -- How interested are you into committing to someone whose family is some type of way where he would ever consider lying to them about his marital status and also that he is a person who is some type of way to have decided that was even a course of action to consider?

This dude has a lot going on right now and it's fair to nobody involved for this continue as it is. You might want to consider not being in a relationship with this person until they are single and not actively manufacturing a illusory existence for the benefits of presumably terrible people (I'm guessing one or both families have some homophobic issue).

There are plenty of "amazing people" who you will want to be with, nobody is special, there's never a risk of missing some unique person who would make for a magical relationship. If this dude gets his fucknig shit sorted out and comes calling again, maybe consider dates again, but for now you know you deserve better than this mess.
posted by GoblinHoney at 8:27 AM on April 18 [9 favorites]

Seconding what theora55 says - this is a guy who keeps secrets and builds up weird complicated situations to avoid/postpone confrontation. That’s not going to change. Maybe it’s just limited to his parents, and they live far away, and you don’t really care. But it seems like you do care, and that’s totally reasonable!
posted by mskyle at 8:28 AM on April 18 [12 favorites]

and is likely to tell his family in person that his marriage is over

"Is likely to"? No. He needs to tell them. The problem was allegedly with her family and I get if that meant he needed to lie to his too to minimize the chance of leaks, but now's his chance to come clean. About everything, including you. Just pull off the danged bandage: "It turned out she is a lesbian but I still loved her and I wanted to help her with her family situation but of course we actually split up at that point, and then I met teststrip! So now that I'm back in the country, I'm finally getting divorced." You've put up with so much already, and there's no good reason for him to continue to lie to his family at this point.
posted by teremala at 8:30 AM on April 18 [21 favorites]

You should think really long and hard about whether you want to be in a longterm relationship with someone who gives such utmost primacy to not making his parents upset or uncomfortable and is willing to lie and deny that you exist to accomplish that. Relationships work best when you have similar priorities and expectations around this stuff.
posted by cakelite at 8:30 AM on April 18 [50 favorites]

You have a timeline for his telling his parents about the divorce, and it's Soon - which is great!

No, she doesn't? He is visiting his parents and will "most likely" tell them. That means he won't. There is no firm timeline here, there is no commitment, there is nothing.

OP, so often on Mefi we see situations where one partner is totally disrespecting the other partner and doing whatever they want, regardless of the other partner's feelings, and there are complex reasons why the other partner can't just walk away, usually having to do with their children or fears of escalating abuse or even just the difficulties of dissolving a long marriage. But here, now that the wife is out to her family, there is nothing. Your partner has decided he can do whatever he wants and you will go along with it. But the only thing making that true is you.

People who really want to be with someone else act like it. He is telling you very clearly how little he wants to be with you--not enough to tell his family about you! Have you forgotten that most people who fall in love are happy and proud and want to brag to everyone about their great partner and introduce them to their friends and family? He doesn't love you enough to do that. I know that sounds terrible, but it's true. He doesn't love you enough to do that. It wouldn't matter if you didn't care, but you do, and you've told him so, and he doesn't care. He just doesn't care. He just doesn't care.

Now, you can't make him do anything. You can only control your own actions. You need to lay out your expectations and tell him that if he can't fulfill them you need to look for someone who can. And then you need to stick to that. What are the prospects for a long-term relationship with a partner who so openly disrespects you and your feelings? They are lousy. You will be spending the rest of your life trying to persuade yourself that the scraps he is flinging you are a meal, just because he says so. Just another one of the gazillion women who has to blind themselves every day to the way their partner treats them. It's not a happy way to live.
posted by praemunire at 8:45 AM on April 18 [21 favorites]

Can you take a break from the relationship? Not a definite break up, but just a few months for both of you to decompress from all this.

Distance often either makes the heart grow fonder or less so. A break would make it easier to find out just exactly how he feels about you. He may wake up in the middle of it and realize he's lost without you and asking you to be a secret for well over a year is too much. Alternatively his reaction could be the opposite, where he realizes the real reason behind his reticence is that he just doesn't have strong enough feelings for you after all. Either way it should help you both face your own feelings and deal with whatever this relationship is meant to be sooner rather than later.

Ultimately- No one else can really make you feel anxious unless you allow them too. (I know we all basically have to be monks to make this 100% true, but just putting it out there anyway). In other words you're probably going to feel anxious whether he's in your life or not at this point because if you stay, you're going cray... and if you go, you'll likely go cray anyway wondering whether he's going out on dates etc... So you've got the short end of the stick here either way. Since you've said you definitely want to keep trying the best bet I can see is to negotiate a break from the relationship for you both so that you're not a couple for at least a few weeks allowing you both the opportunity to see what the other person means to them and stabalize your emotions from all this.
posted by fantasticness at 8:47 AM on April 18 [1 favorite]

I am not sure if there is a cultural aspect to this or something else I'm not getting, but all of you are in your 30s (via your last post?) and this is way too much fretting and drama over what your parents will think of you for me, personally, to put up with in an adult relationship. Or let me put it another way: if he is letting his parents indirectly run his life this much now, what makes you think they will not dictate his/your lives together just as much?
posted by nakedmolerats at 8:54 AM on April 18 [17 favorites]

How do I move forward without losing my mind?

