I want to start off by saying thank you for all the work you do answering people's letters, and giving support to those in need of a warm bear hug. :) Your column has really helped me and many others through rough times. Thank you for taking time to read our letters, and I apologize in advance for the rambling page below...
I have been struggling to come to terms with my last relationship. I dated my EX, let's call him River to make this simpler, for about 6 months. It probably will be my last attempt at a long distance relationship. You think I would have learned something from being on deployment in the military while being in a relationship in the past.
Anyway, after a couple months of dating, spending pretty much every waking moment not at work or school together online, I visited River in his home town for a weekend, around Christmas time. The trip was fantastic, even if it was only a few days. We didn't do anything too fancy, but we spent our every moment together for those few days. I was worried that we wouldn't get along in person as well as we did online, and all that sort of stuff. But it was perfect. I never felt as comfortable and happy spending time with someone before in my life.
Anyway, after the trip, we both began to get very busy with school. work, etc. On top of that, River began expressing something he hadn't ever told me before: that he was unsure of his gender. I don't mean any disrespect to anyone coming to terms with their gender identity, but this situation really made me question myself and who I am. I ultimately decided that it didn't matter to me either way—that I was in love with the person, and that I would be supportive however I could.
After a week or two, River stopped talking to me. Our usual daily conversations turned into me messaging or texting River, and not getting a reply back for a day or two. I was absolutely gutted. All sorts of wild thoughts raced through my mind about what could be wrong. River acted like everything was fine, but it obviously wasn't. A couple weeks of that, and I had to press the issue for sanity's sake, because it was starting to have a very bad effect on my life. We decided to break up and River thought it was best to take time to figure out the whole identity bit.
Things were never really resolved, and a couple weeks ago River started taking part in our online friend group again, and playing games with me online like we used to do like nothing happened. I realized I still have the same feelings that I did before, but River does not. We talked about it last night, and he told me that he decided he is happy being a guy, but that he is dating a girl now, and isn't really into guys anymore. He said he thinks of my as his closest and best friend, and that he still wants me to be part of his life.
I really care about him, I would do anything in my power to help him, and I do not want to lose him as a friend (one of the few close friends I have). And despite everything, I still love him, in multiple senses. But I can't come to terms with these romantic feelings. Even though I can rationalize it all, and come to terms with it logically, I still have strong romantic feelings towards him that are just torturing me, knowing it can never be like it was before. For pretty much the first time, looking back on all my relationships (most of which have been cohabitating ones), I am really fluffing jealous.
How can I come to terms with the romantic love I feel for River, while still keeping that "agape" love that I feel so strongly for him? I just wonder if it is selfish of me to want such a thing...
* * *
Thanks for your letter. Could you fill in some blanks here so that I can give you a more thoughtful and informed reply about your situation?
First of all, when you were visiting River, did the two of you have sex? Or was it just a platonic spending of time together?
Secondly, could you tell me more about River's family? Does he have a family that is supportive or one that is, shall we say, homophobic? What is his background?
River’s behavior is very confusing (to you and me, both), and I feel like I'm not getting the whole picture. I mean, first he appears gay, then transsexual, and now he’s straight? Somehow, I don’t feel he’s being honest with who he is, or maybe he just flat can’t come to terms with it.
Thanks for your patience and help.
P.S. Kudos to you for your military service!
* * *
Thank you for your reply. :) Honestly, I don't remember the exact contents of my letter, so I apologize for that in advance. I was a bit emotional at the time. I kind of have a vague idea of what I said, but that is about it. Anyway, I have been debating what to do about replying to your questions. I have too many feelings, questions of my own, and struggles about this small issue. And I have millions of things about this problem that I feel like I need to tell someone. It just kind of seems pointless to share them, because I feel like no one can give me the answers I seek. Anyway, I am sorry for writing so much, and placing this burden on you.
River lives in a somewhat stereotypical small southern town with one Walmart, no sidewalks, and a lot of backwards people. While most of the younger people are moderately accepting there, he is pressured to conform to that "traditional" straight male role. His siblings and a few other family in his generation are accepting, but his parents and the older generations are not. Supposedly his dad said something along the lines of "I don't have any problem with gays as long as they aren't my own kids", so I don't think he has a lot of support there. He still lives with his parents, so yeah... it is definitely a relevant question.
