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My girlfriend and I have been together for nine months, and it’s going really well. Neither of us are out to our families yet since they’re both pretty conservative, but we’re seniors and we’ll be going to college in the fall, far enough away that we can tell more people. I’ve decided to go to the same school as her, and we’re planning to be roommates. My best friend used to be really supportive of us as a couple, but since I told her about my plan she doesn’t want to talk about my girlfriend and I and keeps saying she thinks it’s a bad idea. I don’t have many people I can talk to about my relationship, and my girlfriend gets jealous when I talk about my friend with her. How do I convince my friend to stop being upset with me?
Hello darling. You should keep in mind that I’m a bit older than you. This is both good and bad to have in an advice giver; it’s something you should ponder as you read on.
Nine months. Congratulations! Nine months is a really long time when you’re in high school—mathematically, this is true. When you’re 17, nine months is almost 5% of your life thus far.
I was with my high school boyfriend for five years—at the time I broke up with him, we’d been together for, what is that—a quarter of my life? But it felt like 100% of it, we were so close. In high school, we both belonged to a group of people who weren’t quite like other high schoolers—we planned ahead, had huge dreams and had no desire to go to small town parties and engage in stupid bullshit. We were Very Serious People in rural New Jersey. We knew, just knew, that someday we’d get married and have children. And what’s more, both his parents and mine believed we would too (see: Very Serious People).
We decided to go to college together, too, like you and your girlfriend have done. I was an actor and had to audition for college—I only got in two places, and really only one was a viable option. He wanted to be a brain surgeon and he had the brains to operate on brains, too. He got in a load more places than I did, and they were a load more prestigious, too. I think it’s safe to say it wasn’t I who decided to go to the same college as him, but he who decided to go to the same college as me. Would he have done something totally different with his life if he’d gone to a fancier school? Did I hold him back? No one knows, because that’s not what happened.
We couldn’t live together because we were a straight couple, for one, and also because we went to two different schools within our large University. We were really sad about not being able to live together, especially since my first roommate and I didn’t get along very well. We spent so much time with each other that it was almost like we lived together, but better. I had a place to go when, in sophomore year, one of my roommates pissed me off so badly that I looked at her and saw only rage. We each had entire halls full of friends to introduce to each other. While we grew to enjoy these aspects of living apart, I think we must have had a conversation about getting married so we could have moved to couples housing. I don’t remember exactly, but it’s something we would’ve talked about, being Very Serious People.
Gosh, could you imagine if I’d done that? What would have then happened when, in my junior year at University, I realized I wasn’t straight or even bisexual, but just plain ole gay? It would’ve been a right mess—if we’d been married, or even if we lived together, I doubt I could’ve salvaged my relationship with him after I broke his heart. As it stands, I did salvage it. Thank goodness we didn’t do those things.
What I’m saying is this—I don’t think you should live with your girlfriend when you go to college together and I don’t think your best friend is being unsupportive by telling you the same. Based on what you say here, actually, I think she’s being the most supportive—and she’s exactly what you want in a best friend, because she’s in your corner and she’s supporting you as a whole person. She’s giving you some solid advice here—this is a bad idea. It is. Darling, this is a terrible idea.
There’s a number of red flags in your letter—that your girlfriend is jealous of your friend is not a healthy dynamic. It’s not good to be cut off from friends when you’re in a relationship; it’s even worse idea to be cut off from them because of your relationship. You don’t say what school you are going to, so I can’t look up the rules, but many universities have policies against same-sex couples living together. If your university has a policy like this, it’s an extra bad idea. Since you’re not out to your parents, it’s a bad pulp novel waiting to happen.
But mostly, it’s a bad idea because university is a place of great knowledge and discovery, and I’m not just talking about the classes you’ll take or the major you’ll choose. University is where you do a lot of the work of becoming your adult self, and being able to undergo that transformation with the freedom and terror that comes from being on your own will make you a more self-aware, self-sufficient adult. After I broke up with my boyfriend, I did so much: I fell in love with a spectacular woman who didn’t love me and I got my heart broken; I moved to Paris with one of my best friends and we went on adventures for an entire semester; I discovered that if I could break up with my boyfriend, I could also break up with acting, and so I became a writer instead. It was all exactly what I needed.
I’m not necessarily saying you should stop reading this and go break up with your girlfriend; I’m also not necessarily saying you should change your mind about going to the same college (though if you’re having second thoughts about it, you should change your mind! Likely, it’s not too late to do so without a transfer). What I am saying is, like a plant, you need room to grow, and to grow into whatever wild shape you’re meant to. Don’t share your soil just yet.
It’s great that you already know you’re gay. But your sexuality is but one facet of your personality, your being. There’s a bunch in there you don’t know about yet. Statistically, you’re likely to break up with your first girlfriend because of one of those myriad things. It sounds harsh, but like the percentages of our lives, it’s just math. Math don’t lie.