What a sucky situation for you. While Metafilter is always quick to say DTMFA, that is one possibility but there are others. And one thing to think about is how MESSY life is, for EVERYONE. Every person I know, married or single, has a large helping of crap in their life. Two of my co-workers, married to other people, are having an affair, they do everything but smooch in the break room. One of my best friends has three perfect kids, but her husband is a Trump supporter who insisted that his literally crazy sister live with them. Another friend has a husband who travels constantly for work, weeks at a time, and it sucks.

I'm hesitant to say "this is as good as it gets," because perhaps it doesn't, but true love isn't something that comes around all that often, and if we all continue to look for The Perfect Situation, we're going to be very disappointed.
posted by Melismata at 8:55 AM on April 18 [3 favorites]

Wanting your significant other to acknowledge that you exist is not striving for perfection.
posted by sockermom at 9:09 AM on April 18 [38 favorites]

true love isn't something that comes around all that often, and if we all continue to look for The Perfect Situation, we're going to be very disappointed.

Wanting to be treated with basic human decency and respect is not looking for a “perfect situation”. This man is not treating the OP with respect. I’m not sure why being treated like you don’t matter over and over again would count as “true love”.

I’m repeating this comment for emphasis: You will be spending the rest of your life trying to persuade yourself that the scraps he is flinging you are a meal, just because he says so. Just another one of the gazillion women who has to blind themselves every day to the way their partner treats them. It's not a happy way to live.
posted by a strong female character at 9:10 AM on April 18 [11 favorites]

You can be the most spectacular "match" in the world with someone, and circumstances still be impossible to have a healthy relationship. It's not an X therefore Y situation.

And, with all kindness, people who really care about you, truly value you as a partner? They don't do this. There might be a minute where some discretion is necessary for legal or child-related reasons, but "because of parents who live on another continent" is not one of those cases. There is some benefit to him in the current situation that is at least slightly more important to him than the risk of you leaving him (or he believes he can manipulate you out of not leaving, or believes you are a sucker who will stay despite this treatment).

What is that benefit? What is he getting out of this? You should figure that out now and make a choice to stay or leave, rather than hope it all works out and figure out another year or five from now what the scam was and have to leave, devastated.

Feelings aren't a mandate. You are not helpless in the face of them. You're choosing to stay in a situation so untenable that yes, you are going to feel extraordinary tension. I think you're probably thinking there's a finish line somewhere in the future and when you cross that line Everything Will Change, but it is more likely that he will continue to be the person he has been all along: a wishy-washy change-averse coward who will throw you under the bus to preserve his own comfort at every opportunity.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:10 AM on April 18 [18 favorites]

The OP asked for other options besides DTMF (which is why I provided one, but I'm one of the only ones that did.) I don't think she's looking for a perfect situation... just one that isn't worse than ending up bitterly divorced or abused.

I hope you find out what's best for you here, but please know that men especially treat the women they truly love and respect very different from ones they don't. While women will often still treat men they don't have feelings for with a certain amount of respect because after all- they are still human beings; It's not uncommon for a lot of men to treat only the one or two woman they value with actual love and treat the rest like absolute garbage that isn't even worth mentioning to others. He apparently values his own mother and yet still decides to deceive her. That's... not a good sign. But perhaps a break will give you the distance you need to compose your emotions and reflect on whatever it is both of you truly want.
posted by fantasticness at 9:15 AM on April 18

I looked at your question history. A few months before you started this relationship, you were wondering how to be okay with yourself being single, for the first time in your adult life. So I'm gonna operate from the premise that this relationship, to you, is better than being alone.

I think you should dial it back with this guy. Let him know you love him and care for him, and you'll be there for him when he's finally ready to tell his family about you. But he's prioritizing his family over you, so to protect yourself, you need to deprioritize him. If you focus on your own needs as well as his, you'll be a better partner when he is ready to commit. So if he truly wants to make it work with you, he needs to be okay with you dating other people.

Then you should date other people.
posted by Nyrha at 9:19 AM on April 18 [15 favorites]

I don’t think I could deal with this, but if I had to for some reason, I would need a lot more information and reassurance. Lots of questions and long conversations and getting to understand him and his values.

Where are his parents from? Is their/his cultural and values very different to yours? In what other ways can this/might this manifest? What is he afraid of? Would they cut him out? Be sad? Send heavies after him? Why is he more afraid of telling his parents he’s separated than his ex was to tell her parents she was gay?

Is he close to his parents? Does he speak to them often? Is he very religious himself? Is he troubled by lying? Is he troubled that he’s prioritised his parents’ comfort at the expense of yours?

