“I Live with My Girlfriend and Her Kids, But They Still Think I’m Just Her ‘Best Friend'”

I’m a 29-year-old lesbian who has been out for 12 years, dating my 43-year-girlfriend a little over a year, and living with her for seven months. She has three boys (20,12,6) and only the eldest knows we’re a couple. (Even then, it took her about three months after I moved in to tell him.) I’m the first woman she has seriously dated and she refuses to tell her youngest two that we are together, although they see me sleeping in the same bed with her and hear me calling her “babe.” It’s starting to take an emotional toll on me. She has sought the advice of older cousins (also lesbian) and taken their practice of “don’t ask don’t tell” to adapt as her own.

The kids seem to interact well with me, so I don’t see the problem in just telling them we’re together, especially since I’m considered part of the family now as the “best friend.” She’s afraid that they might resent her or treat me differently, but considering the good rapport I seem to have with them — and based on what I’ve learned acquiring a masters in social psychology — I strongly disagree. I feel like I have to hide who I am, and I’ve expressed to her how uncomfortable that makes me feel, to which she’s replied to just “be patient” until she’s ready. What’s more confusing is she hints at the idea of marriage. I’m on the brink of wanting to move out (not necessarily break up) until she tells them, but she has told me I’m giving her an ultimatum.

Do you have advice? — Not Out in the House

Well, yeah, you are giving her an ultimatum, but why is that a bad thing? You should ask her that. Why is an ultimatum a bad thing? Obviously, she doesn’t want to feel pressured, she wants to take her time, she wants to wait until she feels ready to be open to be open… but in that case, why would she have you move in with her? And also: What about what YOU want? Why is this all on her timetable? Because she’s the one with kids? Because it’s her house you’re living in? Because she’s older?

Feeling like your relationship isn’t validated in the place you’re currently calling home is problematic, yes. But what I would feel even more concerned about is the dynamic that is being established where her concerns are worth more than yours, and that when you push for some kind of balance, she accuses you of giving her an ultimatum, like that’s a bad thing. It’s not a bad thing to want what you want and to take back what you’re giving if you don’t feel it’s being reciprocated. She can call it an ultimatum all she wants, but you should call it self-respect. So, yes, please tell her either she comes out to her kids about your relationship or you’re moving out. And please do not take such a big step of moving in together ever again until your partner is willing to acknowledge to the people closest to her that she’s in love with you. That’s kind of a bare minimum qualifier for moving forward.

My partner and I are in our 30s, and we’ve been together for six months. He started dating me about three months after leaving his ex of seven years. He had pretty much been mostly away from her for the better part of a year (working away or staying with his mom). The big push for him to leave came when she went to rehab (she had been a severe alcoholic most of the relationship). He won’t call me his girlfriend, but he isn’t seeing anyone else; he just says he can’t give me what I want, but we spend a ton of time together.

He didn’t want to tell his ex about me and it bothered me, but what bothered me more was constantly seeing his phone light up with her name. Now we’re quarantined together and she thinks he’s alone and is constantly calling and texting to check in. He says he can’t ignore her or tell her about me, because he’s afraid she’ll kill herself. He also said he doesn’t really answer. I, of course, hacked his phone and know he texts her first every day and tells her he can’t answer because he’s working but he misses her and it will all be ok. My mom was an alcoholic who died, and I feel like an alcoholic is controlling my emotions again. Can I leave him for this??

We’re staying at his mom’s house. He moved in with her after breaking up with the ex. I’ve never met his mom – she just bought a house a state away and that’s where she’s been. She comes back in three days and he’s making me leave to go back to Harlem and the heart of the pandemic. We’re in Westchester, about a 20-minute drive from Harlem. We don’t live together, but he seems like he’d be fine with it once he has a job, but not in the city. What do you think? — Feeling Controlled

This is definitely not the time to be talking about living together. You’ve been dating only six months, you are not exclusive, he won’t call you his girlfriend, he tells you he can’t give you want you want, you don’t trust him, you have to “hack into his phone” to keep tabs on him even though you’re actually quarantined together 24-7, he’s in daily contact with an ex he says is a suicidal alcoholic whom he won’t tell about you, he has a history of looking like a not very good boyfriend (he spent a whole year avoiding his girlfriend of seven years and then left her when she went to rehab), and he seems unconcerned with sending you back to the middle of a pandemic outbreak (although, to be fair, Westchester was an epicenter just a few weeks ago when the lockdown – and I’m assuming your quarantine together – started). To be honest, the heart of a pandemic sounds like a preferable place to be than where you hope this non-relationship with a man who has literally told you he does not want what you want turns into a relationship.

