The Hook Up: On forgiveness and un-confusing yourself

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Dear Anna, I haven’t come out yet but I definitely know I like girls—guys I’m not so sure about. I’ve known since middle school and stopped accepting dates with guys because I felt like I didn’t think I would be able to have honest feelings for them. In my head I began to imagine my first and beautiful relationship with a woman…whenever that would be. Now I’m in college and started a casual relationship with a guy. I told him that I thought I was gay and maybe only bisexual, sexually.

Eventually he gained feelings for me and I do enjoy our time together. But because I’m wary that I can truly return his feelings for him and that we will probably break up because I’m not completely sure, he had a one night stand with a girl. And I was really hurt by it, so I thought maybe I really do care about him romantically and he obviously regretted his actions.

He wants to move towards being official but I’m still wary. I still think about relationships with girls (although I have yet to come out to people outside of my close friend group). But I don’t know if I have shut myself away from being open to being with a guy or if I’m really just strictly lesbian. And I really don’t want to play with his feelings and I hope that we can continue to be in each other’s lives, whether together or not. Please help me. — Confused Feelings

Anna says: Dear Confused, You should probably can this guy, not solely because you are confused about your sexual identity (though that is certainly part of it) but because it sounds like he’s blaming you for HIS indiscretion. This is the bit I found most troubling: “…because I’m not completely sure, he had a one night stand with a girl.” It’s possible that, since it was a casual relationship, you didn’t have rules about monogamy, and that his one-night stand wasn’t technically breaking any boundaries. But even if you didn’t, it’s still bullshit for him to claim that he had sex with someone else because of your confused feelings, Confused Feelings. He’s not taking responsibility for his own behavior. He’s deflecting, and trying to make you feel bad in the process. That’s like saying, “I ate this entire jar of Nutella because you have mixed thoughts about carbs.” The end doesn’t justify the means.

Even if you’re not “strictly lesbian” (and you don’t have to be! You can be whatever you want), it sounds like your feelings for this guy are lukewarm at best, and that you’re not gonna fall head over Crocs for him any time soon, or ever. If that’s the case, you need to be straight with him (pun sort of intended). Tell him how you feel, even if it’s “Being official makes me wary” and “I don’t want to play with your feelings.” If his feelings are way stronger than yours, as it appears to be, you’d probably do well to end things romantically altogether, since in the long run, the more wishy-washy you are, the more hope it’ll give him that things might work out for you two.

If you’re not ready to end things altogether, then at the very least treat the relationship like it is: a casual one that leaves you both the freedom to explore other dalliances, one of which for you should be a lady. Will it hurt a little and make you jealous when your fella sleeps with someone else? Yes. That’s part of being human. We get possessive and territorial even when it doesn’t make sense. One time not too long ago, my two friends with benefits started boning each other, which made me feel jealous, even though I clearly had no claims on them or their lives. But you owe it to yourself to explore your desires, and if you want to do it while having the safety net of a partner, even one that you feel “meh” about, then you have to be open to him exploring as well.

You’ve pictured it in your mind, you’ve questioned, you’ve hoped — now it’s time to act. You don’t have to come out to the whole world in order to ask a lady on a date. You’ve already done well by coming out to your close friends. Now’s the time to un-confuse yourself, Confused. Don’t get stuck in a bland relationship that doesn’t fulfill you because you’re scared to find out what it might be like to give a girl a whirl (Ooh, let’s make that into a t-shirt).

As Russian author Leo Tolstoy once wrote, “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.” Open yourself to the idea of transformation. Consider your feelings first, and not those of your maybe-boyfriend. Let them guide you.

Best of luck!