Why don’t you expect him to tell your parents about you for another year? In what other ways is he beholden to his parents? Would you have to convert to marry him?

But seriously, feeling this terrible in a relationship, particularly one that’s only 6 months old, is not a good sign. Nor is asking the internet for advice twice within the first 6 months. It doesn’t have to be so hard.
posted by Dwardles at 9:24 AM on April 18 [4 favorites]

the rules are whatever you make.

This is all way outside the normal "two people in a monogamous relationship" so some systemic thinking and polyamorous methods of thinking are required here. That's if you wanna apply those types of relationship constructs to this situation. Basically the standard narrative that we've been fed our whole lives is not going to work here and if you want this to work you need to apply a different relationship model and the closest corollary right now is polyamory.

The book "more than two" is a good start.
posted by nikaspark at 9:26 AM on April 18 [2 favorites]

He says that I'm not just a passenger, I have agency, but I don't know how that can be true. It feels like my options are either walk or wait.
Well? There's that agency he was talking about: you can walk or you can wait. Agency galore.

In the meantime waiting is making me a bit cray.

Cray can be fun. And it's only been since the fall. If you find it diverting, why not endure a while longer in this bizarrely unequal state, with his HUGE DRAMATIC STORY sucking up all of everyone's energy, creativity, and empathy all of the time and your negligible concerns being shoved off to the side somewhere because they're not as important? It's superfun to devote one's life to the care and comfort of one of these angst-ridden world-striders, until it isn't, and you'll know when that is. Trust your gut: are you having a good, if fraught, time? Then stick it out 'til you're not. Meanwhile, don't do anything permanent. Don't mingle your money or get with child.
posted by Don Pepino at 9:32 AM on April 18 [11 favorites]

He's an amazing person and I want to be with him. Please assume this is 100% genuine, we are very well matched.

Then work on figuring out how to love the drama, the secrecy, the getting strung along indefinitely, etc. This guy is choosing this life. It's what he wants.
posted by prize bull octorok at 9:33 AM on April 18 [19 favorites]

Generally, I feel like I have no control. He says that I'm not just a passenger, I have agency, but I don't know how that can be true. It feels like my options are either walk or wait. In the meantime waiting is making me a bit cray. The more feelings I develop, the more I stand to lose, so my lizard brain tells me it's best to try and tamp them down - which makes me feel awful and snappy. 'You think you can reject me, well I'll reject myself better!'

So, how do I keep my terrified feelings in check until a) he divorces b) he acknowledges our relationship?

Never have a "great love, BUT" relationship.

This isn't a relationship difference like different career goals. This is a relationship where the very structure of the relationship makes you feel crazy and terrified and like you are being rejected. (Your words.) (Which you are.)

I've personally been in a situation a little bit like yours and it worked out. But it did not work out because I put up with it, and if I had, it almost certainly would not have worked out.

When your boyfriend says you have agency, he means it...and he means it like this: "you have options you aren't exercising so I don't have to change." Also I notice the goal posts have moved some since your last post. (It was a united front, now it's just a front.)

This is how I approached my situation. I told my then-boyfriend that I could not continue the situation longer than about 6 months. I wasn't mean about it and it was in a moment of calm and connection. But it was true. I said I was happy to give him 6 months to sort his life out but after that, I was going to move on. That was indeed my agency. It took 4 days for him to tell everyone he needed to tell and under nine weeks for him to move into his own apartment and be able to date me openly and with a view towards more. In fact we've been married 25 years.

But if I had let him continue the sneaking and lying (he was under vows) it would have been toxic - toxic to me, to my ability to plan my life, to behave the way I wanted to, to take him to events and holidays and all those things. Slowly, slowly, that would have either eroded our relationship...or eroded me.

I've also had a front row seat for a at-least-honest-but-fraught relationship where there was a miserable person (MP) who wanted a change, and an unavailable person (UP) who assumed that if the MP was really that miserable they would leave. Spoiler alert: After 7 years, there was a brutal break up. The UP never became available. If they were going to, they would have.

This is where human communication is hard. If you are communicating to him that your love is amazing and your connection is so great, he hears that, not the misery, or at least he assumes your "crazy and terrifying" is okay with you, because he does want to have a relationship with you. It really is YOUR JOB to give him clarity about whether it is okay. Is it? Is it really???? Because if it is not (and I think it should not be, but it is your life) there really is only one way to make it clear and that's to give him a deadline and if he doesn't meet it, you leave and find someone available.
posted by warriorqueen at 9:48 AM on April 18 [29 favorites]

I'm not necessarily advocating DTMFA or break up forever, but it's perfectly rational and even mature to say "let's talk when you're actually single and/or able to publicly date me." People are able to deal with ONE of those scenarios sometimes, IMO (one partner is separated but not divorced, OR one partner is single but cautious about going public for awhile) but both together is a tough pill to swallow.
posted by nakedmolerats at 9:53 AM on April 18 [5 favorites]

