DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I was dating a girl for about six months (I should qualify that I am also a girl), and things had been pretty good. I (still, even now) care about her, and she made me happier than I’d been in a while. She’s still publicly closeted, so we were secret even from close friends and family, which I was fine with. No, really, I was. I’m a very private person and my slowness to make relationships public has caused issues with girlfriends in the past, so I had no problems with being secret for as long as she wanted.
Things were a little rough for a while, mostly because work was hectic (a colleague was away and I was covering for them) and her parents (who are a good third of the reason she’s still closeted) were in town. We sat down and talked about it, and mutually decided to take a break. I could focus on work for a while without worrying about always being absent, and she wouldn’t be lying to her parents when she said she wasn’t dating anyone. This break was supposed to be about a month, with the understanding that we wouldn’t see other people during that month.
A week after that conversation, I visited a quiet restaurant a bit further out of my way than usual because it had really good reviews, and saw her tucked away in the back corner of the place, on a date with a guy.
I wanted to avoid jumping to conclusions and definitely didn’t want to make a scene, so I opted to leave quietly. She evidently noticed me as I did so, because when I glanced back at them she was staring at me like she’d seen a ghost.
I’ve mostly ignored her calls and texts, which has been difficult because, well, I’m pretty angry. I had made sure she knew that I was okay with an open relationship, and she’d said that she wanted to be exclusive.
My coping strategy for bad breakups (which is what this is rapidly becoming) has always been talking about it with friends, but I can’t really do that this time. Outing her would be a first class scumbag move, and my friends aren’t stupid. If I tell them I broke up with someone, they’ll notice the sudden absence of my ex from social gatherings and put two and two together. I know my friends knowing that she’s not straight probably isn’t a big deal, but for me it’s more the principle of it. If someone’s closeted, for whatever reason, you respect that and keep the secret.
I’ve made this needlessly complicated, but here is my problem in essence. My ex broke my trust, and not being able to talk to my friends about it is messing me up and making this far more draining than it needs to be.
Sorry for the rambling letter,
Stressed and Emotionally Exhausted
DEAR STRESSED AND EMOTIONALLY EXHAUSTED: It really sucks that this happened, SEE and that you can’t really share this with your friends. This is one of the issues with dating closeted people; they drag you back into the closet with them, which has the effect of cutting you off from major sources of support and reassurance.
But before we get into what to do next… I have some questions. A lot of things just aren’t sitting right with me about this.
First: what’s with the “technical” honesty issue here? If she’s already lying to her parents about not being straight – and presumably lying by omission at the very least by not mentioning you – then I’m not entirely sure why saying “nope, not dating anyone” is going to make such a difference. If she’s that bad of a liar, I’d imagine her parents would’ve figured out the “not straight” part by now.
(And really, I think you didn’t need the “break”… or even to avoid being around her. Never underestimate the willful blindness of straight people to mistake flagrantly obvious lesbian couples as “just gal pals”…)
Second: how often were you seeing each other? Was this a case of you only saw each other on a sporadic schedule, or were you joined at the hip? You mention that you’ve evidently spent enough time together that your friends would notice her absence, which suggests you’ve spent a lot of time together. But if your relationship was a secret, even from friends… is it possible you were her dirty little secret?
Third: are you sure you saw what thought you saw?
I don’t want you to think that I don’t believe you. It could very well be exactly what you saw – your girlfriend was on a romantic date with a dude. This wouldn’t be the first time it’s happened to… well, anyone, really. And there’s the perversely conspiratorial part of my brain that wonders if your ex’s parents actually came to town… or if the guy did. It doesn’t take much to start spinning a narrative in my brain that she’s had a long-distance thing going on with this guy and now he’s in town to see her.
But honestly, that doesn’t feel quite right to me. I mean, God knows I’ve seen people do weirder crap to justify stepping out on their partner, but arranging a month-long break in order to fool around is a bit baroque.
But considering the circumstances, it could be other things as well. How do you know that she was on a date? Were they snuggled up in that back corner, doing couple-y things? Were they holding hands, making out and generally being a public nuisance for the people around them? Were they sitting with their heads too close together in a way that would suggest greater intimacy than with a friend?
Is it possible that this was an outing with a friend, not something romantic? Is it possible that this date was, for lack of a better term, performative? Considering that she’s still deeply closeted, is it possible that this was a stunt date, something that she’s doing to keep her – evidently deeply disapproving – parents off her back? Hell, is it possible that this is something her parents set up when she “honestly” said she wasn’t seeing anyone?