It sounds like you live with your parents now, and that they’re conservative. There’s nothing less real about where you are right now and where you’ll be in a year or five years—it’s all real life and I’m not saying it isn’t. But your world right now has much closer boundaries, is much smaller than it’ll be next Fall. Right now, in a smaller place with conservative parents and no one to talk to about your sexuality, it can feel like your girlfriend is the only person who understands you, who has a similar set of experiences. That’s simply not true. You just haven’t met other people like you yet. And you need to experience a larger pot, plot or field before you decide where to put down roots and what other plants will be next to you when you do.
I can also imagine that, because you’re sneaking around right now, the novelty of seeing each other all the time is really thrilling. Imagine! You can kiss and hold hands and be adorable with each other whenever you want and you don’t have to check to make sure no one is watching! But I want to promise you that thrill will be a hundred times as strong if you get to choose when you see each other.
I also get the sense that, like me, you’re a Very Serious Person, so I also understand the pressure to progress. Being myself a Very Serious Person, everything must be heavy, mean something and either last forever or be a planned step that will help me on my march to Greatness and Happiness. It’s one of the reasons breaking up with my boyfriend was so hard: all those plans and all the times I said it was forever (I’m a woman of my word). It’s the reason that breaking up with acting was even harder: I trained and studied for years and I said I would never give up on my dream. It all comes from the same place within me—a place I see in you too, even from your brief letter. Very Serious People can spot each other miles off. So I’m here to tell you what I wish I’d known when I was planning my life with my high school boyfriend: everything counts. If you were to break up with your girlfriend tomorrow, the relationship would not have been a waste of time. Relationships are successful when they teach us something, when they ultimately (though likely not immediately) leave us different and better than we were when we started. It’s okay to have a successful high school relationship that doesn’t last forever; it’s okay to have a successful high school relationship that doesn’t last ’till next Tuesday. It still counts. It’s still not a failure, or giving up. Everything you’ve ever done leads you to where you’re standing right now. That high school boyfriend I had? Because he went to Rutgers, he met the person he later married; he works in a lab, trying to cure ALS because he’s a damn genius. I “wasted” all that time trying to be an actor, and the dialogue in my fiction demonstrates my years of training. It. All. Counts.
Which is why I pretty much know you won’t listen to a word I or your best friend have to say. Darling, I’m all but positive that you’ll touch the stove on this one, and even if you do, you’ll gain from it, eventually. It’s a perfectly valid way to learn things—remember how I said one of the great things I did in college was falling in love with a woman and getting my heart broken? Sucked at the time, but it taught me a lot: about myself, about the ways in which the wide world worked, about recovery and resilience. I wouldn’t trade that experience for the world, even though at the time I was a pajama-clad crying lump on the couch, spending all my hours playing Farmville and feeling sorry for myself.
But what your best friend understands is that this way of learning is not without its burns. You’ll eventually need someone to swoop in and remind you how to pick up the broken pieces of yourself when this roommate/girlfriend situation goes to the shitter (and who knows, maybe it won’t!.) I’ve been in your friend’s situation more times than I can count. I give advice and it’s ignored and then my friend, the one who should really follow my advice if I do say so myself, wants to keep processing the destructive decisions she’s making even though these destructive decisions are truly optional! Even though there are about a million other things she could be doing that aren’t touching a hot stove! Darling, do you know how frustrating that is? To watch a friend crash and burn and not to be able to fix that situation for her? I haven’t always responded in the nicest way to my friends when this happens—when I don’t have anything nice to say, sometimes I say the mean thing anyway.
But your saint of a friend, she’s abiding by the rule! When she doesn’t have anything nice to say, she’s not saying it! And it sounds like she’s all but begging you not to make her say it. Likely, your friend doesn’t want to snap at you and ruin things when she knows damn well you’re going to need her more than ever in six months. She’s letting you make your own decisions and mistakes! She’s not using up her emotional resources now, she’s saving them for when her resources will truly make a difference to you. She’s doing such a good job supporting you that you don’t even realize you’re being held up right now.
So how do you convince your friend to stop being upset with you? You thank her and you don’t try to make her burn her bridge with you by continuing to poke at this situation. If you do plan to go through with this (and just to try one last time, please don’t, this is a terrible idea), here is a script for you to practice and follow when you talk to your best friend: “I understand you don’t think our plan is a good idea. It is noted and I think, even if you say it’s a mistake, I’m going to do it anyway. I still respect your take on it, and thank you for loving me even when I don’t do what you would do. I promise we don’t have to keep talking about this aspect of my relationship with my girlfriend—I’ll only bring it up again when something changes.”
Now the hard part—actually doing that. In the meantime, tell your journal, tell your therapist, tell your girlfriend about your hopes and fears going into this new situation (she needs to know them anyway). Connect with your best friend over the many other facets of your incredible life. Also don’t misunderstand me here: this is not a pass for your friend to check out on you—if you’re feeling weird or low and you need her, provide her with a way to support you that respects her differing point of view. Feeling worried about university? Get together and color or play a video game or play basketball and remind each other how you love each other and how you’ll each be there for the other whenever each of you touches the stove.
Good luck, darling.