We each only get one life. Is this how you want to spend yours?
posted by easy, lucky, free at 10:09 AM on April 18 [6 favorites]

I think you may be telling yourself that this specific situation is the problem, that eventually he will tell his parents and they will find out about you and then this particular nastiness is over. But this is his way of engaging with his parents, and he's willing to lie to them for a very long time to avoid unpleasantness. How much control do his parents have over his life? If you have children together, are you going to have to raise them in his parents' religion (or pretend that you are)? Will his parents have to approve your kids' names (this is reality for one person I know)? What else will they have to approve? Will he go to see them with the kids and without you because you aren't as legitimate in their eyes as his wife, even after they're divorced? If you do meet them, will they be cold to you because they perceive you as breaking up his marriage? And if that happens, will he defend you or tell you that it's your job to adjust - like he's doing now?

Basically, his telling his parents about his marriage and even about you isn't going to be the end of this story. How much of this will you put up with before you decide it's enough?
posted by FencingGal at 10:16 AM on April 18 [8 favorites]

I think I am missing something here. Taking him at his word that his wife has come out to her family and the divorce will proceed, why can’t he say to his parents, “Wife realized she was gay X years ago. Because I care a lot about her and it was hard for her, we stayed married until she was ready to tell her parents. We agreed that we could each date other people because we were no longer together romantically. That’s when I moved to the UK. I was so lucky that shortly after I moved, I met Teststrip. She understood and respected my situation and Wife’s difficult choices. We’ve been dating for X long and I’m so happy that you can finally meet her, now that Wife feels ready to move forward with her new life and we can dissolve our marriage. I hated having to be dishonest with you but I did it because of my respect and love for Wife.”

Then everybody can immediately stop with the pretending!

Is there a chance he is not serious enough about you to want to discuss you with his family, but serious enough with you that he is being less than honest with you about the reason he can’t talk about you with his family?
posted by sallybrown at 10:18 AM on April 18 [19 favorites]

There's just So Much Wrong here, I kind of don't know where to start. You are surrounded by a whole lot of trees. Here's the forest you're not seeing:

1. You are in a relationship with someone who has NO TROUBLE lying to people he cares for; to his family. He's 100% totally okay lying. So you say you are very well matched. Do you also manipulate and lie to people to get what you want? No, right? But he sure does.
2. This guy lies far too easily. He lies to everyone around him; he will lie (or already is lying) to you.
3. Initially, he had to stay with her until she came out, then you two could ride off together. Except, she DID come out, and he's still with her.
4. He's telling you that you have agency. He's right. Your agency is to not allow yourself to be treated this badly and to leave. He's telling you that you can leave--this is not how supportive and loving relationships go.
5. I'm sure all the DTMFA advice you're getting is probably making you double down that we don't understand because what you have is special. It's not special; you're being used.

I'm going to stop because otherwise it seems like I'm hammering you. I really just don't have the vocabulary to explain to you how badly you're being treated right now, and I also doubt you would see it.

I hope someday you can see it, and if nothing else, remember this:

When a person comes to AskMe with multiple questions about the same relationship, that person knows on some level they need to DTMFA.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 10:22 AM on April 18 [24 favorites]

The easiest way for me to deal with that kind of stress would be to mentally take control. Deciding things like, "I will be comfortable in this relationship if _____. If that doesn't happen, I need to either step back or move on."

For me, that blank would include filing for divorce AND telling his family about your relationship on his trip. It might include making future plans together that are important to you (moving in together, visiting his family together, whatever stuff that you're hoping to have happen in this relationship). It might include certain things he can do that make you feel loved and secure.

If you let him know how and why these things are important to you, and he doesn't take you seriously enough to make them happen, unfortunately he's telling you that you SHOULD feel insecure in this relationship. And you'll need to decide what to do with that information.
posted by metasarah at 10:27 AM on April 18 [5 favorites]

Can they start secret divorce proceedings?

Can you get some kind of contractual bond with him -- maybe mutual health care powers of attorney, and/or wills?
posted by amtho at 10:41 AM on April 18

Some other things that helped with feeling crazy when I knew I was willing to wait: a) try to live in the now - were things between us good now? Did I want to be in a relationship with that person (even given the situation) today? b) consider my own needs early and often - what could I do in the short and long term to help myself feel stronger and more in control of my own life?

The terrified feelings come from wondering if you guys will end up together. But even when he gets divorced, even if he marries you? He could decide to run after that - there are no guarantees. There is only trusting in our hearts and choosing that person today. Are there things that could help you feel like you can trust him with your heart (or conversely, if not, maybe consider the many other answers)? What can he do in the short, medium, and long term to help you feel safer in the relationship?

