You Need Help: Where Do I Go From Here

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Welcome to You Need Help! Where you’ve got a problem and yo, we solve it. Or we at least try.


Q:  Is there any way a so-called “mixed orientation” marriage can ever work? My straight, cis husband and I have been together for almost 15 years, and we have a young child together. When we started dating, I told him I was bi, but that it wouldn’t be an issue since I only wanted to be in a relationship with a man due to my conservative upbringing. I recently started therapy and I am realizing a lot of things about myself including the fact that my sexual orientation is probably a lot further to the left of the spectrum than I realized and this may be a factor in my depression.

What are my options here? I have no idea how to deal with this without destroying my family.


Oh sweetheart.

You ask what your options are. Factually speaking, you have a few: you could bury this information that you’re discovering about yourself and try to continue in your life with your family as if nothing has changed. You could tell your husband what you’re realizing and just wait and see what he says. You could tell him and say you want to leave. You could tell him and say that this doesn’t have to change anything about your marriage. You could tell him and ask if you can try opening up your marriage. You could tell him, and also tell him that this is scary and new and you need his support now more than ever, and see what he says. None of these are the right thing to do; none of them are wrong. Other people have done all of them many times before.

Knowing what your options are isn’t the hard part of this, though. The thing that’s hard is knowing what you want. When you realize that you were wrong about what you wanted in one part of your life, how can you feel sure about what you want when it comes to everything else? Once you start to think about what you want, how do you deal with the terrifying prospect of maybe having it?

I dated men for a long time, and then I dated women. That phrasing makes it sound like a very natural and seamless transition. Which it probably is for some people, but I wasn’t one of them. I had known that I liked girls for as long as I knew I liked anything, but I didn’t feel like I needed to integrate it into my life plans in any real way. I didn’t have a conservative upbringing, but I did convince myself that nothing with a girl could ever really happen. Because I didn’t know any other queer girls; because when I did, they weren’t my type; because when they were, they weren’t into me; because when they were, the time wasn’t right, the circumstances were too complicated, the moon was in the wrong phase. If a situation arose where none of these excuses were handy, I ran as fast and as far as I could. Women were something I could only want as long as I could never have them; if what I wanted was actually attainable, it was so scary the only way I could handle it was pretending it didn’t exist. The last thing I wanted were options. I know what it feels like to want to wall yourself into the safest route possible.

I’m not sure from your question what exactly “mixed orientation” means to you — it could be that you’re still identifying as bi or somewhere on that spectrum, and are attracted to/have feelings for your husband. Or it’s possible that you’re now feeling like you ID as a lesbian or aren’t interested in men/your husband really at all anymore. To answer your question: “mixed-orientation” marriages can work, in the literal sense that people of different sexual orientations can have happy marriages. Even queer-identified women married to straight cis men can have happy marriages. Faith Cheltenham, director of BiNet USA, is married to a (bisexual) man. Jennifer Baumgardner, author of Look Both Ways: Bisexual Politics, is married to a man. Susie Bright, author of Susie Sexpert’s Lesbian Sex World, is in a life partnership with a man. Margaret Cho. Sia. Angelina Jolie. Clementine Ford. Amber Rose. Vanessa Carleton. I also am married to a man.

So marriages that look like yours certainly can work; that isn’t the question. I’m pretty sure you already know that; I think you also more or less know what your options are, too. It’s possible that you’ve even been thinking about one or two options in particular, fleshing them out in your head and figuring out what they would look like. That’s not really what you’re asking, I don’t think. I think the real question, the big bad, is how to be sure of what you want. And once you’re sure, how to gather up the courage to do it.

You (and your husband) have to decide, then, whether you want to be in a mixed-orientation marriage; in this particular marriage. It’s not clear from your question how your husband would feel about this. For some men, being with a “practicing bisexual” (an obviously fallacious idea, but still one that many people ascribe to) isn’t what they want. If you’re feeling less bisexual and more like you’re exclusively interested in women, then he might be even less excited about that. At some point, you will almost definitely end up having to talk to him about this, and when you do, the way he responds or reacts is totally up to him. I’m sorry. You can’t control how he deals with this. Only you.