Dear Anna, I’m trying to forgive my sister, but failing. Last year, we went to visit our dad, who’s in a home for dementia. He was lucid enough to talk with us that day and remembered who we were. He started going on about how I ought to marry a guy from a certain school, on and on. And I simply nodded and laughed. Then suddenly she blurted out “Well she actually likes girls from X school. What about that, Dad?” knowing full well he’s a homophobe. I was never planning on coming out to him nor did I think my personal information was hers to divulge. Well, dementia doesn’t change certain things and he started off on how I was sick and that I needed to change and sort myself out from this illness. I simply stared at her in shock and anger, but didn’t say anything other than “OK, I hear you” to my dad so he’d calm down.

I talked to her later and asked her multiple times why she did it and she simply shrugged “Get over it. People do stupid things. It hurts me now when you keep bringing it up. I could hold a ton of stuff against you but I don’t. Are you going to stay bitter about it?” Our relationship, for this and other reasons, has been reduced to not speaking to each other when we meet and she blames me for it. I’ve told her I don’t feel emotionally safe around her to share about my life and she says I’ve ruined our relationship. What’s my deal? Am I lacking a commitment to forgiving her? She’s said she’s sorry, but I have a hard time letting this one go. Is it worth it if our college/newly graduated lives barely have us seeing each other anyway? — Failing at Forgiving or Forgetting

Anna says: Dear Failing, Oof. That is painful. The forcible outing, the utter lack of remorse, the misplaced blame put back on you because you dared to be hurt by your sister’s callous disregard for your life and feelings. All of that is awful and I don’t blame you for not forgiving her. Choosing to not speak for a while to those who hurt us is a perfectly reasonable response to a painful situation. And yet, it seems you know that holding on to these feelings of anger and ignoring your sister aren’t a sustainable life plan. So let’s see if we can find you a glimpse of the distant shores of resolution and forgiveness.

You’re right that your sister had no right to divulge your information, especially since your father has dementia and presumably has more important things to worry about. She violated your trust and refuses to take accountability for the hurt she caused you, and your father. And you are right not to feel “emotionally safe” with her, and should in no way be obligated to change that feeling simply because your sister wishes you would “get over it.” Thus, I would urge you to focus not on forgiveness — since that isn’t something you can force, and appears to be the opposite of how you actually feel right now — and instead on acknowledgment and how you plan to move on.

Acknowledge that this shitty thing happened to you, and that your sister’s response to it was equally shitty. Acknowledge that you might be mad at her for a long time, and that this will affect how you relate to each other, possibly forever, and then acknowledge that that’s OK. Acknowledge that letting go doesn’t happen all at once, but incrementally, and that day by day you might notice you are mad at your sister a little less. Space will help, since you are recently graduated and moving in the direction of new lives. Honesty helps too, when you’re up to the task. Tell your sister that you are not ready to process with her all the negative emotions that her outing you brought up, and until you are, you’d appreciate that she keep her distance, respect your wishes, and that lashing out at you won’t aid the process any. Tell her what came up for you when she did what she did, and what came up when you tried to confront her about it. But again, when you’re ready. Take as much time as you need. This doesn’t need to happen tomorrow, or on anyone’s schedule but your own.

In the mean time, I want you to notice if holding onto those negative feelings toward your sister is impacting your life. If you find yourself wallowing in negative thoughts (about anything), I want you to try this simple exercise. Acknowledge the thought, and then let it go. Changing the course of our minds helps us not to linger in the dark spaces. I do it whenever I find myself berating myself as not good enough or smart enough or hot enough or whatever. I notice that I’m hating on myself, and then I consciously tell myself to knock it off and think about something else. You might have to do it several times—some mean thoughts are decidedly stubborn—but eventually you will start to notice a diminishing, and you’ll feel calmer. Better.

Here’s wishing you peace of mind and the hope that your sister grows up one day (soon).

Hailing from the rough-and-tumble deserts of southern Arizona, where one doesn’t have to bother with such trivialities as “coats” or “daylight savings time,” Anna Pulley is a freelance writer living in San Francisco. Find her at annapulley.com and on Twitter @annapulley. Send her your The Hook Up questions at askthehookup@gmail.com. 

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