You absolutely deserve to feel secure in your relationship as much as is possible today. That should help with the terror.
posted by ldthomps at 10:50 AM on April 18 [1 favorite]

Can you get some kind of contractual bond with him -- maybe mutual health care powers of attorney, and/or wills?
Wha...? Why? They've been dating under a year and already she feels like a passenger in her own life, has constant fear of rejection and inadequacy, and feels cray. What about any of this would improve for her if she were to shackle herself to him legally?
posted by Don Pepino at 11:00 AM on April 18 [19 favorites]

Something that helped me when I was in an ambiguous situation was to reframe it in my mind to make myself the chooser. (Of course, we do get to choose, but I understand that powerless feeling of being at the whims of others.) I kept asking myself again and again if this was what I wanted to choose. In my situation, I felt uncomfortable and uneasy much of the time, so it was easy to ask myself if I wanted to choose that feeling (answer: no) and if I wanted to choose to be with someone when I felt that way so often (answer: no). I called the guy and said that things weren't flowing from my perspective, and he said he felt the same way so I ended it. I felt kinda gross about the whole thing but much more empowered after making it more about my own choice instead of longing for something that he wasn't able or willing to give.

All this to say, I think you'll feel a whole lot better if you make it about your choice, whichever way you land with that, instead of feeling subject to someone else's choices.

Good luck!
posted by bighappyhairydog at 11:03 AM on April 18 [3 favorites]

Another aspect is that the strong cultural and religious pressures that make it necessary to play this farce are unlikely to go away. Presumably, your cultural and religious background would not make you a desirable partner in his parents‘ eyes. So consider where you are willing to draw the line. Is it if he doesn’t tell them he’s divorcing? Or is it if he doesn’t tell them within x months after that that he‘s with you? Would you like to get married? Have you discussed how his family would view that? His desire to avoid parental disapproval or interference, whilst living in another country, is a strong enough incentive to avoid telling them about his separation and impending divorce. And that is despite the fact, that his wife was the instigator and he could style himself as injured party. Why would he risk disapproval by formally committing to you? If you want to go about this in good faith by all means do that. But work out what you’re willing to accept and where you will draw the line. And stick to that. You’ll feel better.
posted by koahiatamadl at 11:16 AM on April 18

Speaking as someone who has been partnered with the same person for over a decade, my one observation is that this adult man is putting his family's feelings above your very real and reasonable needs in a way that does not seem especially brave or courteous of your feelings. If this relationship continues, you can expect him to continue to do that.

Every long-term relationship comes with some conflict, and you can bet that your needs and his blood relatives' needs (or perceived needs) will come into conflict more than once, in the future. (There are relationships where this doesn't happen, but they are vanishingly rare. And if he is this afraid of their reaction, now, I estimate there's about zero percent chance that you'll never be in conflict with them again.)

So you need to ask yourself: are you all right with signing up for that, for always ending up lower on his priority list than his blood relatives? I know I couldn't live with that, but I also know that some people can. So it's up to you to decide for yourself.
posted by web_librarian at 11:56 AM on April 18 [10 favorites]

2. This guy lies far too easily. He lies to everyone around him; he will lie (or already is lying) to you.

Yes I said yes I will yes is right - and he's making you a liar too.

If he follows through on this vague promise, he will tell his parents about his marriage sometime this year, and then tell them about you another year out from that. This scenario means you have to maintain his pretense for your entire future together that your relationship is brand new and the 2+ years you were intimate and committed together before that don't exist. And that's your best-case scenario.
posted by headnsouth at 12:12 PM on April 18 [6 favorites]

I'd make it clear that I expect him to tell his family next month - and tell them everything. Tell them about the divorce, about his wife being a lesbian, about how long they've been living separate lives, and how long they've been separated. I'd also want him to tell them about his current relationship so that you don't have to wait another year or however long to be introduced or mentioned. From your previous question it sounds like his wife revealed her sexual orientation to him years ago, which I assume rendered the marriage largely over. This is his chance to come completely clean and if he doesn't take it enthusiastically, I'd go. There's absolutely no reason for him to continue lying to anyone now that his wife is out of the closet. If he prioritizes his religious parents' possible feelings about this over your need to no longer be a secret, that tells you a lot about how he'll continue to minimize and back-burner your needs long after this is over. Tell him this clearly and then see what he does. You'll have your answer in a month.
posted by quince at 1:44 PM on April 18 [5 favorites]

I agree that he needs to tell his family, not just to be "likely" to, but you won't have any way of knowing if he's really told his parents unless you actually meet them. There's no reason to think he'll lie to them, but not you.
posted by FencingGal at 1:49 PM on April 18 [2 favorites]

He says that I'm not just a passenger, I have agency, but I don't know how that can be true.
He's basically saying to you, "This is the situation. Take it or leave it" and he's not going to change it. Your options ARE walk or wait. Figure out what you want (which is to have a public relationship) and for how long you can take the secrecy for, then tell him and see what happens.