You’re on a road to nowhere with this guy, and while none of us is going anywhere these days, most of us will get a green light eventually while you’ll still be driving head-first into a dead end. I think you already know what you need to do, but in case seeing the words from someone else helps them crystallize for you, here you go: it’s time to MOA.

I have been dating someone for eight years off and on without knowing he was attracted to women with auburn hair, but then on March 31st he asked me to change my hair color to auburn. Of course, I wanted to know why that color, and he said because my hair has always been black. Eight years with this man and not once has he mentioned anything about changing my hair color. I have seen pictures of his past girlfriends and their hair is not black. They all have auburn or lighter hair. My gut feeling is telling me that he isn’t over someone else. What do you think? — No Auburn Here

I have red hair and, to my knowledge, my husband never dated a redhead before me. If he, after 14 years with me, suddenly asked me to change my hair to black, I’d have a lot of thoughts about it: “Who the fuck is he to tell me what to do with my hair?”; “I LIKE my hair color, so no”; “Maybe it’s time to introduce a wig and some role-playing into the relationship?”; “Oh man, four weeks of quarantine is making us all a little cray.” But none of them would be: “OH MY GOD, he’s not over someone from his past who has black hair!” And you know why that thought would never occur to me? Because our relationship is solid, and I am 100% confident in us (even – nay, especially – as we spend 24 hours a day together for weeks on end).

If your first thought, after being with the guy for eight years, is that, when he asks you to change your hair color, he’s pining away for someone else, then you are decidedly not confident in your relationship. And if, after eight years together on and off, you still have doubts, it is time to move the hell on and call it “off” for good. Whatever it is that keeps bringing you back together is not enough to hold you there and it’s not enough to override all the reasons you keep breaking up. Feeling like your boyfriend is trying to make you look like someone else he isn’t over should really be the nail in the coffin, don’t you think?

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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy(AT)dearwendy.com.


  1. YAY Wendy’s Back!!!!!! I have missed reading your advice since your break.

    LW1: You are not being fulfilled in your relationship because you feel like a shameful dirty secret. She gets the benefit of a supportive partner while disregarding your feelings. Undoubted the kids know that you are not simply a “friend” . Also, keep in mind an ultimatum only works if you are willing to follow through. Tell her girlfriend that you are tired of being shoved back in the closet and if she she remains uncomfortable disclosing your relationship, you will be moving out at X date. Make sure you have your housing lined up and ready to go because I have a feeling she is not going to be be truthful to her friends and family.
    LW2: This man is not your BF. You are a 6 month extended booty call that he can snap his fingers and make you appear and disappear whenever he wants. Do his friends know about you? What is his excuse for not having you meet his mother – is she a suicidal alcoholic too? Dump him – he is not worth the drama.
    LW3: Umm what? If after 8 years you have never noticed that your BF was pining for some auburn haired ex, don’t you think this is a huge leap? You can always ask him why he is interested in the change – maybe he just thinks it would suit you.

  2. Wow, that first letter really hit me. I lived that life, but as one of the kids. My mom and dad got divorced in about 1979? and not too long after that, a woman moved into our house. I was 6? 7? and I never once thought that she was anything but my mom’s friend. Sure, they slept in the same room, but our house only had 3 bedrooms, and with three kids (one boy, two girls) it only made sense. I was literally clueless FOR YEARS what was really going on. I mean a decade? They acted like platonic friends. They still do more or less. They keep their relationship very quiet and are not very physically demonstrative. I think my feelings about it are probably different for my situation than for the LW’s. It was early 80’s. Divorce was still frowned upon. I remember my brother being incredibly embarrassed that he was the only kid in his class whose parents were divorced. Being gay was certainly not as acceptable as it is today. Looking back, some parents would not let their kids play at our house. I didn’t understand why then, but it makes sense now. When I was in junior high, somehow some girls found out that were a year older than I was, and I was constantly harassed and bullied by them because of it. They’d call me “lezzy” and all sorts of other things and shove me in gym when the teacher wasn’t looking. Even then, I had no idea why.