So think about you, now. About what you want. And I don’t mean what gender(s) you want, necessarily. For some people in this situation, there is a “right” gender of person that you want to be with, but even if that’s the case, it doesn’t usually come with soul-searching, only with time. Think about what you want.

When I did start dating women, it felt like I had cracked the code. Getting there was a painful and messy process, but it was one of the few things I’ve ever done in my life that ultimately felt incontestably right. I felt freer and sexier and more like myself. But I realized after a while that despite that, things were still confusing and sometimes stupid and sometimes painful. I still had problems with partners, even when they were women. I still had personal struggles, even when my partners were women. Even with women, there were times when I was in the same room as them but felt totally alone. All of my issues with the world and myself weren’t lifted by figuring out my sexual orientation. The problem wasn’t with the gender of people I was dating; the problem was with me.

This isn’t to say that you should stay with your husband, or that you should do anything. It’s to say that there’s more to this than figuring out who you’re attracted to. It’s also about figuring out what you want out of a partner, what you want out of a relationship, what you want out of yourself. When you do, does it look like your husband? Does it look like your marriage? Does it look like your life right now? Maybe it doesn’t; maybe it does. If you do think that you want to be dating women, those questions will still be just as important.

When I first started to realize I didn’t actually want to date men my whole life, I was in a long-term relationship with one. It didn’t last long after that. We had plenty of other problems that led to our split, which I think would have happened anyways, but the enormous upheaval of self-examination didn’t help. Even if your relationship is otherwise perfect — which no relationship is — the process of peeling away layers of the person you thought you were can be explosive and it’s hard for any relationship to make it through that unchanged. For me, it turned out that while that relationship wasn’t right for me, it wasn’t necessarily about gender. I went on to date people of multiple genders and when I did find a relationship that fit what I wanted for myself, it happened to be with the man I’m now married to. What I’m saying is that finding out who you are and what you want is a practice that you continue to engage in forever, not a task that you complete once. You need to go through it right now in terms of your husband. Regardless of what decisions you both make, you’ll need to do it again the days after that and after that.

The bad news is that there’s no one who’s going to come and save you on this; no one is going to appear to show you what to do. The good news is that you are your own best and bravest rescuer. When you unearth one thing you didn’t know about yourself, it can be an opportunity to dive in and know all the things you were afraid to. It’s the scariest thing you’ll ever do and the most valuable. It’s not going to destroy your family — your family is made up of people who love you and each other as individuals, and even if you do something that upsets them, that isn’t going to change. And if your whole family’s wellbeing was resting entirely on your ability to maintain a relationship and lifestyle that’s harmful to you, things were already shaky for reasons that I doubt are your fault. We have a responsibility to keep our families safe and support them, but not to limit our own freedom and happiness to make sure they never have to deal with anything uncomfortable.

You’ve already started — even if it doesn’t feel like it right now, you’ve already taken the step of getting into therapy and asking this question, which means you’ve done the hardest part. If you don’t already know how you’re going to handle this, you will. You just have to promise yourself that you’ll be brave enough to honor it when you’re ready.


Send your questions to youneedhelp [at] autostraddle [dot] com or submit a question via the ASK link on autostraddle.tumblr.com. Please keep your questions to around, at most, 100 words. Due to the high volume of questions and feelings, not every question or feeling will be answered or published on Autostraddle. We hope you know that we love you regardless.

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Rachel is Autostraddle's Senior Editor and the editor who presides over books and news & politics coverage. Originally from Boston, MA, Rachel now lives in the Midwest. Topics dear to her heart include bisexuality, The X-Files and tacos. Her favorite Ciara video is probably "Ride," but if you're only going to watch one, she recommends "Like A Boy."

Rachel has written 762 articles for us.

50 Comments

  1. Thumb up 25

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    THIS:

    “I didn’t have a conservative upbringing, but I did convince myself that nothing with a girl could ever really happen. Because I didn’t know any other queer girls; because when I did, they weren’t my type; because when they were, they weren’t into me; because when they were, the time wasn’t right, the circumstances were too complicated, the moon was in the wrong phase.”

