Coming-Out Technology, Exiting the Girlfriend Zone, and the Lesbro Conundrum

by Lindsay Miller

Hey! I’m a 20-year-old bi lady finding myself in a bit of a dilemma. Since I was 13, I’ve had at least some interest in women as well as men, but really only embraced the bisexual label last summer, when I went abroad and met a bunch of really cool queer people who helped me come to terms with it. Since then, I’ve come out to my immediate family and some of my friends from home, who’ve all been really supportive.

Since I’ve come back to school, though, I’ve been pretty conflicted about coming out. My best friends here are my all-female singing group, with whom I’ve spent most of my time the past three years. Because I’ve only dated men so far in college, they all assume I’m straight, and I’m beginning to feel like I’m lying by omission every time the conversation turns to guys or dating. The problem is that we spend A LOT of what could be considered intimate time together, whether it’s at school (late-night snuggle seshes) or on tour (sharing beds, changing in front of each other, etc.). I have nothing but platonic, sisterly feelings for all of the girls in the group, but I’m the only queer one, and I’m afraid that if and when I do come out, they’ll feel uncomfortable around me.

At this point, staying closeted isn’t an option; I’d really love to jump into my college’s queer community and have some fun lady sexytimes, but I also know that my coming out is going to change the way that some of my friends see me, at least for a little while. I know I can’t control their reactions, and maybe I’m just overblowing this, but do you have any suggestions about how to come out in a way that makes them (or at least me) a little more comfortable?

Skywriting? Singing telegram? Message in a bottle? Honestly, I keep waiting for science to get on this, but in our lifetimes there has been very little development in the field of coming-out technology. You’re pretty much stuck with doing it the way our queer cave-person ancestors did: sitting down with your loved ones, pouring them a drink, and saying, “Guys, I’m super nervous about this, but I care about you and I need to be honest with you about the fact that I’m bisexual.” There’s not really any way to make it more comfortable. You can do it by text or email or postcard if you feel like it will be easier to tell the truth if you don’t have to look anyone in the face while you’re doing it, but for me, the anxiety of “when will I hear back from them? What will they say?” would be much worse than simply putting everyone in the same room and getting it over with. For bonus points, anyone who would otherwise be tempted to say something douchey in the heat of the moment might be shamed into decency by the presence of other people.

Because you’ve been friends for so long, it’s kind of too late to do the stealth coming-out maneuver, the one where you drop it into casual conversation and act surprised that they’re surprised — you’ve been bi this whole time, how did they not know? In addition, it would be a bit dishonest, since you have been actively keeping it from them up until now. I’m not opposed to dissembling every now and again if it’s necessary to avoid conflict with people who aren’t that important to you but with whom you need to maintain diplomatic relations. With your good friends, however, honesty is the way to go. Deceiving people you care about will make you feel gross and ultimately undermine the relationship. Plus, lies clog your pores.

So sit your ladies down and tell them what’s up — and let them know that this has no bearing on your friendship with them. You still love hanging out with them and you’re never going to ditch them for your new queer friends or girlfriends (make sure this is a promise you keep), but you’re also not about to start putting the moves on them. You’re telling them this because they’re important to you, because you’re excited but also nervous about exploring this new facet of your life, and you want their support — and to be able to giggle with them over girls the way you’ve always done over guys.

After you’ve given your prepared speech and fielded questions, the challenge will be to lead by example. By that, I mean that if you act normal, your friends will probably act normal too. Just continue to behave the same way you ordinarily would — hugging, sharing beds on tour, and all. There is a long and joyful history of deep friendships between straight girls and lesbians, friendships that include hugging and playing with each other’s hair and changing in front of each other and all the markers of profound, non-sexual intimacy you’ve enjoyed up til now; there’s no reason disclosing your orientation should change that. So don’t assume it will.

If your friends start acting weird around you — shying away from touch, not sharing as openly as they used to — it may be that they’ve absorbed some harmful and inaccurate ideas about bisexuality from the culture at large, and you’ll need to either confront them about it or cut them loose. However, the very strong probability is that this won’t happen and everything will go on the way it was, but with more honesty and talking about your girlfriends. Give your friends a chance to be cool with the truth of your heart/vagina, and I’m willing to bet they won’t disappoint you.

My best friend asked me out, and I said yes because I’d been toying with the idea for a while, but I think it was a mistake because I can’t relax. I’ve never seen her in a sexual manner at all, so the thought of having sex with her just doesn’t appeal to me, I mean I love making her laugh and I’m down to date and romance but I don’t want to go further, so basically, I love being friends with her.

But she’s so happy we’re together, like if I’m at a 3 out of 10 she’s at a 10/10, and I don’t want to hurt her, but I honestly don’t think I can move past being friends into being girlfriends? Like, I feel like I’m just going through the motions with her, she came over last night and we cuddled, and it was fine, but it didn’t give me butterflies or make me feel any different, it felt like it would have if we’d cuddled two weeks ago. I don’t know what to do, I’m so uncomfortable with the whole situation.