In the meantime, your feelings. You've been living like this for the last 6 months, so take a break. Save yourself, because no one else will, especially him. Either break up with him, and get back together once he's able to have a public relationship, and/or dial back your involvement with him (to protect yourself - don't get in deeper than you already are) and see what happens in a month. Be clear with him about what you want and your intentions. And keep yourself busy with friends, hobbies, etc. Maybe even consider getting back on the apps for hookups/casual flings as a distraction.
posted by foxjacket at 2:50 PM on April 18 [4 favorites]

If you don't want to DTMFA, a temporary separation is certainly not an overreaction. Tell him that waiting is causing you [laundry list of negative feelings you're experiencing], and you need to take a step back for your mental health, but you love him and still want to be with him ONLY when he tells his parents. Then, set a timeframe and wait. WALK once the time is up. If he doesn't tell them in x months, he's not telling them.
posted by Amy93 at 3:05 PM on April 18 [1 favorite]

This man didn’t meet you by accident. He actively went looking for you on a dating site, knowing that he wasn’t ready to be in an open, happy relationship and deliberately dragged you into his family drama and made you put your life on indefinite hold.

I understand that now he’s having trouble growing up and telling his parents that he’s had a failed marriage. Well, why don’t you help him out then and tell them yourselves! Just engineer a meeting, introduce yourself and tell them where you fit into this scenario. Problem solved. Wait, what do you mean that would be overstepping your bounds and causing drama? You mean HE’S the only one who gets to upend other people’s lives while you sit around waiting for him?

The thing is, this isn’t just his drama and his life now, it’s yours because he made it yours when he deliberately plucked you out of your comfortable existence and landed you in the middle of this mess. You have as much right to be an active participant in this as anyone. No, I don’t think you should tell his parents (only because that indicates that this relationship is worth going to that kind of trouble for and it so isn’t) but he would deserve it if you did.

I think you should walk out the door and not even leave him with a note because right now he’s pretending that you don’t even exist. Let him know how that feels. Maybe he’ll go crying to Mummy about his secret girlfriend. Oh, wait, he can’t.
posted by Jubey at 3:07 PM on April 18 [8 favorites]

gonna go against the general consensus in the thread that you DTMFA and share bits of my own similar experience.

several years ago i met a dude and we hit it off. problem: he was married. unhappily, but still wanting to maintain the facade that it was a legit marriage. i am somewhat embarrassed to say that we got involved while he was married. we were incredibly happy, had such fun together, and it seemed almost magical ...except for the very dead marriage he was hanging onto.

i tried a couple of tactics: yelling at/scolding him for being such a lout was what i did first because WHY THE HELL WAS HE STILL MARRIED?! he did not respond well to that. after a while, when it was clear we both very much wanted to be together, i asked him specifically if he wanted that to happen. he said yes, so i devised a Plan. it took an sometimes frustratingly long time, but i essentially helped him to leave his dead marriage while minimizing the damage it did to all parties involved.

and it WORKED.

what i came up with was that we wanted to be real partners, so we needed to act like it. as partners, we worked to extricate him from his marriage over the course of six months. what was important was realizing his reasons for hanging onto a dead marriage and having compassion for what kept him so stuck, and taking small steps toward getting him unstuck.

he moved out, we agreed to test the waters for at least a year while he went through the divorce, and then we'd figure out what to do. his divorce was final late last year and i'm sitting now in the house we just bought together.

i had to be patient, compassionate and trusting. it was HARD. SO HARD. many times i kicked myself for taking on something that on its surface seemed so STUPID, but now i am so grateful that i did. we're lucky to have found one another, even though the way it happened was ...unconventional.

edited to add: this had to happen on HIS timeline. yes, i was plenty frustrated and impatient, but it was HIS life that was being upended. what helped was that we communicated a TON throughout this process.

my $.02.
posted by hollisimo at 3:15 PM on April 18 [4 favorites]

I don't expect him to mention me for another year or so if I'm still around, which makes me a little sad

It makes me more than a little sad just to read this. You, the one that is living through it, have every right to whatever sadness, frustration, anger, or other "negative" emotions this stressful situation is causing you.

I tend to agree with others who have suggested that this might be a good time to give each other some space to work through your own stuff related to this issue. I'm not saying auto-DTMFA, but my dears. You have been through so much. Some time apart for you to sort out your feelings, and for him to put his house in order, could be good for both of you. Then you'll be in a better emotional place to pick things back up if you still feel the same.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 3:48 PM on April 18 [1 favorite]

Is he lying to himself or to you? He said he didn't tell his parents about his wife being gay because he was waiting for her to come out to her parents. Now he's out and he still hasn't told his parents. He is still in a relationship with her, even if it's not sexual, and that is going to take some time for him to untangle. Is he being completely honest with himself about how he feels about her and their marriage ending? He clearly has some ambivalence about the marriage ending.

Relationships, new relationships, need to be good now, right now. If you're holding out hope it will get better in the future -- that future often doesn't come. I know it can seem like there are reasons it's not just right now but will be better down the road, but I think folks are right that these are red flags beyond just the present moment. He might not really be ready to move forward yet. I suspect there's a good chance that your relationship will end soon after he tells his family, if you're still together. There's a lot of hurt that won't go away instantly.