    Oh wow, this quote describes my life so perfectly, and I just started tearing up a little. How did you stop thinking this way? Every time I think that I have, I actually haven’t stopped. My life has been a series of crushing on unavailable girls and girls who aren’t into me.

    But the idea of mutual crushing (though it hasn’t happened for me yet) is scary too! I would not know what to do. oy vey

  2. Thumb up 13

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    You know that feeling where you want to sob but also feel like you could just fucking fly? That’s how I feel after reading this. Hot damn. As a queer woman I struggle so much with what it means to love men and worry so much about the gender of my life partner if I ever have one. I forget sometimes that it’s so much more important to explore and stretch who I am and what my heart is capable of. Thank you, Rachel, and all the love in the world to the question asker.

  3. Thumb up 8

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    “Women were something I could only want as long as I could never have them; if what I wanted was actually attainable, it was so scary the only way I could handle it was pretending it didn’t exist. The last thing I wanted were options.”

    Yes! This! Thank you for putting into words things that are happening in my brain, but that I was unable to articulate.

  4. Thumb up 18

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    I am in this exact situation. This is my life right right now. Tears came to my eyes when I realized I am not alone. I am married to a man, have two small boys, and have recognized that I will never fit into the heterosexual life again. I have always felt bisexual, definitely attracted to women, but not until a few months ago did I let myself explore the thought even. I came from an extremely conservative home and to consider that being a real possibility would have been grounds for being shun by all those I loved. Then my life continued to happen along the lines my family would support and I felt like I was missing something. Finally my husband and I started talking about it, and for us his answer was to open up our marriage, to stay a team for our children but for me to see who I really am. It has been confusing and lonely and scary but I am glad I have taken this step! Thank you so much for writing this!

    • Thumb up 2

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      The same thing happened to me with my wife ….except it was that I realized tbat I was female and loved females. Our life as a straight couple was a mistake. We both made the choice we were supposed to make, according to society……..She realized the mistake first, but we stayed together-. Much later, I crushed on a lesbian at my store, with totally different, female feelings for her. After that, I experienced a girl to girl relationship of four years with a different lesbian who helped me realize I am a transfemale.
      I need female to female love. My heart aches for it. It is the only way for a translesbian to feel real love and her true gender. I want to be some woman’s loving, sweet girlfriend……more than anything in the world! And I have been brave and looked deep inside myself to find my female self .

  5. Thumb up 11

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    Thank you. So much. This is me right now too. I have the cis male life partner (10 years), the amazing little boy (3), and the depression and bisexuality too. This is all making me cry right now so I need to come back and read it again later, but just needed to say thank you.

  6. Thumb up 10

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    This is amazing. Thank you so so so much for this. Recently I have been wishing for Autostraddle content related to being a queer woman in a relationship with a cis, straight dude, so thank you Rachel for being freakin’ magical and granting my wish!!! So many feels.

  7. Thumb up 12

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    Like other commenters, two things I wish I saw more of from Autostraddle are posts about queer women in relationships with straight, cis men, and posts by Rachel.

    I started to realize I’m totally definitely mostly into girls only a few months before I started dating my current, straight, cis-male partner, who I love dearly and have a deep-soul connection with that I wouldn’t give up for anything. But part of me regrets not having the chance to earnestly date women, even though I really doubt I’ll find someone in any body I would rather be with than my partner. And the rest of me feels really terrible for these thoughts. I tell him everything, but I have a really hard time talking about this, because I don’t want him to feel like I don’t desire him, like his body is inadequate because it isn’t female enough. He deserves better than that.

    And another part of this is not knowing how to talk about my identity with anybody. It’s not quite right to say I’m gay, because I do really want to be with him. But I’m definitely mostly into women. But to say I’m queer at all suddenly fuzzes up what is otherwise very clear– I just love him, and I have no doubts that I want to be with him, and to be monogamous. So why I should I try to hold on to this part of my identity that is into women if I’m intent on being faithful to him? It feels like I’m betraying him in some way. But if I just go with the “I’m straight” narrative I feel like I’m betraying a community that I care about just because it’s hard to think about.

