We’re Living a Lie: I’m ‘Out’ as Gay, but My Partner Isn’t

I am a proud gay man in my mid-40s. I've been "out" to everyone I know for 22 years, and I feel free as a bird. The problem is that the man I hope to marry, who is my age, is out to no one, and has no intentions of coming out anytime soon. He works in a field where his sexual orientation could potentially hurt him (which angers me to no end, but that's an issue for another day), so I get his reasoning there, but I struggle with the fact he won't come out to even trusted friends and family (his or mine). This is 2016, not 1986! I guess I'm just frustrated and feeling helpless. As you can imagine, this "I'm out/I'm not" dynamic has consequences that reverberate throughout our relationship. He won't even meet my gay friends for fear of word getting out and potentially damaging him. I often have to pretend to be straight for his benefit, too. I've even had to swallow my pride and concoct stories about dating women. It sucks to be living a lie in my relationship despite living my truth outside of it. I deeply love this man, and I want nothing more than to be able to propose to him in front of the people we love, and to have the kind of wedding ceremony we both deserve, surrounded by the supportive people I KNOW they would be. Is it fair of him to ask this of me? Should I just accept that the nature of his work will always keep us in the shadows? —Out of Patience
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Dear Out of Patience,

I hear your frustration coming through loud and clear and it is totally understandable. You’ve been out to everyone for over two decades and feel deeply liberated by it. You know you’d like to celebrate your love and commitment to your partner publicly, but instead you feel pressured to speak about nonexistent women you are dating. The contrast between how you and he are living your lives could not be more stark. Since you are also sharing your lives, there is bound to be discomfort for each of you as you try to bring the other over into your way of being.

This is a deeply complicated issue and one that is threatening not just to your relationship but also to each of your identities. You identify as a proud and out gay man, and this relationship is pushing you back into the “closet” to a degree.

This is a deeply complicated issue and one that is threatening not just to your relationship but also to each of your identities. You identify as a proud and out gay man, and this relationship is pushing you back into the “closet” to a degree.

Although American society has made progress over the past 30 years with regard to LGBT rights and acceptance—legally marrying your partner, for instance, was impossible until relatively recently—there is no question that discrimination and stigma are still problematic for many. Perhaps a large part of your partner’s identity is connected to his work, and if coming out costs him his work, he may feel like he is losing a large part of himself. This may be creating a power struggle in your relationship as you each try to hold on to your identities. Even if that’s not the case, it is clear this situation creates discomfort for you in your relationship.

Considering the depth of these issues, partnering with a couples therapist could be invaluable for the two of you. Through couples work, you could each explore these identity issues and how they impact your relationship. Engaging in the process together might offer an opportunity for each of you to develop a stronger sense of empathy for the other’s position.

If your partner is unwilling to go to therapy with you, you can engage in your own therapy to explore some of these issues and have the support of a therapeutic relationship as you try to figure out what you would like to do to feel more at peace.

Kind regards,

Sarah

Sarah Noel
Sarah Noel, MS, LMHC is a licensed psychotherapist living and working in Brooklyn, New York. She specializes in working with people who are struggling through depression, anxiety, trauma, and major life transitions. She approaches her work from a person-centered perspective, always acknowledging the people she works with as experts on themselves. She is honored and humbled on a daily basis to be able to partner with people at such critical points in their unique journeys.
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  • tracey c

    tracey c

    April 22nd, 2016 at 1:05 PM

    eek! This is a tough one! I think that I would be hurt and mad at the same time that he was not comfortable living that kind of life that I was openly ready to lead.

  • AleCole

    AleCole

    April 23rd, 2016 at 10:31 AM

    I’m not sure how you are doing this
    like is he saying that you are just platonic friends and you have to lie like that even though you are good with anyone knowing?

  • Sullivan

    Sullivan

    April 23rd, 2016 at 3:42 PM

    Oh yeah I definitely think that couples therapy could be in order here. Not like you guys are a failure as a couple, but it sure does feel nice when you have someone who cares about what is going on with the two of you and can hopefully help you with some tips and a guide for surviving this.

  • Alyson

    Alyson

    April 26th, 2016 at 10:30 AM

    Look I am not being judgmental because goodness knows I have been in my share of bad relationships. But wow, this just seems like the two of you are so far apart in terms of what you both need and want in a relationship that it sort of seems like maybe this person is not the right person for you right now. I am not saying that you can;t find a way to come closer together eventually, but I am not sure that this is the right place for either of you at this time because it seems that fundamentally there is a pretty large divide between the two of you.

  • marc

    marc

    April 28th, 2016 at 10:47 AM

    you should give him some space and let him come to terms with this decision in a way that feels right for him, not just for you

  • Jayson

    Jayson

    April 29th, 2016 at 10:14 AM

    IMH it is better to know right now that the two of you have some very different expectations than I would finding out later down the road. You might love this person and they might love you but I have a sense that it is never going to be enough for you for it to end at that. You want a complete and total relationship and that is fine, if that is what you want then that is certainly what you deserve.

  • faih

    faih

    May 12th, 2016 at 10:36 AM

    I am assuming that you came out to others on your terms?

    Why can’t he have the same courtesy?

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