Plus, I’m terrified we’re going to lose the friendship if this goes wrong, and I don’t think I can see past that.

It doesn’t sound to me like you’re going to lose the friendship. It sounds like you’ve already lost it.

I’m so sorry to say this, because losing a beloved friend is very painful, but the girl you’re dating doesn’t see you as her best friend anymore. She sees you as a romantic partner. She has put you in the girlfriend zone. What she wants from you is different from what you want from her, and there is no way to continue this relationship that will satisfy you both. You say that you can’t move past being friends, but I’m sorry to tell you that the damage is done. You stopped being friends and started being girlfriends. There’s no way to undo that decision without breaking up with her, and, since it sounds like she’s well on her way to being in love with you, breaking her heart at least a little bit.

And you do have to break up with her, as I think you’ve already figured out. You don’t feel the same way about her that she does about you — you don’t see her as a sexual or romantic prospect. She isn’t in your girlfriend zone, so you need to come clean to her (and definitely stay away from her… uh… girlfriend zone). I know you don’t want to hurt her, but lying to her about how you really feel and staying in a relationship based on wildly unequal affection is going to hurt her so much more in the long run. Even if you put on a good show, she’ll always suspect that something is off, and that suspicion will wreak havoc on her self-esteem and emotional stability until whenever you finally have mercy and end things.

So do it now, before this has a chance to get any more painful for either of you. Be honest about your feelings — you love her as a friend, and you want her to be in your life forever, but you don’t get that tingly feeling when you look at her, and you can’t be her girlfriend. Forget about letting her down easy; this is going to be rough. Hopefully, though, you’ll be salvaging the chance to be friends again in the future by ending things before she has the chance to fall for you harder than she already has. Let her know that you want to be friends, but that you’re willing to give her whatever time she needs to recover from your breakup first — and if she seems to need a mourning period, respect it. Don’t pressure her to behave as though nothing happened, and let her take the lead in deciding how soon and how often to get in touch. I’m really sorry for what you’re going through, and I hope it doesn’t take too long to get your bestie back.

I (a lady) have been with my boyfriend for over two years and we live together and things up to a point had generally been going great.

Then one day, we went to a party and happened to meet a gay lady there who shared some mutual friends with us. My boyfriend and said lady hit it off immediately due to their intensely similar musical tastes. After that night, this lady decided that she and my boyfriend should be best friends (I know this because she often said to him, “let’s be best friends!!”).

At first this was ok. I got along with the lady just fine and enjoyed her company. Soon it became clear though that she was really just interested in best friend status with my boyfriend. When the three of us hung out she would primarily speak and make eye contact with him. She often drunk dialed him when she was out and about. She bought him souvenirs when she went on trips.

My boyfriend seemed to think that because his new friend was a gay lady I should be totally cool with this because obviously nothing could or would happen. I tried to make it clear that this was less of a romance concern for me than a friendship concern. Before we met the lady, WE had been best friends. But I won’t lie — it didn’t help that she happened to be beautiful and funny and charming. Just because she’s gay doesn’t mean he is, right? And get this — later she told us that she had had a falling out with her former best (guy) friend because his new girlfriend wasn’t cool with the fact that she spent so much time with him and oh, also wanted him to be a sperm donor for her and her girlfriend.

I spoke to both of them about my discomfort as honestly as I could, but after nothing changed it eventually became too much for me. My boyfriend basically stopped communicating with her and the friendship fizzled. I still have feelings of guilt about this situation and when we do occasionally see her at things I feel incredibly awkward.

Am I crazy? Did I overreact? Should I be concerned that my boyfriend never totally saw where I was coming from?

If you’re concerned about your boyfriend, I’m afraid you’re gonna have to be concerned about me, too, because I don’t totally see where you’re coming from either. I can understand a certain amount of jealousy if your partner gets super absorbed in a new friend to the point of neglecting your relationship, but nothing you’ve said indicates that that was happening. You’ve described no actual reason for feeling threatened by their friendship — you don’t mention him canceling plans with you to hang out with her or spending your rent money on a bromantic vacation for the two of them. Mostly, your complaint seems to be that he was friends with a girl, and she was pretty.

It’s not unreasonable to expect to come first in your significant other’s priorities, but it’s unfair to expect to be his only priority. And I’m not down with the idea that his friendship with her should be subject to increased scrutiny because she’s a hot chick. If he had a male friend who was more interested in talking to him than to you, would you ask him to curtail that relationship, or would you just find other, more entertaining things to do while they were hanging out? I suspect the latter, and the difference between that hypothetical scenario and your real one is that on some level you do see her as a romantic rival. The “just because she’s gay doesn’t mean he is” line makes me suspect that you don’t fully trust your boyfriend with other women, which is an awful way to feel but which needs to be worked out between you and him, not his female friends.

