HeadSpaces: My Girlfriend Won't Come Out Of The Closet

HeadSpaces is a column featuring the brilliant minds of psychologists Dr. Rachel Kozlowski and Dr. Naomi Ben-Ami discussing modern romance.

This is my HeadSpace: I’m a woman who’s been involved in a serious relationship with another woman for over three years now. We joke that we are disgustingly in love and often talk of our plans for the future, including marriage and having a family. Neither of us had been with women before we met, and though it’s been difficult for both of us to adjust our ideas about ourselves and our futures, she’s struggling a lot more than I am. At this point, all of my family and friends know about her but only a few people in her life know about me. Granted, her family is more conservative than mine, and she tends to be more anxious, but it’s been years now. Though I am understanding about how terrified she is, it also seems unfair that she can’t put me first and tell her family already. I know she’s the person I want to be with, but how am I supposed to deal with this? — Hate Being A Secret

Dear HBAS,

This is undeniably some rough stuff. So let us first just say, we feel you girl. Nobody wants to feel like they're a secret (even a damn sexy, juicy one) especially if it's something you not only want out and about (see what we did there?) but want to holler from the rooftops.

Frustration understood and secret-shaming shit aside, it seems like you two have forged something pretty damn special—in fact it sounds as though you may have found your forever person—so we're going to go ahead and encourage you to focus on what you do have. If your wonder-lover is indeed working herself up to coming out—but is just on a decidedly different timeline than you—try and remind yourself that waiting on your lady a little longer is a small price to pay for long-term and disgustingly loving (we’re not grossed out!), love, which in truth, is hard to come by.  

Let us also say that the mere fact—here comes the irony—that you’re so eager to show your lady-love off to the world speaks to your passion and commitment to this relationship. So, even though this is a bitch of a thing to go through and you feel like shoving her out of the proverbial closet-nest, it's also an opportunity to be grateful (yup, we said it) because it speaks to the depth of your love for her.

As for what you can do or how you can deal, you're going to have to go ahead and channel patience and the wherewithal to try and understand where she’s coming from. As our dear doctors explain (and warn!):

"The choice to remain closeted or even partially closeted is a very personal one. For many people, coming out means facing a lot of painful backlash  - whether it’s cultural or religious attitudes or discrimination, disapproval or rejection by loved ones, or battling their own internalized shame. That being said, it’s likely that your girlfriend’s struggle has more to do with these complex issues, not her feelings about you or your relationship. Accepting this inside yourself, and remaining encouraging and supportive towards her will ultimately help her feel secure with you and stronger in herself...something she will need when she does ultimately open herself up and tell her parents.”

If you decide to stick with this relationship then you need to remain supportive of her decision and relative hesitancy to likely implode her family's proverbial fabric. At the same time, we also urge you not to neglect yourself. The key here is a deft balancing act: Amid your—remember?—flowing gratitude and patience, make sure you're also communicating your needs. She should know how much you’re hurting; while she is clearly struggling with this in a serious way, you are too, and your needs matter equally:

"You can’t control what she does, but you can make it clear that what she is (or isn’t) doing is affecting you and that if she is serious about the marriage and family talk, this is something she will have to deal with. Let her know why it is important for you that she acknowledge your relationship to her family. If she is as into you as it seems, your feelings will impact her. You can also suggest she find a therapist to discuss her issues related to coming out, as this is an area that is painful and challenging for many people."

Damn straight. OK. Lastly? You need to get out your soul-shovel and dig around a bit. If all this maybe-resentment, uncertainty, inability to forge the future, questioning-whether-she-loves-you-enough-to-create-conflict-with-her-family stress is outweighing the good stuff (love! stability! companionship! movie nights galore!) you get from the relationship . . . you more than have the right to consider whether this situation is tenable for you.

But before you go and wallow in the bathtub at the futility of it all, let us remind you—because this is important—you have the agency and self-awareness to choose what's best for you . . . so don't ever lose sight of that.

"Feeling like you're being pushed back in the closet in any way can often feel like a painful regression for those who have already come out. We imagine you are feeling pretty powerless in all this. Know that ultimately, while you don’t have the power to force her to come out with it, so to speak, you do have the power to leave if you decide that's what is healthiest for you."

But as you seem love-struck and smitten and decidedly sold on this gal, we're going to assume you'll stick it out, see it through (however messy) and feel damn empowered while doing it. After all, you're choosing to be there because this is clearly worth it.

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