What It's Like To Love A Gay Man Who Isn't Out (And Tells His Pals I'm A WOMAN)

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dating someone who is not out of the closet
Love, Self

He told his friends my name was "Ashley."

Ten years ago, I met the second love of my life. I say "second" because there have been three loves of my life. He wasn’t the first, he wasn’t the last, but he was the most influential. I don’t mean that to downplay the importance of the other two. However, he was the one I was with the longest and he was the one that I learned the most from. For the sake of his privacy, we’ll call him L.

I met L on a hookup website. This was not the kind of website that you go to find a partner; this was a place to meet someone, satisfy your needs fairly instantly, and then move on about your life. If you were lucky, you might land a friend with benefits, but it was mostly for one-night stands.

I saw his picture and was immediately into him. I instantly messaged him and anxiously awaited his response. He finally messaged me back and we ended up talking for 4 hours.

I could tell that he was different because his response wasn't laced with sexual innuendos. We talked for a couple of weeks, really getting to know each other. We talked about our childhoods, our families, our friends, our careers. It was then he confessed that he was new to the "guy thing," as he put it. Outside of a couple of random college sexual experiences with men, he had only ever dated and slept with women. He wouldn’t even label himself as gay at first. He was very much clinging to the "bi-curious" box that he had checked on his profile.

I tried repeatedly to get him to come over. He would agree and then make excuses and cancel. I obsessively reached out to him, rereading his profile and staring at his pictures as I awaited his response. Finally, on a cold night in January, he showed up at my house. I opened the door and he was even more beautiful in person than he was in his pictures. I think I officially fell in love with him about 15 minutes into being around him. We talked, we drank, and, as it turns out, Mr. Bi-Curious was really Mr. Gay and just coming to terms with it.

We were together from that day on for the next 2+ years. Yes, I dated someone for two years who was not out of the closet.

Things with L moved fast. Our nightly hours-long conversations gave way to spending the night at each other’s places several times a week. By Valentine’s Day, he was making cookies with our names in hearts on them. By April, we were vacationing in Las Vegas. And by early summer, we were spending every night together.

Even though we were alike in so many ways, I was quickly learning that we were also very different. Unlike myself, he was raised in the church. For the first few months, he would have the occasional internal struggle, trying to reconcile his sexuality against everything that he had been taught. Between that and being deathly afraid of how people would react if they found out he was gay, he made it clear coming out was not an option at the time.

Overall, he was settling into his "newfound" sexuality quite nicely, though. I tried to accept the fact he wasn’t going to come out on my terms, but the realization was devastating to me. I was already showing him off to everyone I knew and I wanted him to do the same for me.

I tried to be patient with him, but he could tell how much his resistance to publicly sharing our relationship was bothering me.

“I’ll tell everyone by our 6-month anniversary,” he promised me. Our 6-month anniversary came and went with no progress. “I’ll tell everyone by our 1 year anniversary,” he said convincingly after the first deadline had passed. Our 1-year anniversary came and went and there was still no progress. This went on and on, extending each broken promise by another 6 months, and I fell for it each time for 2 years. I was slowly losing my mind dating someone who is not out of the closet.

Even though I was closer to him than anyone else in the entire world, I felt so far removed from his life. I felt like he was ashamed of himself or me. I was his dirty little secret. This caused me to act out in ways that I never had before: I began spying on him, I hacked my way into his email and read everything from his friends and family every morning at work. If he went out with friends, I followed them. When he took showers, I read all of his text messages.

That’s when I discovered the massive lie that he had built for his friends to explain his sudden absence from their lives. Everything was “Ashley and I this” and “Ashley and I that.” I literally could not believe my eyes. Not only was he hiding me, but he was leading them to believe that he had a girlfriend. It’s one thing to lie by omission, but it’s quite another to build this whole fantasy life with a woman who in reality was A MAN.

I was hurt, shocked, and disgusted. To this day, he still doesn’t know that I know everything. That’s when I really began to push him to come out and live his truth, which in turn created more fights and mini-breakups than I care to recount.

When we had been together for about a year and a half, he threw me a bone and introduced me to his mom as a "friend." I thought the meeting went well but apparently, she became suspicious. She asked him if I was gay after that meeting. His response was something along the lines of, “Does that really matter?” She quickly reminded him that being gay was a sin. Needless to say, I never met another member of his family again. She had literally locked him in the same closet that I was desperately trying to get him out of.

