October 12, 2012 | by Michael Radkowsky
Should the closet be a dealbreaker?

Dear Michael,

My boyfriend David’s sister is getting married on Thanksgiving weekend and I am not invited although we have been a couple for almost two years.

I am upset that I have never met her, or any of his family, because he is not out to them. In fact, they don’t know I exist. I feel that if I am really important to him, he has to take a stand with his family and let them know who he really is and that he has a partner.

David comes from a very religious, conservative family and also works for his father’s business, so he is worried that they will reject him and that he’ll lose his job. I tell him that he has to stand up for who he is and can’t spend his life hiding from his family in the 21st century.

Also I think it is ridiculous that we aren’t living together, because he says his family would figure out he’s gay if we did. I told David that I am thinking of ending our relationship unless he starts being honest with them. He cried a lot and said he loves me, but he hasn’t made a move. Am I doing the right thing? Aside from this, David is a very decent guy — we have a fair number of shared interests and I like being around him. But I can’t stand this secrecy and am losing respect for him.

Tired of secrets

Dear Tired,

Although you believe that David has to come out to his family and shouldn’t spend his life hiding his sexual orientation, the truth is that he doesn’t and he might. You cannot decide what David does. You can only decide whether or not you are willing to be partnered with a person who is choosing to live as David currently lives.

While you feel that David’s choices reflect that you are not important to him, is it possible that this is not actually true? The reality may be that David loves you and that he is afraid to tell his family that he is gay. These are not incompatible. Is there some different measure by which you might determine how much David values you, other than by whether or not he comes out to his family? As things now stand, you are taking very personally David’s fear of his family’s approval.

I invite you to consider why you are losing respect for David, whom you describe as a very decent guy. Obviously, he is making some big choices with which you strongly disagree, but is there a way you could decide not to take the high moral ground over these choices? This would mean acknowledging that each of you has a different opinion and that you are each free to choose your own path. If you are going to be in a long-term relationship, finding a way to tolerate all sorts of important differences is helpful, because they are unavoidable.

That said, you may decide that it is supremely important to be partnered with someone who is not hiding his sexual orientation from his family and with whom you can live openly. While it makes perfect sense that you would want such a relationship, David may not be the guy with whom to have it. Get clear where your bottom line really is, so that you can choose whether or not you want to stay with David as he now is. If you decide that the current situation is indeed intolerable, you can certainly let David know in a respectful way that this issue is a dealbreaker for you, and perhaps he will decide that he is willing to risk his family’s rejection in order to be with you. Or he might not.

Until you make your decision, please avoid making threats to David about possibly leaving if he doesn’t behave as you want him to. Yanking his chain to influence his choices (even if you are certain that your way is right) will lead to a relationship of mutual disrespect, hostility and threats.

Michael Radkowsky is a licensed psychologist who works with gay couples and individuals in D.C. He can be found online at personalgrowthzone.com. All identifying information in the questions has been changed for reasons of confidentiality. Have a question? Send it to Michael@personalgrowthzone.com

2 Comments
  • You’ve got to do what you think is best. It’s a very individual and personal thing.

    You also need to consider just how “religious” ans just how “conservative” they are. What denomination do they belong to and how bad is that denomination?

    Also, aren’t they nagging him to get married? If not, they may already know!

  • The responsibility is not only on Tired’s side. A closeted person in a gay relationship with a non-closeted person is placing a considerable burden on the partner. This situation is not a normal one of free choices between equals. Instead, continuing the relationship requires one to move into the other’s prison, at least part-time. Yes, of course the non-closeted one has the choice to walk away. But they love each other, in which case fighting for that love–and for a sane relationship that faces modern relities–is legitimate. Part of that fight is pressing one’s partner to take the next step. Of course it is ultimately the partner’s choice. But if there’s love there, you want to go the extra mile before walking away.

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