Dear Molly, My and my boyfriend got together and it’s been goinggreatuntil we’re at our performing arts college (which is SO supportive of LGBT relationships) where he doesn’t give me much affection and our conversations feel quite surface level. He hasn’t come out to his parents yet and fears if he’s out at college, his parents will find out. What ways can I support him when my partner’s not out? ~ Back in the Closet
Hey Back in the Closet!
Thank you for sharing your story with me! And I’m sorry to hear about the lack of affection from your boyfriend. When your partner’s not out, it can be a frustrating experience.
All that being said, communicate. Talk about it with him. If he feels he’s at risk of being outed at school, that can create a whole lot of anxiety and stress, especially if there isn’t a place he feels safe (which it sounds like is what he had with you before you went to school). Not sure how to start that conversation? Download my special report on intimate communication for some inspiration.
When your partner’s not out, remember it’s not about you.
It’s important to realize that it’s not about you, although it can totally feel that way sometimes… Like if your partner just loved you enough, they’d want to come out… But that’s not the case. Their struggle to come out has nothing to do with you and it is not your fault. Don’t let it start to impact your self-esteem or self-worth.
It’s also important, as you’re realizing now, that y’all are going to miss out on some experiences… Like going home for Christmas together. Or going to a campus dance. Or being there when a family member gets married. This can be difficult and bring up all sorts of emotions for both of you. Just remember, it’s not about you, even though it impacts you.
Be open, supportive, and empathetic without being pushy. Don’t underestimate his fears and concerns. Just listen. Living in secrecy is hard and he very well may have a pretty constant internal conflict going on. And that can lead to shame and guilt all over the place.
Shame and guilt because he’s not out, so he’s ashamed he’s not living his authentic life (like you and others around the university). Shame and guilt about what his family thinks (or will think) about his sexuality. Shame and guilt that you’re getting hurt because of it.
All sorts of soul eating shit.
Create a safe space.
When your partner’s not out, help him build a support network can also give him the reassurance he doesn’t get at home. Whether that means hanging out with your friends and family, those that are already known to be allies, or joining some LGBTQ+ networks.
Is there some way you can help create that safe space at the university? You mentioned they have a great LGBTQ+ support system, which is awesome! But that can also be intimidating (and sometimes guilt causing) to someone who’s not out. Like… look at these people being their authentic selves and I can’t do that.
But maybe you can find a support group the two of you could attend together. A place that would keep his secret, but allow him to share his experience and hear those of other students so he knows he’s not alone in his struggle. A place where he can actually let down his guard and be himself. Check out campuspride.org for lots of good resources.
Also be sure to engage in gay/queer affirming movies and books and whatnot. Seeing people he identifies with in normal life situations and understanding that he isn’t alone in his experience can help.
For instance, we live in a very red rural area. Most of my extended family believe being gay is a choice and the wrong one at that.
So I make a point to take my kids to pride events at least a few times a year. Going to our first Drag Brunch this weekend. Because seeing people living and breathing out and about and not being harassed can help folks gain confidence.
Maybe you two could get a weekend away together? Whether at home or someplace else even. Even a once-a-month night at a hotel could give you the affection you both crave and the privacy he needs to open up.
If a hotel is not an option, consider somewhere super busy and crowded. Somewhere no one knows you. Somewhere where you could get lost in the masses and no one would think twice of two college-aged boys holding hands and flirting over a milkshake.
Use an indicator.
To help replace the affectionate behavior you’re missing, think about using an indicator, a secret symbol or something that no one else knows, but would show you he’s thinking of you. It sounds like of lame, and by no means will it substitute for affection, but when you’re out with friends or something, and you two have a hand signal, you’ll know that means he wishes he was holding your hand or kissing your cheek. Just something to think about.
Good luck! And thank you for reaching out. It shows your a good bf that you’re trying to find a way to work within this problem instead of just walk away, thinking it’s too much work.