“We Fell in Love When I Was Her High-Class Escort”

I’m a 26-year-old woman, and my partner is a 48-year-old woman. She hasn’t come out yet, despite promising that she will. While we love each other deeply and are incredibly devoted to one another, I’m feeling quite desperate and overwhelmed knowing that the dynamics of our relationship, which were shaped by our history and how we met, are something we might never alter.

We met when I was 19, working as a high-class escort to get through college and pay for my living expenses. She was a typical client – a middle-aged woman with lesbian tendencies exploring her sexuality after a divorce. She became a regular client, and over the years, we grew closer. But my involvement in the escort industry exposed me to drugs, and eventually, I lost control of my addiction. She stepped in, got me into rehab, and covered all the expenses. For six weeks, she visited me regularly in rehab. When I left, she promised to take care of me forever, and we’ve been living together since then. She’s been my rock, supporting and loving me unconditionally, for which I’m eternally grateful.

However, it’s become clear that I leaned on her too much. I was in a terrible place and desperately needed help, and now that can’t be undone. We’ve developed a dynamic where she feels I’m her responsibility, and she financially provides for everything. I’ve recently started working to contribute, but she has a high-paying director position in a big company, and I can’t keep up. This situation has led to her exerting control over certain aspects of my life, all with good intentions, but it still feels like she’s taking care of me. For example, she feels she can tell me who I should be friends with and who I shouldn’t, when I should be getting home, and what I should be doing with my life.

Then there’s the issue of her coming out. She comes from a conservative community in our state, and even though we now live in a liberal city, she struggles with coming out to her family. Her 14-year-old son, who lives with his father, visits on weekends, and when he’s here, I stay in the guest room because he thinks I’m just a friend living with his mom. She says she’ll come out when the time is right, but deep down, I doubt she ever will. I can’t help but feel that I’m the reason she won’t come out, that she might be embarrassed to face the world and her family with me and for me. I wish I were stronger or had fewer problems. I wish I were more like her, both career-wise and financially. If I were, I think it might have changed our relationship dynamics, making her more comfortable with coming out. Am I right? — No Longer Her Responsibility

I think there are a lot of things at play within your relationship dynamic, which I agree sounds imbalanced at best (and dysfunctional and unhealthy at worst. But you really discredit yourself when you suggest that if you were more like your partner, your dynamic would be different. This suggests that YOU are the problem or that you are the one who needs to be different. And that’s kind of the heart of your dynamic, isn’t it? Ever since you met when you were 19, your role has been someone in need and your partner has been the one to meet those needs. But you never gave yourself – and she never gave you – the chance to outgrow that role in your relationship.

While neither of you may have fostered a change in the roles you play in your relationship, you have naturally evolved past who you were at 19 or 20 or 24 and now you want a balanced adult relationship, but I don’t think that’s what your partner wants. I think she’s probably pretty happy to keep you in the role of an emotionally and financially dependent adolescent because that suits her – it gives her a sense of power in your relationship.

Sacrificing any sense of power threatens the control she’s carefully constructed. She risks losing power by coming out to her family and by giving you freedom to grow and explore your evolving identity. But this is not what love looks like. Love involves making sacrifices. It’s not a sacrifice for your partner to pay your bills if she has plenty of money. By definition, a sacrifice is a loss. It’s giving up something that results in an absence.

There can be a lot of meaning in sacrifice (this is why major religions include practices of sacrifice, like fasting or giving up something enjoyable during lent). The idea is that giving something up helps us prioritize what’s important and then center that priority in our lives. And while it doesn’t sound like your partner is interested in sacrificing anything, I would urge you to make some sacrifices in order to learn what is most important and meaningful to you.

What should you sacrifice? I would suggest sacrificing the comfort you’ve grown accustomed to by living with your partner. I would advise – I AM advising – that you move out and get your own place. Put your relationship on hold, or simply continue it as two people – two people of equal standing in the relationship – who live apart. Get to know who you are as an adult. Nurture your independence. See what it feels like to live outside the glare of your partner’s controlling focus. Learn what is most important to you and what you want to prioritize and center going forward.

It’s one thing for your partner to support you through rehab, but if her support for you doesn’t extend beyond the limits of your financial needs, she doesn’t actually support YOU. If she can’t support your quest for more independence and learning who you are as an adult and what you want, she simply supports fostering her own power in your relationship dynamic, and that’s not love at all. It’s better you learn that now rather than spending another seven years in a relationship that stifles and stunts your individuality.

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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.