Having said that... are you in therapy? That's my best suggestion for managing your emotions around this. Good luck.
posted by bluedaisy at 4:05 PM on April 18 [5 favorites]

For Reasons I didn't tell my parents about my boyfriend for 2 years, and (unlike your boyfriend and his family) we live in the same country, even in the same city. Our friends and co-workers knew about our relationship, and knew not to mention him to my parents. I only told my parents about him after we had made the decision to move in together. I said that he and I had been dating for "a while now" and when pressed I held firm on not telling them how long. I am not a habitual liar, and doing this wasn't fun, but I still believe it was the best option under the circumstances. Boyfriend and I have been living together for two years now and it's lovely. We continue to minimize contact with, well, not both my parents but with the one who is the problem.

In your previous AskMe back in October you said that your boyfriend and his wife are "open with their friends and rest of the world, seeing other people. He lives alone here. We go out in public. We do things. We stay over." You said he'd met your friends. Have you met his now as well? Are there any relevant people who don't know about your relationship besides his far-away conservative religious family?

Ask him why he hasn't told his parents about the separation yet now that his wife has recently (how recently?) come out to her parents and presumably told them she will shortly be getting divorced. I could understand if he was waiting to tell them in person and his trip next month to his home country to get the divorce proceedings started is his first opportunity.

Then ask him whether / how long he's planning to wait before he tells them that he's seeing someone else. He's told you that he didn't think his very religious parents could cope with knowing he and his wife were separated (with intent to divorce) until he could explain that there were extenuating circumstances. Does he think they will be expecting him to remain single until his divorce is finalized? Is that why you don't expect him to mention you to them for another year or so?
posted by Secret Sparrow at 4:15 PM on April 18 [5 favorites]

Please assume this is 100% genuine, we are very well matched.

yes, he behaves as if your emotions mean nothing and have no value next to his or his parents', and so do you. perfect harmony.

He says that I'm not just a passenger, I have agency, but I don't know how that can be true

"we both have agency" is a truism so empty it doesn't need to be said. you both have agency, you're both adults, you both breathe air. so when people do take the trouble to say it, to point out your agency as their suffering partner, it means "I am not responsible for hurting you. I am not making you do this. Whatever it does to you is not my fault."
posted by queenofbithynia at 4:25 PM on April 18 [30 favorites]

I need some more info before I can answer your question fully. Does he need to acknowledge his relationship to his parents or to you? It seems your needs barely register to him.

If his parents don't live where you two live, why does your relationship status hinge on what his parents think?

Is there a problem with your future? Do you want to marry each other someday and if so, does he need their approval?

Do you or he want to have kids someday and if so, with each other and if so, does he need his parents' approval for that?

If I were to answer your question as is, you're telling us you're a great match. 1. You're not. A great match means things are working great right now. They are not. Do not lie to yourself.

2. How do you tamp down those feelings of fear and wait? You can't. You're going to be anxious and insecure until something drastic changes. What is this thing that will change? He needs to show you he cares about you and respects your needs and wishes. You're anxious because there is no foundation to base your relationship on.

I've been in a long ass relationship with someone who kept promising that one day he'd go against his parents wishes and marry me and have kids. My biological clock was about to expire. I left him.
posted by jj's.mama at 4:27 PM on April 18 [2 favorites]

In your previous AskMe back in October you said that your boyfriend and his wife are "open with their friends and rest of the world, seeing other people. He lives alone here. We go out in public. We do things. We stay over." You said he'd met your friends. Have you met his now as well? Are there any relevant people who don't know about your relationship besides his far-away conservative religious family?

To my mind, the far-away conservative religious family seems like the least important part of the equation. He's not hiding you away or pretending you don't exist, as some commenters seem to be suggesting; you're an integral part of his day-to-day life. His family is not an integral part of his day-to-day life.

It's possible that this relationship isn't one that will work for you, but it seems important to acknowledge that he is the one who knows his parents, and knows how to maintain the likely uneasy peace he has with them. Quite a few commenters in your last question mentioned that many queer people and many people from conservative religious families lie to their parents about relationships (and other facets of their lives) quite regularly, because they have learned that this is the best way to protect their lives, including the loved ones their families might reject. Consider that this lie may fall in the same category: he's trying to protect his life with you from them, not protect them from his life with you.
posted by dizziest at 5:00 PM on April 18 [4 favorites]

I'm alarmed at some of the suggestions that you should be ok with this because no relationship is perfect, so I thought I'd chime in. I'm 33 so very close to you in age. Through my late 20s I was in a 4.5 year relationship with a man who I really cared about and who really cared about me. In many ways we were a great 'match' and we got along really well. Yet he would never commit and every single thing I asked for (e.g. timeline for moving in and things like that) was made out to be a Big Unreasonable Thing. We had heaps of good times and really loved each other. He is still a good friend of mine, actually.

