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My best friend just came out to me... but I was in love with him.

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Andi asks:

My best friend (boy) just came out to me that he is gay (I'm a girl).

I have been in love with him for 2 years now, and I am utterly devastated by this. I am really, really heartbroken. This happened just 3 days ago and I'm still in a state of shock. I don't know what to do now. I tell myself I'm feeling sad because I thought I might lose him, because he is now this new person I never knew, because he was never the guy I thought he was. But honestly, it may be because I am losing him as in I can never be his girlfriend/wife (because he will never like girls!). How do I deal with this?

Heather Corinna replies:

(Andi's question continued)

I've googled the internet for explanations. I guess I'm trying to prove to him and myself that this is just a phase he's going through. I really want to believe he is actually not gay, just curious about different sexual orientations. Can I be right, because he never had any sexual interaction (not even kissing!) with either boy or girl? He even told me maybe he should have sex with a girl first to know if he really is gay. Also, when he came out, he told me he finds men's bodies very sexually arousing, and not so much about girls. But all this time I know him, he always seemed to be very interested in girl's bodies (he asks me questions, like the types of guys I like, which I thought previously was him being flirty). However he also told me he has been interested in guys since he was 13 (he's now 20). Is my friend really gay? Could it be that his new environment (he is now in college) "convinced" him that he is?

If he really is gay, please help me on how to deal with this.I keep on wanting to "convert" him back to straight, but I know if he really is gay, I should support him. Please help me, I don't know what to do.

Someone unavailable or uninterested is simply that: someone unavailable or uninterested. That always bites, but does it really matter why?

Maybe they're married or otherwise taken. Maybe they don't feel like they have enough in common with you or have too much in common. Maybe they're a single parent with a kid who want to make their kid the center of their universe instead of a girlfriend. Maybe they just aren't interested in having a romantic relationship right now with someone or with you, specifically. Maybe they feel like they'd like being friends may more than being a boyfriend or girlfriend. Maybe they're not over someone else yet. Maybe they just don't want romances in their lives, period. Maybe you and they just want very different things. Maybe they're gay. Whatever the reason, the result is exactly the same: they're not available or interested.

It's not his being gay that's got you feeling so down here: it's that his coming out was the thing that made clear that your fantasy has nothing to do with his or your reality. It's that you wanted something that he just didn't and doesn't: if there was a different reason he didn't you'd probably not be hurting any less.

Did he ever say he had an interest in being a boyfriend or a husband to you or make you any kind of promises about those relationships? If he didn't -- and it doesn't seem that he did -- you haven't lost anything, because you didn't have it in the first place. He just came out to you: that can be so hard to do, and when someone comes out to you, you can be assured it's a gesture of profound trust. You haven't lost him: he's not only still right there, he's done something which is a huge demonstration of how much he values you and your friendship. You say he's someone you don't know, but if you have been dishonest about your feelings this whole time, sounds like he didn't know who you really were, either.

He's not someone different than he was. He's exactly who he is and, based on what he is telling you, who he has been. It seems he's learning more about that -- as we tend to -- as he grows and evolves, and he's letting you get to know that person more closely by being honest with you. It sounds to me like he is and has been someone different than you wanted him to be or than the idea you had of him was. It was your idea of him in relationship to your desires that was wrong and off-base, not his understanding of himself.

It's not fair or sensible to hold one group of people to one standard and another group to another. Would you be looking for so many loopholes with him (or anyone else) if he was saying he was straight? Pinning his heterosexuality on college and being exposed to straight people? Probably not. If he told you he was straight, but hadn't kissed anyone, would you question that as much as you are questioning now? Doubtful, since all the time people tend to presume everyone to be straight from day one -- even though we know not everyone is -- without any sexual experience or interest at all.

You also seem to be operating under some ideas which we know to be myths or misrepresentations based largely on homophobia and bias. For instance, there are not roving bands of queers in college seeking to convince straight people they are gay, and no person or experience can make any of us be an orientation we are not. Certainly, some environments can feel safer to be out in and more nurturing -- as also expose us to people taking the plunge to come out, which can make us feel more brave to do so ourselves -- something straight people tend to take for granted since nearly every place you can think of is physically and emotionally safe for heterosexuals. Given how tough it can be to be gay, lesbian or bisexual in so much of the world, it's pretty typical for those of us who are queer to have times where we try or have tried really hard not to be. Sadly, a lot of gay people feel like they have to or should have sex with someone they don't really want to to "prove" homosexuality to themselves or others by disliking the experience. That's utterly tragic, not a demonstration of anything positive: it's a manifestation of self-loathing or lack of acceptance that comes from others not accepting those who aren't straight and giving us those kinds of craptastic messages. Lastly, you can't "convert" him to heterosexuality. Neither you, nor anyone else, has that power and even if you did, wielding it to undo who someone else is so you could have what you wanted from them would be a heinous thing, don't you think?

In case you needed to hear this, our orientation is not about who we are NOT attracted to. It's about who we ARE attracted to. He's not gay because he isn't attracted to you. He's gay because he is attracted to men, and you're not a man, or a man to whom he is attracted. He isn't gay because you're not pretty enough, thin or thick enough, smart enough, talented enough, charismatic enough, exciting enough. he's gay for the same reasons you're straight (if you are straight, that is): you're not straight because women aren't good enough for you, but because you feel drawn to men, just like he does. In a word, his being gay isn't even remotely about you. It's about him, and about people who are not you.

Do you love this guy? And I don't mean as a friend or as a potential boyfriend, I mean as the person he is who has been in your life for years. The person who you cared enough about to imagine a whole life with.

