Derik Cowan

September 1998

Hello all, and first let me apologize for disappearing for a while. I was without net access for a couple of months and hence unable to send in articles, but now that I'm back online, I'm happy to be posting again.

Seeing as I've been gone for a while, I'm going to address two of the major issues I've been confronted with both in response mail from Oasis and in other venues. Hopefully I can give both full coverage here, but feel free to write me if I leave anything out that you'd like me to address.

Question: I've fallen in love with my best friend/roommate. The only problem is that he/she is straight. How do I fall out of love?

This is a very difficult question, and one for which I don't really have an answer. In my experience, if you really love someone, you never stop loving them. In time, your feelings may fade, or you may be able to transmute them into something more platonic, but they may never fully go away. This is the case whether said person you are in love with is straight or gay and unavailable.

Personally, I've had two significant experiences in this realm. The first took place while I was in high school and closeted. I was a loner in high school, but I did have one really close friend with whom I spent most of my free time. He was straight, and in the end didn't deal well with my coming out, but he was one of the people who still stuck with me the summer when my parents found out I was gay. But prior to that we were next to inseparable. We'd go out every night and not really do anything, just drive around, listen to music, maybe grab something at the local diner/hangout, and talk. It was the talks that bonded us, and I really found myself caring for him more than I wanted. In the end, though, life took us in separate directions. I went back to Amherst permanently after being disowned and haven't seen him in years. I still wonder how he's doing though and hope he's happy.

The second relationship is a little more complicated in that both parties involved have contributed to the problem. Right after I was disowned I met this guy out and immediately fell for him -- in fact, I credit him with keeping me sane and alive during that period between being disowned and going back to school. We didn't end up dating at that point -- mostly because he knew I was emotionally incapable of a healthy relationship at that point, but we did date for several months about a year later. We ended up breaking up because the circumstances surrounding our relationship were bad, and since have remained good friends, even going so far as to move out to San Francisco together last year. The problem is, although we both have mutually agreed that a romantic relationship won't work, I'm still deeply in love with him, and I suspect the reverse to also be true. So how do I deal with this?

The first thing to remember is that when things become unbearable, it's time to build up a little distance between you and the other person. Give yourself time and space for your emotions to cool down. This, however, is only a temporary solution, and the design is not to make your feelings go away (although it is possible that they will), but to keep your emotions from overheating and leading you to make a move you may regret later. Time and distance will also give you a chance to look over your options and perhaps find a new relationship in which your feelings will be requited. But in order for that to happen....

The next step is to recognize that the notion of a person having only one true love in their life is for all intents and purposes a myth. As human beings, we are taught from an early age to love many people -- our parents, brothers and sisters, grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles, etc. These loves don't just disappear once one finds a partner. Why then should a relationship in which you love someone that doesn't return your feelings in the same way make it impossible for you to find someone else to love who will love you in return? One love doesn't cancel out the possibility of other loves, and if you allow yourself to open up to the possibility of other loves, than it will only allow your capacity for love to grow. In the gay community, we often talk about forming new families. Part of this of course is because many of us have very dysfunctional relationships with our biological families, and may also have to do with the basic fact that it takes a bit of effort for us to actually biologically create our own families. But I think another part of this is simply that in the gay community we allow for a broader amount of love to be spread amongst ourselves so that we create familial bonds with ex-lovers, close friends, etc that so often are ruled out in heterosexual society where marriage seems to close the doors for many to love beyond the person with whom they are married.

The final important thing here is to make sure that you aren't basing your own self worth upon whether or not you can get this person to love you or upon your ability to stop loving this unavailable person. Make sure you have things in your life that give you a sense of fulfillment and pride. And keep busy -- being active will keep you from brooding over said person. Beyond that, well, if you come up with something let me know.

Question: Should I come out to my parent?

Again, this is a question that has many different answers, and all of them have merit. The typical PFLAG answer I believe is to wait until you are financially independent. Although I agree that that is important (although I modify it as you'll see in my answer), this isn't the only consideration.

The first consideration I think is to make sure you know who you are. Coming out to one's parents can be extremely draining emotionally, and it's important for you to be rock solid in your self-identity so that your parents can't shake your belief and knowledge of yourself. Remember, your parents are the people who have known you from birth, and their understanding of who you are has been not only fundamentally in you but in themselves. By showing them part of you that they don't see, you are rocking their world rather heavily.

Second, consider what the worst case scenario will be when they find out. Then prepare for something worse. There have been many kids with liberal minded parents who had lots of gay friends that were still thrown out when their parents found out they were gay. But don't wallow in the worst case scenario either. Lots of kids with rather conservative parents have been accepted by their parents upon coming out. So prepare for the worst, but don't automatically expect it. After all, if everything goes well, you wouldn't want to be disappointed.

Third, and part of preparing yourself, is to consider how important is your family to you. What would it mean to you to be cut off from your parents? Your siblings? What is most important to you, your sexuality or your family? Is it more important for you to be truthful about who you are regardless of the consequences or to maintain a harmonious relationship? How important is your sexuality to your self-identity? These are all questions for which the answers may change over time, but at any given time should be considered very carefully and thoroughly before you decide to come out.

Fourth, check your safety nets. Do you have money saved away to live on should you be thrown out? Do you have friends who would help you out with money, a couch to crash, food, rides to school or work, etc? Do you have a job? How does your school deal with gay issues? Would it provide services to help you out? Are there gay organizations in the area (or a local chapter of PFLAG) that you could turn to for support? What are you willing to do if push came to shove and you needed support? Is there extended family that might help you out? Do you have the internal and external resources to survive should your parents remove their financial support?

Fifth, make sure you are being realistic about your expectations for the future. What are your current plans/dreams? How would they be affected if your parents react negatively to your coming out? Are you thinking that you can always just run to the big city (SF, NYC, LA, etc) if worst comes to worst (hint: don't count on it, and if you can, it won't be easy there either)? How do you see your plans evolving dependent on your parent's reaction to your coming out, or do you think they will stay the same? Will the rewards of coming out be of more benefit to you in the long run than the short-term difficulties it might cause?

If you have a good handle on your safety nets, feel that being honest about who you are to your family is of vital importance regardless of their reaction, and are sure enough of who you are to withstand a wave of emotional turmoil, then I say you might as well come out to your parents. If you don't feel that secure, then you probably should wait. But then, that's just my opinion.


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