But shortly after it finally imploded I met my husband. There was never any questioning, never any doubts about his enthusiasm for me. He was always happy to be with me and proud of me. I met his flatmates, his friends, skyped with his family. We moved in together and got married because we were each other's favourite person.

Relationships are never perfect, not even mine. But I can tell you how it feels when you are with someone who you know loves you 100%, who is your best friend, who makes you feel stable and secure and who is as excited to build a future with you as you are with them: it feels like you've found something you've been missing your whole life and that you're the most incredibly lucky person to have found it.

Yes, metafilter is a lot of DTMFA, but that's because when you have to write questions like this it generally suggests that stuff is already very wrong.

Like other people on here I really feel for the many women, and men, who are being fed tiny scraps and pretending to themselves that they are a feast. I've done it myself and I knew at the time I was doing it but for some reason I couldn't do anything about it. You have to be honest with yourself. Many, many people are in happy, fulfilling, secure relationships - what you have described isn't one of them.
posted by thereader at 8:54 PM on April 18 [14 favorites]

Reading between the lines of this and your previous country, it seems that you are white and live in the UK, while he is not white and his home family in his home country is religious. Is this right? I think if you share more details, then it will help us understand.

I will go against the tide and say:

The above posters may be very right. Their advice also makes sense for people from the same social and cultural background. But if you are not, then the advice above may not apply.. “you should be with someone who’s not lying to their family” already assumes that a certain relationship between people and their family is The Norm, and that any deviance from it must be a sign of a bad person.

In general I think askmetafilter skews towards offering relationship advice for people with a very specific family background. If your boyfriend has a different familial or cultural background from yours, it will be very helpful for us to know what that is so that we can understand more.
posted by suedehead at 9:05 PM on April 18 [3 favorites]

You know, I get where this guy is coming from a little bit.

If his parents are in a different country and he’s made his life elsewhere, I’m of the background and experiences that says ‘folks vote with their feet’ about their parents in many cases. I did, and I also didn’t want to tell my controlling parents about my marriage ending, or anything really about my life. It was always a drama and shaming exercise, even over things I’d mentally made peace with many years before [not going to church, having a boyfriend, what my job was, any study I was doing, why or where I was travelling etc] and so I just anxiously avoided it. There’s a lot of developmental history around shame that informs why people like your man act like this around their parents. It informs their thoughts of parental control and feelings of imagined or real punishments. People raised in highly controlling families *do* play with omission and truth-dodging behaviours, hell I see people in their 70s not want to rock the boat with their infirm 90 year old parents. And I know that 30 seems like one could break the shackles of parental control, it is still young in the scheme of these things.

It’s obvious you have deep feelings for the person he is. My feeling is that maybe it’s a bunch of heartache ahead but there’s also an opportunity for you both to grow through this. I’d not mention anything about the ‘likely to’ tell his parents to him, or pressure him in any way, but maybe ask why the truth [Sally Brown’s statement above is excellent] would be so frightening to share with his parents. Maybe ask him how other True Things he told his parents went. Come from a place of support, or see it as an opportunity to cross ‘lying bloke who lies and doesn’t value me’ off the list of variables of what/why of this situation.

I think his visit to his family is coming at the right time, you guys have had six months, the wife has come out, and you are hankering for more from him. I think sitting with competing feelings that my boyfriend loves me/he doesn’t tell his parents is really very difficult, and that is why you are so distressed. BUT He’s told everyone around him about you, been open with his ex/wife, the fact he hasn’t told his family seems really bound up in the dynamic of the family. Not you as a person.

It’d be pretty nice to be able to know that every person we meet intimately will have families who will love our partners and us, but that is unlikely. Families have really strong dynamics at play and many are extremely bound up in shame and repudiation. If that is the case for your partner, as it is for so many other people in our world, then a conversation centring on support - one that says you care about him deeply, and if his parents don’t know about you because he’s afraid of stuff you could help with, let him know.
posted by honey-barbara at 2:44 AM on April 19 [8 favorites]

Thank you all - I appreciate all the perspectives, especially those I didn't expect. I wrote it very much from a place of distress, and genuinely thought I would get comments about how to suck it up and wait. Sleeping on it helped. Like I said, I want to wait until May and see what comes. It's just the coping in the interim that is questionable. I realise I assumed of my own accord that he would keep our relationship on the downlow for the foreseeable future, so that's one thing to ask about.

The background of all parties is Midwest Catholicism. And yes, that is a world away from me and my upbringing.
posted by teststrip at 8:10 PM on April 20

Hi, small (but massive) update from me. He flew home, told his parents about everything, including our relationship. They're sad that he went through so much hidden pain, but pleased he personally is in a happier place. They had figured the marriage was over already but reportedly 'surprised' at the reason. He also filed for divorce, which I verified online. I'm very relieved. It's not a panacea, but I'm looking forward to seeing how we might grow our relationship with this situation over. Taking a deep breath. Thanks again for all of your comments.
posted by teststrip at 12:13 PM on May 29 [8 favorites]

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