“Matt” and I met the first week of college and have been close ever since. Over the last ten years, we’ve seen each other through a family crisis or two, break ups, unemployment…the list goes on. We have so many wonderful memories and I love him dearly. We’ve been living together the last three months and — other than typical roommate issues — everything is going well. Yesterday, I had lunch with another old friend. She used to be very close to Matt (they dated briefly a million years ago), but they have been growing apart for a while. During our conversation yesterday, she dropped a huge bomb. Five years ago, Matt confessed to her that he was attracted to men and made her vow not to tell anyone. After he told her, he gradually shut her out of his life. She burst into tears as she was telling me this — obviously, it has been a huge burden for her to not share this with anyone and watch her friendship dissolve. She said she wondered if he’d told me as well, but was always too afraid to bring it up. She said she trusts me to do what I feel is best with this information, even if it means telling Matt that she told me.
I want to bring it up with Matt, but he hates confrontation and has a history of responding poorly to tough conversations. To further complicate things, we have a ton of mutual friends whom we see regularly, and they’ve always come to me and asked, “Is he gay?” I always said something like, “Well, he says he’s not.” Over the years, I’ve asked him if he thought he might be gay, emphasizing that it doesn’t matter to me if he is (I love gays!), but he always said no. When this comes up in conversation again amongst our friends (and it definitely WILL), I don’t know that I will be able to lie about it — even if I wanted to. Finally, I’m feeling a lot of emotion about this. Of course, my heart aches for my dear friend who has been keeping this secret for so long. But my feelings are hurt that he hasn’t told me the truth – after all we’ve gone through together and everything I’ve told him. I’m feeling a bit betrayed and angry that he would lie to me when I’ve invested so much in being a good friend to him over the years.
Today is my birthday and all of us are going to dinner. We’ll be officially celebrating this Saturday night. I’m feeling pretty overwhelmed about how to approach this, deal with my emotions and let it go so I can have a fun time this week with all my birthday plans. And ultimately, I want to do the most loving thing for him — without compromising my own integrity or my living situation. — Worried Birthday Girl
First of all, happy birthday. If you want to make sure your birthday — and, more important, your friendship with Matt — aren’t ruined, you need to keep your mouth shut about his sexuality. The truth is, if Matt wanted you to know he’s gay, he would have told you, especially since you’ve actually asked him about it several times. He doesn’t want to tell you and as much as that may hurt your feelings, it’s his choice, and he likely has some very good reasons for not “coming out” to you. For one thing, maybe he hasn’t figured out yet what his sexuality is. All you have to go by is your own hunch and third party information that was learned five years ago. Furthermore, that information wasn’t even that Matt was/is gay. It’s that he was at one point attracted to men. Does that mean he’s still attracted to men? Not necessarily. Does that mean he’s attracted only to men? Who knows! Maybe Matt doesn’t even know, and that could be one reason he hasn’t chosen to share his sexuality preference with you.
When and if he’s ever ready to tell you whom he’s attracted to, you’ll know then. In the mean time, who cares?! What difference does it really make? It doesn’t change your friendship with him, does it? It doesn’t change your living arrangements, right? The only benefit I can see in your knowing whether or not Matt is gay is that he might feel liberated and more free to share details about his love life with you, which would might or might not strengthen your friendship and make it easier to live together. But, again, that’s Matt choice to make. Not yours. I cannot stress this enough. It is not your place to drag whatever Matt’s truth is out of him, particularly if he isn’t even sure what it is.
As far as answering the prodding questions from your mutual friends, why do you have to lie when they ask if Matt’s gay? You don’t know the definitive answer to that. All you have to say is, “I don’t know” or “Matt’s never told me whether he is or not.” End of story. I’m concerned that you have this need/desire to share more than that. If Matt’s as good of a friend as you say he is — so much so that you’re hurt he hasn’t come out to you — wouldn’t you want to protect his privacy? And to that end, even if you did have to tell a little white lie, who cares? Wouldn’t that be more important to you than sharing some juicy gossip with a bunch of nosy busybodies? (And, seriously, what’s wrong with them that they haven’t been able to drop the subject for years now? Why is it so important to know whom Matt thinks is hot? Are they still in junior high? If Matt wanted all of them in on his personal business, he’d tell them his personal business!!) I’m also wondering if maybe Matt suspects you don’t necessarily have his best interest at heart and that’s why he’s been hesitant to fully open up to you about his sexuality. Or maybe he knows what a “burden” it’s been for your mutual friend — the one he dated a million years ago — to know his secret, and he’s chosen to spare you a similar “burden.” Just something to think about.
Anyway, go enjoy your birthday. Enjoy the friendships you have. And take some time in the year ahead to refelect on what it means to be a good friend. Is it simply sharing everything about yourself, or is it accepting the people you love exactly where they are — flaws and wounds and all — and letting them grow at their own pace? As for the integrity you’re so concerned with not compromising, I’d say it takes a bigger dose to honor and protect one’s friends than it does to indulge in needless gossip. Maybe that’s something else worth thinking about as you gain another year of wisdom.
*If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, send me your letters at firstname.lastname@example.org.