My girlfriend and I have been dating for six months. My girlfriend came out this past year (we are both in our 30s). We have a good relationship — great sex, solid communication, compatibility, etc.
However, whenever my girlfriend talks about her first crush, I feel uneasy. She speaks reverently about cuddling in the dark with her close female friend while they watched SNL every week — neither one of them out of the closet or out to themselves at the time. This person is significant to her.
Her friend came out several years ago and is married to another woman. When I asked my girlfriend if she wished they had ended up together, she responded, “what does it matter? She’s married; she’s not an option.” Admittedly this isn’t the answer I want. My girlfriend doesn’t keep regular contact with this old friend and hasn’t come out to her yet. My instincts are telling me this is unrequited love. When I ask her why she hasn’t come out to her yet, she gets quiet and doesn’t respond.
To add insult to injury, I once asked my girlfriend what her type was, and she described “tall, masc of center, sporty, long curly hair.” I looked this girl up on social media, and that describes her exactly. As an uncoordinated artsy femme of average height, I’m measuring myself against this girl and coming up short (literally and figuratively).
The question I want to ask my girlfriend is, “If your friend and I were both single, which one would you choose?” I’m scared of her answer, but I don’t want to be my girlfriend or anyone’s second choice. My girlfriend is, hands down, my first choice. On the one hand, maybe I’m overacting, but on the other, don’t I deserve to be her number-one pick?
Oh, babe. This situation sucks, and I’m sorry you’re going through it. I’ll say upfront: I think you and your girlfriend should break up. But that’s rough news to just hear first thing on the third day of the new year, so I’d like to invite you to make a cup of tea, grab a warm blanket, cozy up on the couch, and take some deep breaths before we get into the nitty gritty of what’s going on here. I’ll make some tea too. See you in a moment.
Whew, okay. Hi. So like I said, I’m sorry you’re dealing with this. Ouch! It would hurt my feelings so much if I asked my girlfriend her type and she didn’t describe me, and worse, she described her friend who I suspect she has unrequited feelings for. It’s such a bad feeling to feel as though you are anyone’s second choice, especially when it’s the person you picked first. I spent some time reading over this question and trying to pick apart what everyone (you and your partner) could be doing differently, but ultimately I came down to this very simple sentiment: you and your girlfriend should definitely be picking each other first. You say “don’t I deserve to be her number-one pick” and the answer is wholeheartedly, absolutely, resoundingly, yes.
When I first read your question I found myself asking some of my own. How long has your girlfriend been out? How frequently does she speak with this old friend? Do you both post about your relationship on social media, and if so, shouldn’t we assume that this person knows your girlfriend is gay, even if she hasn’t formally come out to her? Why are you asking leading questions to your girlfriend instead of just asking what you want to know? Do you have experiences in the past that have led you to feeling anxious in a relationship? Have you considered attachment theory and has anyone ever recommended DBT to you to help with intrusive anxious thoughts? (Admittedly, I am projecting with that last line of questioning — I am not a therapist and I am not offering a diagnosis, I’m simply an anxious woman who has been working with a DBT group for just over a year and has become evangelical about it because the tools have helped me manage my own intrusive anxious thoughts so much!) But the more time I spent with these questions, the more I concluded they don’t really matter.
What matters is that you don’t feel secure in your partnership with your girlfriend. So you either need to get to a place where you feel secure, or you need to break up. And I, personally, would not be inclined to put the hard work that is required to overcome feeling like my girlfriend’s second choice into a relationship that is only six months long. Maybe you will be! But you wrote in for advice, and I am imagining myself sitting on my blue velvet sofa drinking tea with a dear friend and offering them advice, and this is the advice I would give: Break Up.
Not because your girlfriend is bad! Not because you are anxious or overreacting or not overreacting or any other such weeds we could get into it. But because part of the magical sparkly unbeatable joy of being in love and in relationship with someone is feeling like you are choosing them and they are choosing you over and over and over with glee, with zest, with happiness, with excitement, and most importantly: without reservation. And for whatever reason, that isn’t the feeling you’re experiencing here. And it seems, from taking your letter at face value, that you have some evidence to support your concern. Sometimes our brain makes up stories to wreak havoc on our emotions, but sometimes our intuition is sounding an alarm. It seems to me that in your case, the latter is happening.
I want to tell you about a time I ignored my own intuition. I used to date someone I loved very much who was simply not the right match for me. And I struggled so hard to make our relationship work; I believe she struggled to make it work too. We both wanted to be right for each other. And yet — we simply were not. But because I am A Good Queer Who Goes To Therapy And Reads Books About Attachment Theory I had bought into the idea that Relationships Are Work. And they are! That’s true. But my therapist used to challenge me every week, when I showed up for our sessions to cry some more about how much my partner’s behavior was making me feel terrible and how I was working so hard but nothing was changing, and she’d say, “Vanessa, relationships are work, but they shouldn’t be this hard.” I didn’t really get what she meant until my ex and I finally broke up, goddess bless us both, and I met my current partner who is going to be my wife. And yes, my relationship with my fiancee is work — I wasn’t entirely wrong about that, all relationships of course are work — but I understand my therapist now. The work I do with my current partner is not hard. And even when we are struggling with a challenging moment, we are not struggling about whether or not we should be together — because that is easy. It is Known. We have chosen each other, without reservation, and we are In It Together. That is obvious and true. So all the work we do surrounding us is manageable because we’re doing it together. That feeling of panic or anxiety or mistrust in my last relationship wasn’t me overreacting — it was the terrible way we feel in our bodies when we ignore our intuition.
It sounds to me as though you do not necessarily feel as though you’re In It Together with your girlfriend, and whether that’s your perception or her truth or somewhere in the middle doesn’t really matter. You deserve to be in a relationship with someone who chooses you enthusiastically and proudly and obviously every single day, and your girlfriend deserves to figure out exactly what she wants and needs from a relationship (and perhaps from the personal closure she still needs to find from her past significant relationship with someone who, as she astutely and wisely can point out, is no longer available as an option for her to date or be with romantically). Perhaps this sounds callous, but six months is really not very long in a relationship. I think it makes sense to take this moment and call it off, so you and your girlfriend can both get back out there and find people who can do the work of a relationship with each of you in a way that feels manageable, enjoyable, and mostly just not this hard.
I don’t want you to go through another moment of feeling like a runner up. You don’t need to ask your girlfriend any questions to figure out what to do here. You just need to ask yourself what you deserve, and then you need to choose yourself. I want you to start 2023 feeling like your own number-one pick. That way, when the right person comes along, you’ll be ready and confident to be her number-one pick, too.
You can chime in with your advice in the comments and submit your own questions any time.