People of any orientation, gender, and level of attractiveness can and do have platonic relationships that are fun and awesome and life-affirming and completely separate from their romantic partnerships. One of my best friends in the world is a straightish dude. One is a straightish lady. One is a bisexual lady. All of them are extremely gorgeous and funny and charming, and I have never slept with or tried to sleep with any of them, because that’s not who we are to each other. Your boyfriend is a grown adult capable of differentiating between “woman with whom I am in a long-term cohabiting relationship; can bone” and “woman who is gay and in a long-term relationship with other, female person; cannot bone.” And if he isn’t, again, that’s something that needs to be worked out between the two of you.

It might be too late for your boyfriend to salvage his friendship with his former lesbro, but on the off chance that he makes another female friend in the future, I still think this is something you two should talk about. Be honest about where you’re coming from. It’s okay to feel jealous or insecure, but you need to be able to distinguish between reasonable and unreasonable insecurity and let your dude know some ways that he can reassure you when the unreasonable kind rears its head. And you need to understand that your discomfort with their friendship comes primarily from your own mind; she’s been a little rude to you, sure, but she hasn’t really done anything wrong.

In the course of any long-term relationship, it’s to be expected that your partner will have the occasional friend who you don’t particularly dig. Breathe through it. Let the time you spend apart inspire you to enjoy the time you spend together even more. Be nice to his lesbro even if her ways are strange to you. You’re gonna want her around the next time you guys need to build an IKEA dresser.

How do you move on when your ex isn’t ready to?

You just do it. It’s as easy — and as horribly, profoundly difficult — as that. You let go of whatever sense of obligation is holding you back, and you step forward into the Great Whatever Comes Next.

You tell her (I’m assuming her, but feel free to substitute pronouns as appropriate) that you need some time to yourself, because neither of you can heal if you’re still speaking to each other regularly, still scratching the wound every time it scabs over. Then, when she calls, you let it go to voice mail. You create a folder for her emails where you can put them, out of sight, until some future time when you’re ready to read them. You go to restaurants and coffee shops in a different part of town, where you know you won’t see her.

You remind yourself, over and over, as often as you need to hear it, that you did the right thing — that staying in a relationship that was not working would have hurt you both more in the long run. You remind yourself that leaving when it’s time to leave is not a failure. You did not have a “failed relationship,” any more than a good book is a failure because it ends. Knowing when to let go is a painful kind of success, but you deserve credit for it all the same. You tell yourself this every day. You write it in your journal and, when you can’t take the sound of your own voice in your head any more, you have a friend read it back to you and reassure you that it’s true.

You take your grief and your guilt and your desire to make things easier for her and you redirect them where they can do some good, because every kindness you offer her right now will only make her regret what she’s lost more. You do good deeds for someone else, to soothe your heart and fill up your time so you don’t call her. Do you have a friend who’s struggling through grad school? Offer to come over and vacuum her house while she studies. A family member who just became a parent and is subsisting on potato chips while wearing the same sweatshirt nine days in a row? Drop by with some homemade stir-fry and volunteer to make a run to the laundromat, since you’re in the neighborhood. Or, if no opportunities to help are evident in your personal life, volunteer to walk dogs for a pet shelter or read to kids at the library.

You work on rearranging your life to fill the space she used to occupy. If you lived together, you move out as soon as humanly possible, accepting if necessary any curtailment to your space and style of living. If you didn’t, you remove traces of her from your home. Her favorite flavor of tea and brand of potato chips can be thrown out; photos and souvenirs and other things that remind you of her should be boxed up and given to a friend with a roomy garage for safekeeping. Tell her not to let you have the box back for at least six months, and then not until you ask. You remove the temptation to spend a lonely evening crying over pictures of the two of you together until you eventually drunk dial her.

You spend time with yourself. You go for long walks around your neighborhood, or in nature if there’s any good nature near you. You pour yourself into your hobbies. You take up new hobbies. You try something you never would have tried when you were together, whether it’s a sport or a craft or a really hot pepper. You turn your phone off and spend an evening reading a book. You indulge in moderation in your favorite vices, remembering that a little bit of the good shit is infinitely preferable to a lot of the cheap stuff. You explore your city and find places to go that you never even knew existed.

And, eventually, you meet new people. You make new friends, and reconnect with old ones who fell by the wayside during your relationship. You go to a club and dance with someone who’s totally not your type. You kiss someone. You give someone your number. You allow yourself to be open to the possibility of loving someone else. When the guilt rises up, you acknowledge it politely and tell it that you can’t talk right now, but it’s welcome to leave a message. You live the life that’s yours, not the version of it someone else wants from you. You realize, finally, that no one is ever really ready to move on; the secret is just to start moving.

Previously: The Pubic Issue, Non-Monosexuality 101, and The Cool Gay Auntie

Lindsay King-Miller is also on Twitter. Do you have a question for her?