    But to get back to my original point– Rachel, you make the world a better place and I want to read everything you write forever.

    • Thumb up 5

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      Holy shit this is exactly how I feel and my god it is good to know I’m not alone. (Although tbh I’m wondering if I’m monogamous but it’s all theoretical since my partner most definitely is and I love him and want to be with him) But just yes yes yes – I’d only just figured out how MUCH I liked girls when we started dating, I mostly like girls (to the extent where I think he is the only guy I can see myself dating like ever, if we broke up it would be girls) and I wish I could date girls because *flails* girls are so important to me but my partner is so important to me and argh sorry, word vomited on your post but I just am so excited to see someone in the same position and I’ve been thinking it and keeping it inside for so long and it’s so good to not be alone.

  8. Thumb up 9

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    I was in a similar situation – in a long-term relationship with a lovely straight, cis guy, thinking I could be content being a “non-practicing bisexual”. Over time I grew more and more restless, lonely, emotionally and sexually frustrated, and realized that in order to really be myself I must explore my attraction to women. The guy wasn’t into non-monogamy, so that was it, I ended the relationship to come out of the closet.

    My only regret is that I didn’t do it earlier. These days I identify as a queer dyke, and now I realize that my feelings for men were mostly quite tame and platonic. The experience of coming out and being honest to myself for the first time was world-shifting (even in the early stages, before I had the courage to actually date women). Frank Ocean sums up the experience beautifully:

    “It was like all the frequency just clicked to a change in my head. All the receptors were now receiving a different signal, and I was happy. I hadn’t been happy in so long. I’ve been sad again since, but it’s a totally different take on sad. There’s just some magic in truth and honesty and openness.”

    We didn’t have children, which of course made the whole thing a lot easier. But concerning the writer’s concerns about breaking up her family: My own parents have been unhappy and depressed together as long as I remember. It made my childhood terrible&traumatic, and I am mad at them for not breaking up when I was little. They are still together, and their continuing unhappiness still has a huge effect on my well-being. If you can figure out a way to stay together with your husband AND lead a happy and fulfilling life, that’s wonderful! But PLEASE don’t stay together “for the sake of the children”. Every child deserves a happy home and happy parents.

  9. Thumb up 9

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    I’m so happy to read this advice/life experience and question on Autostraddle. This summer I broke up with my loving relationship of 7 years with a cis man after FINALLY coming to terms with my sexuality and meeting a special lady. The man and I had an open relationship partly in able so I could explore my sexuality. It took two years before I found someone that pulled me out (!!) into the lez world. Thank god. It was also a long time coming. I’d been trying and failing, and just not ready to come to terms that I really just wanted to be with women. I came out this summer to all my friends. It was a major life change. I’m still changing and adjusting to my new life. But really excited for the future.

    I’d been struggling to find stories I could relate, even on Autostraddle. I’m a late bloomer at 34 and coming out. I suspect there are a lot more of us out there. Let’s talk more. Thanks Rachel!

    • Thumb up 3

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      Your story and mine are so, SO similar. We could be twins. Hello.

      I still have epic mixed feelings about breaking up with my matey, especially now that I am out of a very tumultuous and public relationship. My matey was super sane in comparison! I still love him to death, and consider him my platonic life partner, and the other day I was hinting at him about whether he still wanted to get married because my family’s already putting pressure on me (last girl standing).

      And just…I feel like following my sex drive just got me into disaster, it led to disaster in other situations too, why can’t I just shut off that part of myself and be happy with what I had? Everything else was fine, just the lack of sexual attraction for straight cis men…like my matey. I could have made it work. Maybe.

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        I used to think that you can either have a passionate relationship or an easy one and these two can’t coexist. (And that there are two kinds of people – ones you want to take to meet your parents and ones you want to take to bed. In retrospect, this does remind me of the virgin/whore dichotomy…) You’ve had your heart broken but please take this from an internet stranger: loving, stable AND ridiculously attractive people do exist. Take care.

