The Unspoken Struggle of Dating Someone Who's In the Closet

Being LGBT+ isn’t easy, no matter which letter/s you fit into there are always struggles. From coming out to yourself, to coming out to your friends and family to coming out to coworkers,  everything is a struggle. And relationships can be especially hard for LGBT+ people.

I was in a relationship with a woman for pretty much the whole of my second year at University, we first started dating almost a year after I came out to my immediate family and years after I had come out to my friends and my sister. I know I’m incredibly lucky that pretty much everyone in my life has been completely accepting of my sexuality. But my ex wasn’t so lucky, coming from an incredibly religious household with parents from a country where being homosexual is illegal, she doubted whether she’d ever be able to come out and still hasn’t.

This is where our relationship became hard. It wasn’t easy for me to understand the culture she came from and the religious beliefs that her parents held. I had been ‘out’ to my friends since I was fifteen years old whereas she’d only come out to some of her closest friends the year before we met. Coming out to anyone is never easy, especially close family and friends so I sympathised with her wholeheartedly, but when you do come out you can stop living in fear all the time. It’s a weight off your shoulders to know that someone won’t accidentally out you to your family or that they won’t accidentally catch you with your partner. And when you get into a relationship with someone who isn’t out, you’re immediately thrust back into that fear. One thing that was really hard for me was social media, her brother friended me on Facebook, followed me on Instagram and Twitter under the assumption that I was just her best friend. That meant I was living in fear of posting something or sharing something, having a friend even tag me in something that could give away my sexuality or our relationship status.

Similarly, when I was introduced to her parents I was introduced as the ‘best friend’ and for long stretches of time when I was with them I had to be so careful not to reveal my own sexuality, my ex’s sexuality or our relationship. It was extremely hard to be shoved back into the closet when I’d already came out and I didn’t realise at the time how much it affected my own personal feelings and mental health. It’s a negative experience and was incredibly hard to deal with when you see your best friends being introduced to their boyfriend/girlfriend’s parents and going out for dinner with them, being accepted by them and being part of the family as someone’s partner. I had to watch this knowing that my girlfriend’s parents couldn’t know who I was, and that if they did know that I would probably never see them again and that they would never accept our relationship. Even harder was when my friends would ask me about it, “Doesn’t it bother you that her parents don’t know?” And I would have to smile and pretend like it didn’t bother me, when really it was an incredibly hard thing to go through. It definitely isn’t easy having to go through this, and it isn’t easy to be shoved back into a closet because of the person you choose to date, but I understood that what was hard for me was harder for my ex.

So my advice for anyone who is in a relationship with someone who is still in the closet is simple. Be honest with them. Yes it is an incredibly difficult thing for them to be going through, but you need to be honest with them about how hard this is for you too, otherwise they’ll never really understand. You also have to have patience; coming out is hard in different ways for different people and if you truly love someone, as hard as the situation is for you, just have patience. It’s bound to pay off in the end. And my advice to anyone who knows someone in this situation is not to ask them, “but doesn’t it bother you that their parents don’t know”; my advice is to just check in with them, ask them if they’re okay and if they need your support in any way. It’s very psychologically tough to go through the fear that you could # something on Instagram that could out the person you love to their entire family. It’s not discussed enough and it is hard and if you know someone in this situation just make sure you ask them if they need help.