What do I do to move on without creating drama?
September 19, 2006 8:01 PM   Subscribe

I need to know how to resolve this problem of having fallen for someone ...

I'll try to make this as short as possible, but it's complicated. Please bear with me.

I am gay, but still in the closet. Most people here will probably tell me that the first and most important thing I should do is come out and be honest about who I am. Well, I wish I could, but though I happen to be liberal-minded, my parents and extended family are conservative when it comes to social issues and relationships. If my grandparents, who live overseas, ever found out that I was gay they would probably die of a heart attack, and I would have to live in shame and disgrace for the rest of my life. I'm in my mid-20s, but I've never had sex or been a relationship with anyone. I have had crushes on guys throughout my college years, and though I could tell that in some of those cases the feelings were mutual, the guys were also in the closet and basically decided to shut me out at some point to move on. This has happened to me four times so you would think by now I would avoid letting myself fall for a guy. But this summer, at a study program, I fell for a guy, a student like me. He has a girlfriend but I am nearly positive that he is gay and in the closet. This I know based on the way he looked at me, smiled at me, his behaviors and mannerisms around me, his moments of vulnerability in my presence, and a number of other signs that we would all recognize as signs of physical attraction (there are many and I could describe what I observed in detail, but it would take too long).

Throughout the summer, though we were busy with work, we did take time to chat and get to know each other though always in the presence of other friends. As it turns out, we have quite a bit in common: we love to debate, we appreciate art and music, enjoy studying languages, etc. But there were other times, when we would act somewhat coldly to each other because of the awkward sexual tension that neither of us wanted to feel. Towards the end of the summer program, he was willing to spend three hours with me one on one at a bar to just talk at length about life, studies, etc. He seemed deeply impressed by some of the talents I displayed in a talent show. And after we left the program, we stayed in touch for a little but by e-mail. He's in the process of moving overseas to study abroad so he's probably busy but he hasn't responded to recent e-mails I've sent to him and a few of other mutual friends (cc'ed on the same e-mails). I can't draw any conclusions from this just yet but I'm afraid and saddened that he might be ready to move on, get back to life with his girlfriend, despite whatever he may have felt about me (and I about him). If that's so, I can respect his choice, but the strange thing is this ...

Feelings or no feelings, he is someone I happen to deeply respect and admire, with whom I enjoy intellectual discussions, and I wish so deeply that I could stay friends with him. That maybe months from now when we've moved on and don't feel attracted to each other, we could reconnect. But friendships don't work that way. You have to stay in touch at least periodically to maintain a friendship. Anyway, my questions are the following:

1) I plan to wait until it becomes relatively clear that he just doesn't want to stay in touch (I hope I'm proven wrong). I think then I can send a message saying "I've noticed you haven't been responding. Sorry if I missed something, but I got the sense that you wanted to stay in touch. If you don't, I understand. I'll assume that if you don't respond to this that this is your choice. It's a shame that things should end this way but I wish you the best as you go forward" or something similar and see if he responds. If not, then I know that he's ready to move on. I hate to create unnecessary drama, but do you think is a reasonable message to send given the circumstances?

2) What can I do to help myself move on if he doesn't want to stay in touch? Every time I think about him, I get weak and feel like I want to cry because I really liked him, and the thought that our friendship has to be thrown away because of these mutual feelings is a really painful one. It wouldn't just be love lost (I've dealt with that enough times not to care, and I can live with just being friends) but a friendship lost, and that for me is infinitely more tragic. I wish there was something I could do to salvage the situation. What can I do to help myself get on with life?

Again, I know some of you might think I should just come out and start from there, but like I said, I risk getting disowned by my family and loved ones and I don't know whether being in a gay relationship would compensate for that loss. Any advice would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.
posted by cscott to Human Relations (21 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Sounds like you need to come out of the closet. You know this but you want us to say it.
posted by evilelvis at 8:13 PM on September 19, 2006

Again, I know some of you might think I should just come out and start from there, but like I said, I risk getting disowned by my family and loved ones and I don't know whether being in a gay relationship would compensate for that loss.