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        i’m right there with monae on this one. for serious…. my first real relationship with a woman was tumultuous and public and passionate and ended in emotional, financial and logistical disaster, the aftershocks of which lasted even longer than the relationship itself. and for a long while after that and in many ensuing romantic situations i started to feel, like monae said, that you can “either have a passionate relationship or an easy one and these two can’t coexist.” and then at 28 i thought i’d finally found that happy coexistence… and then it turned out to not be “the one” after all. now i’m almost 33 (and when i was younger i always assumed i’d be married by 24) and yup pretty much think i’ve finally found that thing after all this time. you have no idea what lies ahead, truly, so don’t you dare settle for something safe when something more is undoubtedly out there, even if it takes a decade to figure out.

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          Sometimes it takes so much longer,Riese. :( And it is no one’s fault! Dammit.

          For me, just a “guy” not realizing he is a girl. :) And needing your… Riese or Rachel or Maryanna….girl love to be happy.

          When I see your face or Rachel’s or Maryanns’s facd I find myself melting…..do you know how “melting” feels?

          It is not sexual, really,more like love paralysis…..a trance….caught in a feeling of happy surrender to a girl who smiles a smirky confident smile at youlllll while you wait to feel the pleasure of her sexing you…

          That girl….like you, Riese, or Rachel, or for me….especially…. Maryanna…..who made me a lesbian……and controls my girl love of her tall, preppie ….badass …sweetness…….:)

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          thank you both, this meant a lot to me. I don’t mind being single in and of itself (I think I function better, honestly) but the repercussions of heartbreak get to me sometimes and make me wish I’d never even had any relationship to start with. But thank you, your words bring comfort. <3

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          I feel like saying “you can find this perfect relationship situation because I did” is kind of like saying “you can win the lottery because I did”. Yeah it’s great that you found that for yourself but how do you know other people will? How do you know they will find anyone? I don’t know anybody personally in any relationship who has that perfect balance. I don’t think it’s very common or easy to find at all. I think movies and TV set us up to believe we should be able to have it all when for most people that’s not realistic. Sorry to be negative but Iv’e had my heart broken too many times and I’m too cynical to hear this shit again. Good relationships can be found but making them work takes a hell of a lot of work and I wish more people would talk about that instead of pretending the hollywood ending can happen for everyone.

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        Thanks for your comment Creatix! Yeah, I totally get you. “why can’t I just shut off that part of myself and be happy with what I had?” I tried this for years. Repression. Not a good thing. Hope you’re doing better!

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          @ Kelly. Yes, there are still a lot more of you out there, even in this day & age. I’ve been seeing stories like yours and the original question poser’s since the mid-90s. The funny, (though admittedly, somewhat sad, also), thing is that the ones who are going through this in their 30s now were only around 15 or 20 back then – when the other women in their 20s, 30s, 40s, (& even up), were going through it back then. I guess the familial pressure in these microcosmic units was just too strong for them; (I remember that several of them were even from violent & conservative homes, which made matters even worse for them in an immediately tangible way.) But, I still think that it’s better to go through this later rather than never. They owe it to themselves to try to find true happiness. And I wish each and every one of them the best of luck. :)

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      Your story echoes my own, though I’m a decade younger than you (but yes, it was 7 years with my man, too). Being part of Autostraddle helped me find others who could support me and relate to my own experiences because yes, there are a LOT of us who’ve had the same story.

      I’m really happy that you find that magnetic woman :D I never understood the true sensation of joy until I found that special lady. It’s like someone found the dial to 11 on my life when I never thought I could get past 8.

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    I’m married to a woman, but only came out to my family and the world in general (job, etc.) when I was 30. I’ve identified as bi, later as pan, since I was 16 but had only been in long-term relationships with men before meeting my current wife.

    I’d love to read more stuff on Autostraddle about the special questions of coming out later in life!