If you love him, and you want to treat him with love, you need to support him based on what he is telling you, based on who HE is telling you he is (after all, he's the expert on him, not you). You're not looking to disprove his orientation out of concern for him, but based on your own desires, and while it's understandable that you're disappointed if you've had romantic feelings for him, as the friend who loves him, it's just not fair or kind to work so hard to discount his identity. It was probably pretty tough for him to come out to you, especially if he had any clue about your feelings: it must have been really scary, and he probably was really worried it might mean losing your friendship. I sincerely hope you being his friend for so long was about being his friend, rather than about hoping he'd be something else: if you really are friends, your efforts need to go into nurturing your friendship, which means accepting the person your friend is, even when that's not who you want him to be.

He's told you he's gay. So, what you need to work on how isn't proving or disproving that, but accepting it. I'd also suggest accepting that even if he were straight, that doesn't mean he'd want what you want: like I said, there are a host of ways a person can be unavailable. Just because we're attracted to people of a certain gender doesn't mean we're attracted to EVERYONE of that gender, after all. Just because someone desires us doesn't mean we share those same desires, even if we're capable of sharing them.

Here's what I'd suggest:

1) Go ahead and give yourself some time to mope and grieve. You had a big fantasy that you nurtured for a long time, and clearly got yourself pretty wrapped up in. Now, you've come crashing back down to reality. WHAM. Of course that's going to sting, and of course you're going to feel bruised and disappointed, even though he didn't hurt you himself. It is what it is, and it's painful. So, take care of yourself as you need to for a bit. Deal with that, and then work to getting to the part where you brush off your knees, stand back up and move forward.

2) He's gay. You say you want to believe something else, but what you want to believe is a fantasy. The reality is that he has told you he is gay. He's gay, really gay, and whether he identifies as gay for two months or six decades, he is identifying as gay now so you need to accept that. Step away from the Google, toss out the homophobic myths, take off the rose-colored glasses and just deal. You need to accept that for your own sake, but this guy who is your friend, who is someone who just came out probably also needs you -- his friend, the person who he has always known as a friend, and said she was one -- to deal with it for his sake, too. Be a friend to both of you and accept what is. You're bigger than this, and the alternative sucks for both of you.

3) He was very honest with you, and took risks in being so, so how about you do him the same turn? If you two really are best friends, then I think you can tell him that you are having a hard time with this simply because you had romantic feelings for him, and that you want to support him, but those feelings make it a challenge for you. When he's filled in on that, he's going to be better able to be understanding with your pace in being supportive: if you reacted badly when he came out, he'll have a better grip on why now and probably take it a lot less personally. Then you, also, will have that out in the open so that you can take the time you need to deal with switching gears, and also won't have to fake it until you make it. If you can be as honest as he was, you may well find that your friendship really blossoms into something you can see the incredible value of, even if it's not the fantasy world you were brewing up.

I'd say a friendship that lasted years where two people can be pretty darn sure they're not going to screw it up with a romance or sex (which can certainly happen) is hardly a loss or anything even remotely second-rate. Our platonic friendships are no less important or meaningful than romantic relationships are, after all: they're golden. Both of you being honest and vulnerable may leave you with a better friendship than you even knew you had in the first place. We can have a life with friends which is no less valuable than a life we share with a spouse or boyfriend.

Lastly, for future reference? Do yourself a favor and don't let feelings like this about someone fester silently for years. Days, totally. Weeks, okay. Months....eh, not so much. But certainly not years, sister. That's just a recipe for heartbreak no matter what.

Whether or not the other person shares those feelings, you have nothing to gain by keeping them a perpetual secret. If and when you have these kinds of feelings for someone else who shares them, if one of you doesn't speak up, you both may assume the feelings are one-sided and miss out on something wanted. Even if, years later, someone finally breaks and admits shared feelings, think of all the time you two would have wasted when you could have been together. Even if and when we get jilted or rejected when we voice our feelings and wants (and chances are we all will have to deal with romantic or sexual rejection at least once, and probably far more than once), we can then know what we want just isn't going to happen and move the heck on, staying open to bonafide possibilities where our wants and needs may be met by someone else we develop feelings for. But staying silent for years while developing a neverneverland fantasy world about a life with someone is a lose-lose, no matter how being honest plays out. It's also, perhaps, a very convenient way to keep yourself from taking real risks with someone who is earnestly available: some part of you may well have known that your fantasy was exactly that, but it may have felt safer for you to get caught up in someone you knew you couldn't have than to take real risks putting yourself out there with someone who might have mutual interest.

It seems to me like you got so caught up in your fantasies that not only did you probably miss some realities staring you right in the face (like his asking you about the kinds of guys you like, like his not having the feelings for you you wanted him to have), but something which might have been a bummer but dealable turned into an epic tragedy when it just didn't have to. You can't undo that now: this is just one of those life lessons we hate to learn, but needed to have so that we could learn. Now you know, so if you make different choices from here on out, you probably won't have to feel like this ever again. You may want to kick me in the pants for saying that now, but in a little while, it'll make more sense.

Extra bonus? You have a friend, right now, to be your shoulder to cry on from here on out, your partner-in-celebration when things are awesome for either of you, a person you can know, if you lay this right, will be there for you in thick or thin, and through your adventures in dating others and actually pursing realistic relationships you want. This may even be the friend who does the tipsy toast at your wedding and tells everyone that your husband is lucky as hell that he wasn't straight, or else your spouse might not have gotten the chance to marry you at all. You're going to need that and want it; we all do, even (and sometimes particularly) when we're in a romantic relationship.

Okay? So, a pint or two of ice cream in one sitting now if you need to (and an aspirin for the resulting brain freeze), then it's time to move on. To move on to a better friendship, as well as out of your fantasy world and into a reality that might look different than you expected, but it likely to be a lot more enriching since it's the real deal for you both.

Here are some additional links for you to look at:

written 01 Oct 2008 . updated 19 Jan 2009

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