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So what do you do when the object of your desire is a gay man who is in the closet about his sexuality? Are these dating relationships viable?
Generally speaking, the prognosis for relationship success tends to be stronger when gay men are of similar “outness” statuses. There tends to be less tension and friction due to the mutual positions they hold with sexual identity comfort.
For example, in situations when one man is out and the other is closeted, the more out man often feels like he has to slip back into the closet to accommodate his partner. This can feel like he’s going backward in his personal development and can lead to resentment.
The more closeted man can often feel pressured to be more visible and exposed before he’s emotionally ready to handle those situations and can cause a spike in anxiety and perhaps even withdrawal and disengagement from the relationship.
That being said, nothing is ever a total given, and if your heart goes pitter-patter for someone who’s not as evolved in the coming-out process as yourself. There’s still a chance you can make it work.
It will likely add some unique complications to the mix, but if managed properly, it could develop into something very substantial.
Here are some things to think about if you find yourself in this situation and are questioning what to do:
Once you reach that stage of self-acceptance and pride in being gay and are out to yourself and others, it can be easy to take for granted what the whole coming-out journey is like, especially in the early stages.
You’ve been through what he’s going through now, so it may be helpful to recall all that was entailed when you struggled through the process.
This renewed empathy and compassion can help buffer the frustration of your differences at times.
The famous Cass Model of Homosexual Identity Development might be a good read for you to gain a better understanding of both your positions on the coming-out continuum.
If you choose to date him, your new beau is likely to take you on a roller coaster ride and you have to be aware and open to this possibility.
Anxiety, mood swings, intermittent progress and then sudden setbacks…these are all part of the package when someone is trying to feel comfortable with their identity.
These vacillations can be very frustrating, but the key is understanding, flexibility and setting necessary boundaries for yourself to avoid getting swept into his issues he’s trying to tackle at this difficult time.
“Some relationships have
flourished given the time.”
Everyone should be in control of their own coming-out process.
While it may be tempting at times, it’s crucial that your new boyfriend not be outed or pushed into situations that he’s not emotionally equipped to handle yet. This will backfire.
By choosing to date him, you are also promising to respect his need for time and space to come to terms with his sexuality, and this varies considerably in terms of duration from man to man.
And remember while being out can be transformational and improve quality of life for the majority of us, for many coming out is not safe and could open the door to further trauma.
Your partner’s coming-out process is his issue and responsibility and is not something that can (or should be) rushed.
While you can’t make him move along the stages any more quickly, you can communicate your needs and feelings to him and encourage slow, gradual risk-taking behaviors the two of you can do together that would expose you as a gay couple.
These suggestions need to be solicited to him, however, to allow him choice in the decision-making.
At the end of the day, the important thing is for you to take stock of your needs for a partner and relationship and if dating someone who is closeted is negotiable or a deal-breaker.
You’ll have to measure the sacrifices you would have to make to be in this type of relationship against the benefits you can see. Conducting a good values clarification with yourself can also assist you with this decision-making.
As you can see, one of the primary reasons these types of relationships can be so challenged is due to the inherent power imbalance that exists.
I’ve seen some men handle this by giving themselves a “window period” amount of time to date and observe their boyfriend’s progress with the coming-out journey and then make an evaluation and ultimate decision with their compatibility when that time ceases.
There’s never any guarantees, but some differential outness relationships have flourished given the patience and time devoted to getting more in synch. It’s a very individual decision.
What has your experience been with dating men of the opposite level of outness as yourself?