Really? Huh. So, you plan on being single and celibate for life, or...? Take out the word "gay" here and see how that sounds.

I'm never this harsh, but I really hear a lot of pain and frustration in your post that I think stems from this issue. Sorry.
posted by tristeza at 8:30 PM on September 19, 2006

1. I don't think that's an unreasonable message, but I wouldn't be too hopeful about it.

2. Is there anything stopping you from having a relationship without coming out to your family? If you still live at home, perhaps now is the time to move out.

IANG, so I apologize if I'm lacking some fundamental understanding here, but to me the celibacy thing seems more urgent than the closetedness.
posted by equalpants at 8:37 PM on September 19, 2006

I don't really think emailing him could hurt anything. At worst, it might provide some closure.

I hate to say this, but I think coming out would help you move on with your life. That said, you don't need to come out to everyone at once. Heck, you don't ever have to come out to certain people. A close friend of mine has been "out" to his friends and acquaintances for more than fifteen years, but his ultra-conservative family still has no idea.

It's a shame if you have to lose a friendship, I agree, but even if you remain friends, you may continue torturing yourself over the nature of your relationship. In coming out, you can hopefully avoid the is-he-or-isn't-he gay/attracted to me problem in the future. Moreover, one of the best ways to get over someone is to find someone new. Other than that, I've found that throwing myself into my work, getting involved in volunteering, working out, or spending a lot of time with close friends has helped me get over heartbreak in the past.
posted by almostbarefoot at 8:40 PM on September 19, 2006

1 - you risk getting disowned, but it's also possible that after some initial pain and difficulty, your family and loved ones will come to accept who you really are, and love you without qualification - you owe it to yourself to live your life honestly, and your family will learn from the experience. Remember that every person who's brave enough to come out is making it easier for the next... and you've really got a good portion of society on your side these days. You just have to face the facts head on, and start taking charge of your life. Accept that you might have to lose some people close to you now in order to find new family. It will be worth it.

2 - you may be reading things correctly, but it's also possible you're projecting or reading more into random glances than is there - I wouldn't get overly dramatic at this point. try to stay in touch but don't get obsessive.
posted by mdn at 8:44 PM on September 19, 2006

On the surface, the immediate problem has nothing to do with anyone's overt or unspoken sexual orientation. Rather, it's that you have fallen for someone who's unavailable.

Even if this guy is attracted to you, he's already with someone else. Unless he's told you that his relationship isn't exclusive, he's a writeoff in that arena.

This happens all the time to all kinds of people, gay, straight, and undefined. You've probably already been on the other end of it a few times without knowing it. If the friendship is important to you, don't mention it, exchange occasional brief friendly notes, and the infatuation will eventually melt away. If that's too painful for you, you don't have to keep in touch.

Not that it's relevant in this case, but it sounds like you're also feeling pretty sad about never being willing or able to admit to loving the people you do. That's got to be a bleak prospect. Eventually you'll probably want to rethink.
posted by tangerine at 8:57 PM on September 19, 2006

If it's only your family that you're worried about, you need to figure a way to come out in your everyday life without coming out to them (although just being out would be easier and preferable). It's definately doable; I spent at least a year having relationships (sexual and otherwise) during high school while living at home and my parents never suspected anything. When I finally came out, I said "You kinda knew, right?" to which they replied "No." And my parents are very smart people.
posted by awesomebrad at 9:02 PM on September 19, 2006

Ya know, your family may not react as harshly as you think. Then again, I don't know them. Regardless, yes, come out. You only live once. You're throwing away your youth because you're worried about what your family thinks. Screw that. Also, I might be more of a romantic than most but I say throw your cards on the table with this guy. It's the only way you're going to get over it because you're either going to be rejected OR find yourself in the best place you've ever been in your life. The risk is worth it. If you are rejected, then you can move on with your life knowing you tried. If he admits its mutual and wants to persue the relationship as well, how great would that be?