  11. Thumb up 1

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    This is one of the most important articles on ” being happy and finding real love”, I have ever read!
    Rachel is so “right on” in all she says. Especially about being brave enough to look deep inside oneself, and find the true person you are. Some of us have layers upon layers that are hiding our “real self”. Those assumptions (now called “constructs” ) have parental, societal, peer group, and even self origins. So that the real “you” is hidden. And as Rachel says, you have to be brave , to leave your “security blanket” to discover the happiness and love that only can come from the “true you” under all the layers.
    Rachel’s brilliant and compassionate “reply” is such a great example of the intellectual perception of the women who lead Autostraddle, as well as women in general.
    Do all of you feel that feeling in your heart like I do? Sort of a swelling? That’s female emotional love for Rachel……I think.

  12. Thumb up 2

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    I don’t know why but I read the article in my head by Mrs. Doubtfire voice…
    I like the kind and tender tone of this article and some sentences hit home really precisely… One has to have patience with self when digging through stuff in head/heart/soul and trying to find way…

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    Thank you thank you thank you! I love hearing from/about women who come out a bit later on in their lives. I didn’t really date ’til my grad school dating of men, and then I started coming out to myself and others 2 years ago. I too have freer but also very much in the realm of the “confusing and sometimes stupid and sometimes painful…” Yes, of course I still have issues with shyness, etc., that dating girls didn’t magically fix! I think also since I had such conflicted and anxious and confused feelings about hetero dating, and limited experience thereof, I feel like I have so much to learn and figure out. And since I pushed down my attractions to women, I still need to excavate that part of me: my feelings and desires and stuff. I haven’t been in a relationship with a girl yet. And sometimes I am very lonely. But I just keep doing my best to be me.

  14. Thumb up 2

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    Also I just wanted to add that Rachel has really good advice. It sucks that NO ONE can tell how things will end up. Try to keep in mind that sometimes certain things happen for a reason. I recently remember coming across the graduation speech Steve Jobs gave at Stanford.

    We can’t connect the dots looking into the future but when we look back at our past that’s when we can see where things worked out where they were supposed to.

  15. Thumb up 1

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    THIS>>>> “When I did start dating women, it felt like I had cracked the code. Getting there was a painful and messy process, but it was one of the few things I’ve ever done in my life that ultimately felt incontestably right. I felt freer and sexier and more like myself. But I realized after a while that despite that, things were still confusing and sometimes stupid and sometimes painful. I still had problems with partners, even when they were women. I still had personal struggles, even when my partners were women. Even with women, there were times when I was in the same room as them but felt totally alone. All of my issues with the world and myself weren’t lifted by figuring out my sexual orientation. The problem wasn’t with the gender of people I was dating; the problem was with me.”

    Thank you for putting my own experience into words.

  16. Thumb up 0

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    I think this article gives really good advice. Except for the part about family destruction. Sometimes families are destroyed. It doesn’t always get better. Sometimes families cannot or do not ever accept a gay family member. I don’t know if that’s going to be her reality but it’s a possibility.

    And she’s clear that she thinks that’s a possibility.

  17. Thumb up 3

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    I think my heart may have done somersaults as I read this. Never has any advice column hit so close to home and been so enlightening as this! I have actually printed this out and highlighted it to use as an emotional guide….. no joke! I have identified as bisexual for as long as I can remember but I have always steered away from relationships with women for the very reasons Rachel listed. I have now been in in a LTR with a a straight cis man for 8 years and never thought anything was amiss, that is until I fell hard for a lifelong lesbian. Long story short, she was very much wrapped up in her own LTR and after 6 months of flirting she finally shut me down after I declared my love (insert tears, an obnoxious amount of gelato and a snuggie here). As hard as the heartbreak and disappointment is, the sh*tstorm of confusion that the situation left is worst. I don’t love the man I’m with any less but how I can in good conscience ignore the onslaught of new emotions she made me feel? Can I live my life and never feel that again? Did I feel all that because I fell so deep in love or because she’s a woman? Do I need to re-analyze my “label”? Am I over thinking this? Though Rachel’s response doesn’t specifically answer these questions, she’s given me so much other material to satisfy the doubt monster that now lives in my head. Thank you Rachel!

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