You know how amazing it is when you start seeing someone new. You’ve started to pick up on the things that make her laugh, and, more importantly, you try to protect her from things that make her upset. Then, things start to pick up and get a bit more serious; it’s finally time to DTR. You start talking about becoming more exclusive, and you couldn’t be more excited at the prospect of starting a serious relationship with this phenomenal individual.
But there’s one problem: your new girlfriend isn’t out, and she doesn’t plan on coming out any time soon.
Here’s what you need to know and what you can both do in order to deal.
Why your partner might want to stay in the closet
So you, as the out-and-proud queer collegiette you are, might wonder to yourself, “Why would anyone want to stay in the closet?” But there are countless reasons why your new boo might not be ready to come out.
Mary Gorham Malia, the founder of Gay Girl Dating Coach, says the biggest reason that the typical college coed isn’t out is she fears losing her parents’ financial support. Considering the cost of college, this can be particularly overwhelming for her.
And the reasons don’t stop there, according to LGBT relationship specialist Christina Spaccavento.
“One of the most common reasons is fear of rejection, judgment, criticism or isolation from their family community or religion,” she says. “This could manifest in any way, from verbal put-downs or abuse, to financial or other supports being removed, to being disowned and thrown out of the family home.”
One collegiette, Carmen*, a senior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, says that she simply hates the concept of coming out.
“I understand that it’s a very important, empowering moment in a queer person’s life, but I don’t understand [why] whom I like or whom I’m interested in is anyone’s business,” she says.
Another reason might be that her sexual orientation is a new part of her identity that she’s still in the process of exploring. She’s still trying to figure out what she likes and doesn’t like, and you might just happen to be a part of that process.
“A key factor in why I didn’t want to come out in the beginning is that I wasn’t sure what my sexuality was and wasn’t ready to answer the questions I would be asked about it,” Carmen says. “Sexuality is fluid, but still bisexuals are criticized in the queer community for not fitting in the standardized concept of a homosexual.”
However, it’s important to pay attention to how this will affect you, as the person who is out. It can be difficult to be a person who is very public and open about her sexuality and have a partner who isn’t as out and proud as you are.
“If you’re the out one in the relationship, you can feel ignored [and] let down, as if your partner doesn’t really care and love you,” Malia says. “But it’s important that you both talk to each other and listen to each other.”
Problems you may run in to and how to deal
There will be many points at which your relationship might experience some turbulence. Ultimately, it’s up to you to figure out what will be best for you and your significant other to make things work, but here are a few scenarios that you might find yourself in with your closeted cutie along with ways to fix them.
You feel forced back into the closet, but she’s feeling forced out of it
You’re only allowed to kiss when you’re alone in closed spaces, so you live for those moments in the elevator, stairwell and bedroom. Posting anything about the two of you on social media is definitely off-limits, so you just scroll through the pictures in your phone nonstop on your own. You’re tiptoeing all over the campus, dodging questions from your friends, like you’re on some sort of secret mission, and it can be exhausting.
Being with someone who’s in the closet makes you feel like you have to go right back in there with her. While she’s sitting there comfortably, you know that you’ve outgrown this dark, suffocating space.
If you’re not totally okay with your partner not being out, this can create increasing levels of conflict in your relationship. On a social level, you two will never be acknowledged as having “couple status.” You’ll have to come to terms with always being seen as “the perpetually single friend” or “the one who’s always with that other person.” This can be extremely frustrating for you, since it’s totally understandable that you’d want to tell the world about the love you have for your girlfriend.
But you do need to understand that she has her reasons for staying in the closet, too, whatever those might be.
“This relationship can only last as long as you both let go of expectations of each other and being out,” Malia says. “You will both have to be okay with not doing some things together that other couples can easily do, like attend a dance and do a waltz together. You’ll have to be quick to forgive each other.”
Another thing that you’ll have to do is learn to trust your partner. Being in a relationship with someone who isn’t in the closet puts her in a very vulnerable situation. You have to be able to be just as vulnerable as she is in trusting that she’s doing the best she can to give you, and the relationship, her all.
The communication isn’t there
There might come a time where both of you become too complacent with not bringing up certain issues. At first they’re so small that you may think you’re being nitpicky, so you figure it’s best not to bring them up. But sooner or later, they all start to build up until you’re both ready to explode.
Let’s be realistic: No relationship has ever worked out without proper communication. Things are bound to get harder if you and your girl aren’t talking out your problems. Even if they turn into an argument, there are some fights that need to be had.
“If the couple does not openly explore and discuss any concerns and issues around their situation, it could mean a lot of grief for their relationship,” Spaccavento says. “What is most important is that the couple communicates honestly, openly and clearly about the situation so that each person can express their feelings and needs.”
Carmen says that it helped when she and her partner discussed topics such as sexuality, coming out and how they both felt about it. However, she admits that as her relationship went on, she and her girlfriend stopped communicating, and they never talked about how hard it was for each of them.
“We both struggled for different reasons, and I think being more open about them in a respectful way would have helped just to understand what we were each going through,” Carmen says.
Communicating is the first step to healing. If you haven’t laid everything out on the table yet, it’s probably high time that both of you put on your big-girl panties and talked it out.
The relationship isn’t progressing
It’s a few months down the line, and you can’t ignore the fact that your relationship feels… well, ignored. You’re living a double life, and while you’re definitely into her, you’re not into keeping her a secret. What can you do when you can’t hold out much longer and you’re on your last limb?
Steven Bereznai, author of Gay and Single…Forever?, says that keeping your relationship under wraps will compartmentalize the relationship and limit its potential for growth.
“Think of it like a potted plant that’s in too small of a pot,” he says. “What happens to the roots? How does that affect the rest of the plant’s growth?”
If you’ve tried everything that you could to keep your beautiful little flower happy, maybe this relationship wasn’t meant to blossom. Sometimes it’s just best to let go gracefully and say goodbye.
“In the long run, [a closeted relationship] will probably mean a lot of disagreements, a lot of hurt feelings and a relationship that doesn’t have what it needs to last a long time,” Malia says. “If you can’t do PDA because she’s not out and she’s actually inhibited about being sexual along with not being out, you’re not going to be very happy over the long term. So it’s an important thing for someone as an out LGBT person to recognize that this difference will eventually mean the relationship can’t grow and move forward.”
Whether or not you choose to keep your girl around, it’s important to remember that coming out is a personal and sometimes scary experience. You can’t force her out the closet; not only is that extremely scarring, but it might lead to the end of any type of contact with her, friendly or romantic. Remember how significant it was when you came out—don’t you want the same type of incredible feeling for your girlfriend?
While she might be a huge part of your life, there are so many ways that you can still be out and about. So get out there and celebrate your pride with your queer besties—just enough for you AND your favorite closeted girl.
*Name has been changed.