Just remember that a life of secrecy is no fun. It's not your fault if your family can't accept you. Tell them. I know it's not easy but nothing worth having in life is easy. No matter how bad the backlash is, you'll be staying true to yourself and you need that right now more than anything. Sorry but grow some balls and carpe diem!
posted by smeater44 at 9:04 PM on September 19, 2006

I've fallen for a number of unavailable guys, a lot of them straight. Things end differently every time, depending on a lot of factors. There was one guy in high school who I liked, and I sometimes still wonder if he's going to be "the one that got away" for me. With another guy, I eventually got over him -- couldn't tell you how, sorry -- and now we have a pretty typical, healthy friendship.

I don't think I can tell you how you should go about maintaining a friendship with him, or even if you should. I think you have to figure out your own comfort zone on this. I am pretty sure, though, that if you want to maintain any kind of relationship you must absolutely understand, in your heart of hearts, that he is unavailable. Otherwise you're just being cruel to yourself, having all these things that you want out of the relationship and then denying them to yourself.

Your proposed letter sounds a little too business-like, but I'm guessing you plan to flesh it out and make it a little more personal when the time comes. Given that, there's no problem with it, if you're honest with yourself about what you want to come from it.

I still haven't found a solution to your part 2 yet, but I think getting out of this situation, where you're constantly feeling love lost, is probably a good way to go. I'm starting to work on it myself, and it's definitely a nice change of pace to think about guys who are also thinking about me rather than being stuck in romantic limbo.

So, yes, I'm going to echo the chorus that you should come out. You might be surprised how your family reacts. My mom was supportive of a couple of friends of hers that came out over the course of my childhood. When I told her, she laughed at me, and we still can't really talk about it. It took five years after that before I got the nerve to tell anyone else in my family. My dad votes a straight Republican ticket in every U.S. election, and leans towards social conservativism (although with a strong libertarian streak, too), and he should write the book about how to deal with a child coming out, because he said everything perfectly. But even if you're right and they'll disown you, I don't think you should deny yourself the opportunity to be honest with people you love for that.

I know that sounds crazy from where you're standing. You might think I must not realize how important your familiy is to you, or how stern. Maybe I don't. But on the flip side, you don't know just how freeing it is to be out. Before I told my dad, I would often spend time brooding over everything that could go wrong, or about how it was going to affect my life. After he knew, a huge weight was gone from my shoulders. I walked lighter. I smiled more. I honestly have a more positive outlook on life now. And so it's hard for me to believe that, so long as you can be self-sufficient, any consequences could be worse than the constant worry.

Whatever you do, good luck.
posted by brett at 9:38 PM on September 19, 2006 [1 favorite]

Some decide that their parents' happiness is more important than their own, and live with that decision the rest of their life.

If you want to be like that, prepare to be miserable and lonely for a very long, excrutiatingly long time.

Otherwise, if you want a chance at happiness, take control of your life, consequences be damned.

You seem unhappy in your current situation. You appear to know what you need to do to change this. I wish you luck in finding the inner strength and courage to make those changes.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:28 PM on September 19, 2006 [1 favorite]

Coming out is a very personal decision, and if you're not ready, that's fine. Some people wait a very long time. A good friend of mine in college was in the closet until his late 20's/early 30's. He said that beforehand he was obsessed with the idea that his parents and family would be shocked/heartbroken/would disown him, etc. And when he came out, his family did in fact react strongly. But they mellowed over time and came to accept him completely.

But the interesting thing is that after he came out and was able to look back on things, he said the obsession with his family was really just a kind of cover for the real fear he had: starting a new life (as a gay man). Once the cat was out of the bag, there was no going back, and coming out was essentially admitting that most of his adult life was a secret.

