Regardless of your sexual orientation, dating is hard. It’s especially hard when your partner is closeted. While everyone has a right to be as private or public about their identity and sexual orientation as a they like, this can make for a very tricky relationship, especially when you’re newly out.
I dated my best friend, Emily*, for seven months before leaving for college. We had known each other since elementary school but didn’t realize our feelings until senior year of high school. It was my first lesbian relationship and her first relationship ever. We didn’t tell anyone because she hadn’t yet come out.
It seemed like all the odds were against us: No one could know about us, we were soon leaving for different universities, and she was totally inexperienced. When we were physically together, it felt as if love alone was enough to make us work. But as things got more serious, I realized that was far from the case.
When we were together, I was my true bisexual, queer woman self in all of my glory. I was ready for people to know who I was — I am and was very secure and confident in my identity. Unfortunately, Emily wasn’t. When I was at home and at school, I had to pretend to be straight. We spent a lot of time together and made our friendship very public on social media, so if I came out, it would be quite clear we were dating. But, as our relationship progressed, it became increasingly difficult to keep my family and friends in the dark about my true identity and what Emily and I had become. She was my girlfriend, and I wanted everyone to know how I felt about her. I wanted to do what I had done in my previous heterosexual relationships: post on social media, hold hands in public, stay in for dates, and confide in friends and family about relationship problems. I was drowning.
About three months ago, after more than a semester of being long distance, we ended things. Toward the end of our relationship, I asked Emily a lot of potentially unfair questions. Do I deserve this kind of secret relationship? If she loved me, wouldn’t she be out so we could be happy? Was she ashamed of our relationship? As we settled into college life, we had become increasingly concerned with each other’s minute-to-minute actions thanks to our unconscious lack of trust. Since our relationship wasn’t public, we figured that it would’ve been easy to be disloyal. Our schedules were also busy and effective communication became an issue. While we knew going in that the distance would be hard, we didn’t anticipate the effects of intersection of a long-distance relationship and one of us being in the closet.
Looking back, I realize I wasn’t sensitive enough to the fact that coming out is very personal and very different for everyone. My coming-out experience wasn’t rainbows and butterflies. I got a lot of, “You’re only 18. Are you sure this isn’t just a phase?” and “‘You’re just experimenting before and during college. Don’t worry about it.” But it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. It was a sigh of relief to be able to exist in the world as my true self.
Self-acceptance is not necessarily easy, especially in the context of a first-time, same-sex relationship. I needed security, and there were too many unknown aspects of Emily and my relationship. I yearned for acceptance within my inner circle. As humans, we need support from peers and family. We crave clear definitions.
Coming to terms with who you are takes time. I love Emily, and I suspect I always will, but if you love someone who is struggling with who they are, you need to let them go. It’s been a few months since our breakup, and we’re back to being best friends. Of course, I miss what we had. But I know that at least until Emily really loves and accepts herself, she won’t be able fully commit to me or to any relationship. But I’m not worried — things have a funny way of working themselves out.
*Name has been changed.