    Should anyone have to live in the closet? No way. But, if this mother is choosing to live in the closet for her own reasons, she also gets to make that choice. Why though these women chose to move in together when their relationship was not out AND they both did not agree with this is beyond me. Your girlfriend gets to make the choice as to what she shares with her kids. If you are not happy with that decision, then I would agree you need to move on. My mom and her partner were both on the same page and are as quiet today about it as they were 40 years ago. They are both happy with the choice. You two are simply not compatible.

  3. Jennifer —
    I disagree. The world has changed a lot in 40 years. It’s view of same-sex relationships, in particular, has changed a lot in American society. Not among religious conservatives, but for the large majority. I don’t think your mother’s situation is all that relevant here.

    I see this situation as similar to the guy in the other letter who’s kicking his gf out and back to a coronavirus hotspot: no real love here for LW, she is just an extended booty call.

    1. I thought I was trying to get that point across in my post. I’m kind of annoyed that you didn’t find it relevant. People respond all the time to questions with their own experiences. I was giving my experience of what things were like 40 years ago and then trying to say that things are a lot different now.

      If the girlfriend doesn’t want to acknowledge her relationship, it is time for LW to move on.

      1. Bittergaymark says:

        I thought your story was VERY relevant.

      2. bloodymediocrity says:

        Yeah I don’t know what Ron is on about. That’s completley relevant. It’s hard to imagine a personal anecdote that is more relevant.

        People may not be as violently rejecting of same-sex pairings as they were in the 80s, but it’s very much not accepted in huge swaths of the country. It’s currently between 60 and 70 percent accepting, which is pretty good compared to where we were, but it only takes one angry homophobe to harass, assault or kill someone. I definitely understand why someone wouldn’t feel safe coming out.

      3. bloodymediocrity says:

        That said, she absolutely should come out to her kids. If not for her partner’s sake, then for her own kids. She needs to model acceptance, because her own kids may be gay, straight, bi, trans, etc.

      4. Bittergaymark says:

        Kids get bullied not ONLY for being gay — but for having gay parents… Depending on where the LW lives that could be a real problem. Sad — but true.

  4. I’d like to back up a second on LW1. You’ve been dating a year and living together for seven months? That means you moved in with someone with kids after only five months of dating. WHY? What’s the hurry?

    That’s too soon to move in with anyone, let alone someone with kids.

    I can’t imagine moving someone in without sitting down with the kids and talking about it — who this person is, whether the kids were okay with it, answering any questions they had. But none of that would really be super-necessary if they were already SOLID with that person. These kids couldn’t have been solid with you after only five months.

  5. Bittergaymark says:

    LW1). Hate to say it, but… Many of you are awfully naive. Depending on where the LW lives, her girlfriend could risk the custody of her children if she was out. Seriously. Especially now with the Courts more and more clogged with garbage Trump appointments — all of whom should just — you know — eat shit and die. Or maybe instead have their heads slowly sawed off with fucking butter knife.

    LW2). Oh, for crying out loud — MOA. Or start randomly asking him if he’d ever — you know — consider enlarging his penis. If he asks why? Just be vague. “Oh, I don’t know, sweetie. I was just wondering… “ Let him think you are NOT over somebody.

    1. Bittergaymark says:

      Whoops. Edit —- Make that LW3.

      LW2 — your problem was so dreary and obvious I didn’t’ even remember reading it. That’s how much of a cliche’ it is. MOA.

    2. That was my first thought, that custody of the kids would be threatened, or at least a drawn out, expensive court battle. Where I live in the deep south its not inconceivable she’d lose all contact with her kids for her “deviant” lifestyle. She’s significantly older than you, im a few years younger, and I vividly remember the hate and distrust queer people were given during the 80’s & 90’s and beyond. You’re pretty young and have probably grown up with lots of support. She might have a different reality. Obviously, Nobody should live a secretive life they don’t want to live! It might come down to you’re just not compatible. Her level of openness doesn’t align with yours. Nobody’s wrong here. It’s not an ultimatum to say you need to be with someone who is completely open about your relationship, that’s a boundary. And a reasonable one

  6. allathian says:

    LW1: I think you should ask your gf why she’s so resistant to telling her children the truth. Ask if she’s worried about losing custody or access to them if she comes out to them, because kids are all too prone to tell people about their lives and you can’t really ask them to keep mom’s live-in gf a secret. She’s probably out to her eldest because he’s over 18 and she doesn’t have custody of him even if you’re living in the same household. If she’s in the closet because she’s afraid of losing custody of her kids if she’s out, you need to decide if you can live like that or not. But you two really need to talk, this is obviously a big thing for you.

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