You have feelings for your family and don't want them to be hurt, but you've gotta think of yourself as well. I don't know your family, but it's reasonable to think that a caring person can accept you being gay, given enough time. The hard truth is that ultimately, if someone has a problem with you being gay, it's just that--their problem, and you've gotta live your life. You deserve love and affection and a family of your own, just like anyone else. But the when of it is totally up to you.

Oh, and...

He has a girlfriend but I am nearly positive that he is gay and in the closet.

Better make sure about this one. I'm a straight male, though not the most macho in the world, and I've had more than one person (actually several) who were 100% sure I was gay.
posted by zardoz at 11:31 PM on September 19, 2006 [2 favorites]

Does he know that you're gay though, d'ya think? Or does he at least guess so?
As a straight guy probably about ten years older than you, I've had numerous gay friends/aquaintances/random guys in bars where I wasn't sure if they were gay at first, but tended to figure it out pretty quick, if not told so. And when there's been a bit of flirtatiousness, that's always been okay with me and kind of fun/flattering (before or after knowing for sure they were gay. I think they pretty much know I'm straight from the get-go.). So just because he seems to flirt doesn't necessarily mean he's, uh, "up for it". But still, does he know you're gay? All the above is not meant to say that he's surely not gay, just to say caveat emptor.
1) Send him a personal email, not as part of a group, asking after him etc. Let him know how you're doing and tell him you want to stay in touch.
2) As a straight guy about ten years older than you, I still have the same problems sometimes. We find our own ways to deal with it - hopefully.
Best of luck.
[Oh the "about ten years older than you" isn't meant to be obnoxious, just adding context - sorry if it came off otherwise.]
posted by zoinks at 12:38 AM on September 20, 2006

he hasn't responded to recent e-mails I've sent to him and a few of other mutual friends (cc'ed on the same e-mails)


If not, then I know that he's ready to move on. I hate to create unnecessary drama, but do you think is a reasonable message to send given the circumstances?

not really, no. i can't explain why very well, but when i get an email from a friend that's been cc'd to other friends as well, i feel less obligated/compelled to respond than if it were a personal message just to me, unless i'm directly asked something. kinda like when someone is speaking and asks a question - one-on-one, you'd respond in some way. in an audience, you might not. compound that with being busy and moving overseas and it might just be a low priority. you should try sending just him an email or two before deciding that he isn't responding to you.

also consider that he might just be a sensitive, friendly, and intelligent straight guy that you have some personal chemistry with. if i was that guy (and i have been before), i would probably be put off by an email like that. it would be basically giving him an ultimatum, which people typically resent.

the message is basically "if you don't have time to spend with me, we should break up," and implicit in that message is that you have something beyond a platonic friendship to break up from. it's a huge leap to make entirely within your head. he's probably already got one clingy girlfriend, doubtful he needs another.
posted by sergeant sandwich at 12:43 AM on September 20, 2006

[what sergeant sandwich said, minus the final sentence]
posted by zoinks at 1:03 AM on September 20, 2006

you have nothing to lose by contacting him. Don't assume his lack of contact means anything until you hear it from him.
although IANG, I've been where you are with somone who is now a dear friend. The first "absences" were awful ( I moved country) I overanalysed everything, I spent way too much time and emotional energy dissecting silence. This is quite simply masochism. Action is always better and clarity (on whether he is in fact gay, on whether he wants to keep up a friendship with you, on whether he simply has moved on from you) is ALWAYS the antidote to the self-torture you are putting yourself through.
Get in touch and suggest you could come visit in his new country cos you've always been interested in ....wherever.
His response to a direct approach will tell you a lot.
good luck
posted by Wilder at 2:05 AM on September 20, 2006

Dude, you need to get some personal, physical attention from another guy. Between the emotional drive for companionship and the biological drive for sex, you can't really have any clear idea on these issues. One might say: "You're so gay, you can't even think straight!", but the same often applies to straight guys. But your situation is more vulnerable than needs be.