I tried to rationalize with him. Even if everyone abandoned him, he would have still have me, my friends and my family, who all loved him. That was not enough for him, though. I cried and complained to my family and friends day after day, week after week, month after month. I knew that I was becoming a burden to my support system, but I was literally hanging on by a thread.

A couple of months before our 2-year anniversary, we had our worst fight ever. I broke up with him and stormed out of his house. We were apart and barely talked for 6 weeks. He tried and tried, but I stood my ground. 

He pressured me to talk to him and I finally gave in. He poured his heart and soul out to me. He talked about how much he missed me and how much he loved me. Then he did something extraordinary. He said that he wanted me to move in with him which would, in turn, force him to come out. After all, how do you explain 2 guys living together in a 1-bedroom condo?

“Finally!” I thought. What I had been wanting for almost 2 years was finally in the foreseeable future. I was ecstatic, I was giddy, I was over-the-moon happy. My lease happened to be coming up, so I told my roommate of 3 years to find his own place. I started selling all of my furniture and prepared myself to make the move from the suburbs to a downtown high rise.

As the date approached us, I noticed a shift in him. I ignored it and chalked it up to nervousness. Then it happened. He did the unthinkable.

Two weeks before I was scheduled to move in, he sprung it on me that he was having second thoughts. I kept my cool as best I could and we talked about it for several hours and then went to bed. We woke up the next morning and it was silent. No small talk as we got ready for work. We each did our own thing as we navigated the tension between us.

Before I left, I kissed him and said, “I really need you to think about what you want to do. Your decision is going to make or break our lives.” He looked down at the floor and simply said, “Okay.” We didn’t talk at all that day. I was giving him all the space in the world to figure this thing out once and for all.

I called him when I got home that night for work. He was somber and soft spoken. By that point, I just needed to know what was happening either way. I said, “Okay, what did you decide because I need to know.” He was quiet for a while and then I could tell that he was crying. We sat there in silence for what seemed like an eternity.

Finally, he gathered himself enough to talk and quietly said, “I just can’t do it right now.” Once again, I was devastated.

I responded to him the best way that I could. “Is that your choice? Because you know what will happen next,” I said to him firmly. All I could hear was him crying and then his voice cracking as he said, “I know and I’m sorry.”

I responded quickly, “You should be sorry. I should have known this would happen. I’m done with you and I’m done with this. Do not try to contact me.” And then I hung up on him. Needless to say, my whole world shattered. That was the last time that I talked to him for more than 6 years.

I spent the next couple of weeks putting my belongings into storage and moving in with my friends; I spent the next couple of months in therapy and eating antidepressants like they were candy; I spent the next 6+ years hating him and kicking myself for being so naïve.

Then one day it hit me: I needed to forgive him, I need edto forgive myself, I needed to move on. I reached out to him via email and poured out all my thoughts and feelings, which opened a dialogue that allowed both of us to discuss everything at great lengths and heal our respective wounds. Come to find out, he actually came out to everyone when he dated the man after me.

At first, I was shocked and irritated. “You did what? Oh, so you would come out for him but not me?” I never said these things to him because above all I was happy for him: He did the one thing that he thought he could never do. With that said, I’d be lying if I said that it didn’t feel like I prepped him and did all of the hard work, just so someone else could benefit from it.

It didn't matter in the end, though. He was finally free. To this day, we still keep in touch and talk weekly and I learned three very important lessons from that situation:

  1. Never date someone who isn’t out unless you can handle being hidden from most aspects of their life for an undetermined amount of time.
  2. You can’t force someone to make a life-changing decision, no matter how hard you try to encourage them and guide them.
  3. Love isn’t always enough and love doesn’t always conquer all.

Even though things did not work out the way I wanted them to, I'm still thankful for the time that he was mine. Now that we've cleared the air, the negative no longer outweighs the positive and I can truly appreciate everything that was "him" and everything that was "us." I also know I'm capable of immense love and also of immense forgiveness.

Would I do it over again and do things differently? Absolutely. In a heartbeat. But not as Ashley.

 

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