Fourth: have you listened to any of the voice mails she left or read the texts she’d sent? Are they all begging for your forgiveness and admitting culpability, or is she trying to tell you that it’s not what you think?
I’d really be curious to get the answer to these, because honestly, this feels hinky to me on multiple levels.
But, failing that… the way I see it, you have a couple options. The first is that you talk to friends outside of your immediate circle. Do you have friends who don’t live in town that you’re still close to? Or people who are completely disconnected from your primary friend group? If you have confidants who aren’t part of the overlapping social circles, and you have the level of friendship that you can discuss these things, then they might be the people to talk to. There’s no guarantee that this won’t end up outing your ex – even not using names, people can put things together pretty quickly – but it will give you an outlet for emotional release.
Another option might be to talk to a stranger. There are a number of mental health services that straddle the line between therapy and a sympathetic bartender – essentially trained empathetic listeners. Peer listening services – even therapy apps – have people who are trained to listen and offer support and comfort for people who just need a friendly ear and a virtual shoulder. While not the same as having a good vent with your friends, it might be an acceptable substitute in the meantime.
And a third option is one that you might not like… you might want to talk to your ex.
Now if you’ve read my column, you know my general feelings on closure are “decide you have closure” and that there’s nothing wrong necessarily with cutting off an ex as what did you wrong. But, honestly, even in big cities, the LGBTQ community tends to be very small and interconnected, which means that the odds of your running into your ex again is pretty good. Confronting this issue head on now might make future interactions easier. And taking the time to meet up and ask – in a genteel way – “yo what the ever-loving hell?” might do you some good. If nothing else, you might at least get some answers that will help close the door on this relationship. And who knows? Maybe this would lance the boil of resentment that’s building in you right now.
It’s a lousy situation, SEE, and I’m sorry you had to go through it. Hopefully you can find some comfort with your team… even if you can’t give them the details.
DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I recently read a Kinsey Institute article about how much sex people are having per year, on average. For the 18-to-29-year-old demographic, it states that the average number of sexual encounters per year is 112.
112 times?! Holy s
t! And that’s not even counting all the sex I’m NOT having as a 28-year old virgin male, dragging down the bell curve!
This figure is completely demoralizing. I would need to have sex roughly 1200 times to catch up to my peers and achieve social parity, an impossible feat (my DeLorean is in the shop)!
To quote Wacko from Animaniacs: “The mind boggles!” What can I do to not feel totally inferior in the face of this titanic task?!
Tail End of the Bell Curve
DEAR TAIL END OF THE BELL CURVE: Dude, you seem to have missed the key word here: “average”. As in, the sum of total encounters divided by number of participants to the study. It doesn’t take much to skew an average, especially if someone at the far end of the curve has an absurdly high number. Over at University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, geology majors have the highest average salary post-graduation… because Michael Jordan is sitting on one side of that particular curve. If you average out my net worth with Bill Gates, it’s going to come out in the billions.
Of course, that’s not the only thing to keep in mind. The number seems to be misleading you too. This is 112 encounters, not partners – that is, couples having sex. This comes out to a little over twice a week… not exactly unusual for a young couple during the honeymoon phase of their relationship. And anyone who’s been in a long-term relationship can tell you: that number ain’t constant. Sex and sexual frequency does dwindle naturally over the course of a relationship.
And more to the point: ultimately it’s a meaningless number when it comes to personal value, it’s a statistic. Feeling bad that you didn’t have sex 112 times this year is like feeling bad that you only have two kids instead of 2.5 or one car instead of 2.28. You’re not even trying to keep up with the Jones, you’re trying to keep up with an entire generation at the same time and let me tell ya dude: life don’t work that way.
The person who only has sex 50 times in one year isn’t any better or worse than the person who had sex 150 times… or once. Or, for that matter, none. Numbers of partners and amount of sex had is ultimately meaningless. The guy who’s had a hundred lovers, but can’t keep any of them, isn’t automatically better than the guy who’s been married to one woman for 85 years. The couple that has sex 300 times a year isn’t better or worse than the ones that can only do it 10 times a year because they live across the country from one another.
To quote Yoda: “All his life has he looked away to the future, the horizon. Never his mind on where he was.” That’s you, chief. You’re so focused on a meaningless number that you’re losing focus on where you are. Spend less time worrying about playing catch-up and more on your own development and living an amazing life. You’ll get where you’re going soon enough; spending your time worrying about what everyone else is doing or has done just means that you won’t be able to enjoy the journey on the way there.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org)