Write your friend a normal email. That can't hurt. I like the point sergeant sandwich made about ultimatums. Not appropriate. Keep that channel open. You may consider some time in the not-distant future, coming out to him.

Meanwhile, you need to step out on your own and be gay (whatever that means, these days. I'm in a LTR, monogamous, and haven't been 'making the scene' in decades). Meet gay guys. Maybe give a go at this sex thing everyone is talking about (play safe, always, please). You can do that without being overly concerned about family issues. They have no need to know.

Once you've reestablished your emotional stability and developed a bit of a gay social network, you can consider the more weighty issue of coming out to other people in your life.

Seriously, for someone in your position, the best thing you could do would be to move away someplace away from family. You need some independence and some headspace. It's much easier to deal with your self when you are the only immediate issue.

There are issues that dance around 'outness' without really being about outness. I've been out to some degree since I was 12. Yet when I moved back to my home town in my 20's, it was almost like being back in the damn closet, and it carried the kind of problems like falling for what I like to call 'unknown numbers'. Mind, in my home town, there wasn't much oppurtunity for gay socializing.
posted by Goofyy at 4:12 AM on September 20, 2006

I think that you would benefit by starting to come out, not necessarily to your parents, but at least more fully to yourself and those around you who are your own age. As has been pointed out here, coming out is a process, even a lifelong process.

You don't have to come out to everybody all at once, and maybe never come out to some people. But once you feel more comfortable and confident about yourself, you'll be able to get a better handle on your love life. You see, it's not really about the other guys you're attracted to; it's first about you and how you see yourself and present yourself.

You said:
and I would have to live in shame and disgrace for the rest of my life

That reminds me of the Eleanor Rooselvelt quotation: No one can make you feel inferior without your consent. You don't have to be ashamed for living your own life as you wish and being true to yourself. How can someone else requiire you to feel that way?

More to the point... When I was your age I got my heart broken many times. It's shitty. It hurts. It's part of life, unfortunately, but it's also part of our growth.

Yes, send a friendly email to the guy you want to remain friends with -- but keep in mind that he has a girlfriend, he's going overseas, and you might as well assume he's straight an unavailable. You can be friends, period, so don't put pressure on him.

In the meantime, get on with your life. Find some gay people to talk to, maybe some who can be role models or mentors. You've got a lot of growing to do and a lot of life ahead of you.
posted by Robert Angelo at 6:05 AM on September 20, 2006

I agree with everyone who's encouraging you to come out of the closet gradually. Have some fun, build an honest life for yourself and then think about coming out to your parents when you feel strong and have a support group in other areas of your life.

It might be hard for them to accept but in the end I think any reasonable person is going to choose a relationship with their son (grandson, etc.) over their prejudices, however deeply held. It's not an exact analogy but my parents used to talk all the time about how I better only date white guys. If my boyfriend was a different color they would disown me. Well, lo and behold, I get a boyfriend who's not white. He was, however, a great guy. They got over their idiot racism pretty quick when they realized how happy I was dating him and that he was the most decent guy I ever brought home.

In reference to the guy in question, I'd say, let him go. Have no further contact and try to immerse yourself in other things (like getting a new, gay, life). The only way it could possibly work out would be if he was bi and his girlfriend was willing to share and the logistics of that relationship would be a whole new can o' worms. If he's straight, game over. If he's gay the fact he has a girlfriend means he's even further wedged into the closet than you and I don't think you need that at this point.
posted by Jess the Mess at 7:41 AM on September 20, 2006

You seem to be saying that it's more important to be miserable and have everyone around you happy than it is for you to be happy. This is not a mindset that will ever allow you to be very happy.

As everyone else is saying, coming out doesn't have to mean telling everyone in your life. I, too, have friends who are completely out to friends and some open-minded family members and just never discuss their love lives with the rest of the family.