When I visited, I got a hotel room in town for the weekend, but we spent the day with his sister at her apartment to give us a safe environment and such. You know, meeting someone in person you only have known online could be kind of weird or even scary, so he was going to stay with his sister for the weekend if we didn't feel comfortable together. But we got along well, and by the end of the night when it came time for me to go back to my hotel, he wanted to come with me. So he stayed with me that weekend. We did end up having sex during the visit, and cuddled and slept together. I am particularly choosy about who I choose to share myself with in that way, and I felt comfortable with him. We took things light and slow, and made sure we were both comfortable with things. I don't regret it, and he didn't seem to. He definitely didn't seem to have any reservations about that fact that I am a *guy*, and I wasn't the first one he had been intimate with, so it just really makes me wonder.
As you said, he, for whatever reason, doesn't know or hasn't come to terms with what he wants or who he is yet. If he doesn't know yet, then who can? What I do know is that I can't hold it against him if he is unsure of his identity...we all need to find our place in life. But I just am hurt by his lack of communication about the whole ordeal. Sometimes relationships don't work out for whatever reason, but because he did not communicate the problem to me even when I specifically asked, it made me feel like I was crazy or imagining things. After the truth came out, that most important thing—respect and trust—was destroyed. I don't know if there is a word for it, but I want to ask him many questions that are pointless, because without trust, the answer doesn't matter. The communication would be meaningless (since it requires an assumption of honesty). Just to add an example for clarity's sake, it is like asking someone if they are lying. ~.~ Either way, I realized that he is figuring out what he wants and who he is, and I am ready to find someone to share my life with. Obviously things weren't going to work, and there isn't any hope of pursuing it further with him.
I decided to tell River that I can't be around him anymore, at least for the time being. It has just been too painful and I have a lot of important practical things I need to focus on right now, like school starting again and looking for a new apartment soon. I don't know if this choice will help me at all, because I still feel like things are terribly unresolved, but like I said earlier, I don't think I can get the answers to my questions. So I guess the original question isn't quite as relevant anymore. I am not talking to him anymore, but I still care and want River to be happy. I find myself wishing for a moment every now and then that I was not sensitive, naive, hopelessly romantic, and needy (among many other things) and could just move on like he seems to have, but I guess then I wouldn't be "me". And I don't know if I would be a better person for it.
I just have to stop writing for now because I would go on for pages more if I let myself. But thank you for taking some of your personal time to read my ramblings and respond to them. It means a lot to me. :)
* * *
Thanks for replying to my queries. Your response does, indeed, clarify things.
Understanding that I am going purely by what you have written me, adding a dash of my experience and intuition, here is what Papabear thinks about you and River.
River most definitely is either gay or bi because, seriously, you cannot be comfortable with making love to a man if you are not a man who is at least bisexual. As I suspected, the problem is that he grew up in a conservative family living in a conservative area. This reminds me, if I may digress a little, about my own experience with my extremely conservative mother. Just as I was about to tell her I was gay, she told me, “I can tolerate your sister being gay, although it makes me uncomfortable, but it is far worse for a man to be gay.” She knew what I was about to say, and so she put up a blockade. After hearing that, and not wishing to end my relationship with my mother, I said nothing to her. She’s a smart woman, however; she knows I live with a man and have not seen a single woman since my divorce. So, she’s figured it out by now, but she’s of a generation where you don’t talk about such things and gay men were known simply as “confirmed bachelors.”
Back to you and River. After the two of you had a lovely time together, suddenly, I suspect, it sank in for him just what he had done and he freaked out about it. He might have told you he was unsure of his gender to put you off, but then getting a girlfriend was a definite tool to hide from himself and to put a wall between the two of you, at least sexually.
You deserve the conversation you asked for with him, but I don’t think you’ll get it any time soon because any time he sees you, especially in person, it will be a reminder to him of what the two of you did and he will have a lot of guilt about that.
So, what to do? You’ve already backed off, for the sake of your own sanity, which is not a bad response. As a kindness, you might put out there that if he ever does change his mind and wants to talk, you’re willing to listen, but until then you need to give him the time to figure himself out. What you’re going through is a big reason why I broke it off with my first boyfriend—he couldn’t deal with the fact that his father didn’t approve of gay people, so he was ashamed to be with me and I knew I couldn’t have a relationship with him until his father was dead, which made me then feel awful for wishing the man was dead. Not a good thing. Let’s hope that River doesn’t need his disapproving father to die before he can be himself.
Although attitudes toward the LGBT community have been improving in this country, it won’t be quick enough to resolve your situation, BB. What happened to you was hurtful, but certainly not your fault, and you are handling it the way you should.
Good luck! Hugs!
A note on comments: Comments on letters to Papabear are welcome, especially those that offer extra helpful advice and add something to the conversation that is of use to the letter writer and those reading this column. Also welcome are constructive criticisms and opposing views. What is NOT welcome are hateful, hurtful comments, flaming, and trolling. Such comments will be deleted from this site. Thank you.