I’ve known I like girls as more than friends since I was 13, but I continued to brush it off, because I was afraid of what other people would think. I’ve only recently started acknowledging the fact that I could be interested in having sex or a relationship with women, but how am I supposed to be 100% sure if I’ve never actually done anything with anyone of the same sex?
That’s a big, profound question and I’ve got nothing definitive for you. Sorry. But it’s hard to be one-hundred percent sure—and some people never are. Again, I apologize: I know that’s not the simple advice you were hoping for. I don’t have Five Easy Steps to give you. But I do want to say one thing very clearly: You asked, “how am I supposed to be 100% sure” and I want to tell you, as strongly as possible, that, when it comes to your sexuality, you’re not supposed to be anything. All you’ve got to do is be.
Obviously, our culture has a “check this box” attitude toward sexuality: you’re “supposed” to pick a supposed side and suit up for your team: Straights in ill-fitting uniforms; gays in better-fitting uniforms. There’s enormous peer pressure to define yourself to friends, family, and strangers. You must feel that. But you’re young and you’ve got so much time. Sometimes, it takes people decades to figure out who they are and what they want. That’s okay. Give yourself the time and don’t worry about what anyone else things you’re “supposed” to be doing.
Nobody but you can answer the question of whether you’d like to date men or women or both. Nobody but you can say how long it will take. It might take a little while, or a long while, before you decide if you’re straight or gay or bisexual or that you prefer to identify in some other way entirely. You might need to date women for a few months or many years, or women and men for a few months or many years. You might need to date a man for a while, then a woman—who knows. The point is: It’s okay that you’re not sure. It makes perfect sense that you’re not sure. Part of growing up is allowing yourself some space and time to find what feels right to you—and to you alone.
I’ve been dating my boyfriend for about a year. We love each other and want a future together, but there are some issues we just don’t talk about. I know it’s not good not to communicate, and we usually chalk up these unresolved issues as “choosing our battles.” He says he doesn’t want to talk about these disagreements with friends or family so they won’t have a reason not to like me, and he won’t talk about them with me because he doesn’t want me to get upset. But we disagree over normal things, and I’d rather have him tell me than keep it inside. There’s never been disloyalty, screaming matches, or secrets. I’m just nervous he is going to keep things bottled up and explode one day because I’ll do “this instead of that” one day. How can I get him to talk about things about us that bother him? I’ve tried but I feel like he still keeps things to himself.
A whole lot of people would love to fight less with their partners, but the problem with “choosing your battles” is that, sometimes, you can choose so carefully that you avoid conflict altogether. I agree that your boyfriend needs to grow more comfortable with everyday disagreements. I also agree that there’s some long-term risk that he may bottle up his feelings until they explode in some unhealthy way. But I wouldn’t worry much about that yet. I’m more concerned about short-term, less explosive consequences..
There’s a value in arguments that goes beyond avoiding bigger future fights. And that value is intimacy. You’ve only been dating for a year—and these little disagreements are one of the main ways we learn about each other. By dodging every little disagreement, you’re not dodging bullets, you’re dodging opportunities to talk. Now, I’m not saying you have to spew every random thought, pick every little fight, or make mountains of mole hills. But when you’re in a relationship, talking about small differences and learning to disagree respectfully is an essential way to get closer to your partner.
So, yes, a year is long enough to get comfortable with some small amount of disagreement—and if this is going to be a real relationship, you’re right: You’ve got to learn how to talk, particularly when it’s a little uncomfortable. My big-picture advice is to try framing this all differently—not as fights and friction, but as communication. (After all, you can’t agree with each other a hundred percent of the time on everything else, can you?)
Try to focus less on your fears and worries (that he might boil over; that he doesn’t want you to get upset). Instead, focus on something positive: the way better communication leads to greater intimacy. I was struck by one of the last things you said in your email, that he “keeps things to himself.” That made me think what you’re really writing about isn’t necessarily about fighting or arguing, at all. You’re writing about your desire to know this lovely man a little bit better—to find out what he’s been keeping private for the very understandable reason that he wants you both to be happy.
So, the next time you can tell he’s biting his tongue, don’t tell him that he shouldn’t be afraid to fight. Just tell him that you really want to know what he’s thinking. Tell him that when he withdraws, he hides a little part of himself. And you just want to get closer.
I have been dating this guy off and on since sixth grade. The times we would be “off” were when I just didn’t want to be tied down so early. He never gave up throughout the times I did. Now we’re 21 and I still always come back to the question “did we meet too early?” I genuinely love this guy and he’s proven countless times he loves me and would do anything and everything to please me, but I feel like at the same time there’s so much out there we have yet to experience. Yes, we’ve both dated other people for short amounts of time while we separated, but I mean we were still so much in contact with each other that none of those other people stood a chance. Sometimes I feel as though I’m being stupid and blind to want to venture into a world of hurt and dishonesty, because let’s face it; lots of guys aren’t genuine. To find another good one I’d go through heartbreak and drama, no one wants that. But this is something that crosses my mind enough to be writing you. Am I being silly to want to throw away something great with someone who has already devoted their life to me or am I bright and should experience what the world has to offer while I can?
No, you’re not being silly. It would be silly if you didn’t think this through seriously.
You’ve been dating this guy for almost half your life—and you’re only 21. Of course you wonder what else and who else is out there! Of course you get worried when you think about ending such a long relationship! Of course you’re confused!
Ultimately, though, this isn’t about being silly or smart. It’s about deciding what you want—and deciding what risks you want to accept because there’s never, ever simply one safe choice and one risky choice. Ask yourself: Do you want to risk leaving a solid relationship to explore the larger world and expand your horizons? Or do you want to risk limiting your life as you take a chance on making a life with your sixth-grade sweetheart?
There are risks and benefits to both. We all know couples who met young and whose deep level of trust makes them stronger together. We also know couples who broke up and each said, “Why didn’t we do that earlier?”
As you think this through, please remember that, if you do break up, you won’t just be entering “a world of hurt and dishonesty.” It’s not that bad out there. Sure a lot of guys “aren’t genuine,” as you say, and some are complete assholes, but you know that your boyfriend isn’t the only good guy in the whole world. Your boyfriend isn’t the only decent man who can be a love of your life.
Also: Remember that if you’re feeling dissatisfied, that feeling matters. If you’re already trying to talk yourself into staying with your boyfriend and you’re just 21, I worry about how much you’ll have to talk yourself into it when you’re forty. Whatever that gut feeling is, trust it. And remember that there’s rarely a “safe” path. Any important decision in life is risky.
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