And I agree that you should write this guy off as a boyfriend -- he's attached, he's out of the country -- but if you want to keep up a friendship, you need to send him non-overwrought friendly emails one on one. I almost always ignore mass emails, even from my closest friends, unless there's a compelling "we need to know X from each of you" question involved.
posted by oliver at 9:56 AM on September 20, 2006

Response by poster: Wow, thanks so much for all the comments. I had no idea these boards were that busy. I think I should share a few details that might help clarify a few things:

1) I understand the business of coming out gradually, to a certain circle of people who will accept me, and maybe coming out to my family later. I think I know this is something I have to do, but finding the courage to do it at the risk of losing other close friendships is easier said than done... I guess it's a matter of time

2) This guy and I have been in touch by e-mail since the summer program ended in late August. Immediately after it he said he'd get in touch with me next time he's in my hometown. Later, he responded to another e-mail I sent in a very friendly manner... basically this indicated to me that he wanted to stay in touch... Now, I'm slowly getting over my feelings for him bc I know I have to, I'm not the type to try to lure him away from his current relationship. So I'm not sure what good it would do to come out to him before coming out to other far more important people in my life. That said, I almost sensed that last night we spent at the bar, he had all these questions for me, and at one point, after I described my quarter-life career crisis, he said almost sternly, "Yes, but what do you want in your life now" as if he were looking for a particular answer. The thought crossed my mind that he was looking for me to say something about my sexual orientation. I could be wrong, but only a few days before that, he asked me whether I frequent a certain part of the city I live in that is known to be a gay hot spot. Of course, not having the courage to be open, I pretty much dodged the first question by saying I want a clear career path and the second question by saying that I don't frequent that part of town much (I actually don't) and go elsewhere where booze is cheap. This is all probably making mountains out of mole hills, but if it weren't for this decided expression on his face both times that made it seem like he wanted a certain answer, I wouldn't have brought this up. My sense is that he did suspect that I'm gay.

3) The current silence could very well be a function of being busy moving back to school overseas, etc. so like I said I'm not ready to draw any conclusions about his behavior just yet. I think what I'll probably do is wait about a month before getting in touch again one on one with a normal e-mail (no ultimatums). If no response, one week later, one more shot, if no response, then I'll know that he's moved on. A month seems like a while to sit around wondering what he's thinking, but that's precisely the point. I need this time to train myself to not care about that, and to get over my feelings for him and move on. At any rate, I need to think about when and how to come out, and I have plenty to keep me busy in that month as it is...

4) I've already written him off as a boyfriend. What I was hoping was that we could stay friends, just because (maybe this sounds strange but) feelings or no feelings, I happen to admire and respect him as a person. Sometimes losing a friend hurts just as much as letting go of someone you've fallen for. At least, that's true in my experience.

Anyway, I think I need at least a month to calm down, get my mind off of him, and think about where I'm going with my life, and how to handle this business of coming out despite the horrors that would ensue. Then, I can see whether he values our friendship or humanely put closure to it all... and move on.
posted by cscott at 4:04 PM on September 20, 2006

I really admire how you're working through this (I'm much older than you so I get to say shit like that without sounding patronising OK?)
I completely agree with your points.
I would say that the "horror" you imagine is a tough few weeks and then some lingering resentment on your family's part for months. Honestly it is never as bad as your imagination makes it.
20 years ago in Catholic Ireland, still living at home in my last degree year I wanted to move in with my boyfirend of 3 years.
My father told me I would leave the house in a white dress or a coffin (Exact quote, honest, I couldn't make it up!)
So when they went on holidays I moved into my boyfriends house. My father and brother searched our town for 2 weeks and I honestly have no idea what they would have done if they found me. So I do understand the pressure, although I'm certain that being gay at that time would have been much worse.

But we all got over it, and the freedom and happiness of those first few months where we lived together was priceless. Living a lie is far, far harder, but of course in your case it would be a lot easier to come out if you had a supportive S.O.
So take it at your own pace, but know that happiness is out there for you.
posted by Wilder at 3:23 PM on September 21, 2006

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