“We’re the Only Same-Sex Couple in our Area and I Feel Self-Conscious”

I am a 29-year-old woman who has been dating a 30-year-old woman for the last three years. Until a few months ago, we lived in separate places with roommates. My girlfriend did this to save money to put a down payment on a house, and when she finally found one that she wanted to buy, she invited me to move in with her. I happily said “yes.” She is a wonderful person and I love her very much.

Here’s the issue: On the first night in our home we had decided to settle in on the couch and watch some Netflix. She told me she’d be a minute and went into the bedroom. When she came out, she was wearing nothing but her undies with a white t-shirt tucked neatly into the waistband and a pair of socks. I thought that it was odd but figured that she was just too warm from all of the moving we did that day. It turns out that she does this every night!

Right after supper, she strips down and spends the rest of the evening walking around the house in just her undershirt and underwear. The other night she even took the garbage out dressed like that. I knew from the times that we slept over at each other’s places that this is what she wore to bed, and I have to admit that I find it cute when she does it, but that was done in the privacy of our bedrooms. Now when she’s doing this so openly, I worry about what the neighbors in our small town will think if they see her like that.

I want to talk to her about my concerns, but I feel like I might be overstepping my boundaries. On one hand, it’s her place and she deserves to be comfortable. It’s not like a t-shirt tucked into a big pair of cotton panties can be thought of as skimpy or revealing. On the other hand, I feel super-conscious about being the only same sex couple in our area and worry about negative attention.

She’s the first woman that I have ever dated after years of exclusively dating men. I grew up in a house where my dad walked around in his briefs all of the time and never thought twice about it. Is it different when a woman strolls around in her undies? Am I being too sensitive? I don’t want to make a big deal out of something that is trivial. Any advice on how to handle this would be appreciated. – Anxious Partner

This isn’t really about what your girlfriend is wearing around the house or to take out the garbage. You summed up the real problem very succinctly in your second to last paragraph where you wrote: “I feel super-conscious about being the only same sex couple in our area and worry about negative attention.” After all, you weren’t bothered by your girlfriend wearing a t-shirt and underwear around her house before you lived together – you thought it was cute! – but now that your relationship has progressed to living together, you are self-conscious about what the neighbors think. And it’s not your girlfriend’s attire you’re self-conscious about, but the actual existence of you two together, living as a domestic couple – a lone example of same-sex love in a sea of heterosexuality. The spotlight probably feels glaring.

So, what do you do? Well, this is the time to lean in on and strengthen the bonds of your community. First, you should have a queer community where you can feel at home. Besides your girlfriend, is there anyone else in your general vicinity who identifies as queer? These can be your people where, in their presence, you should be able to suspend any self-consciousness around feeling different. This is the community that gets where you’re coming from and can support you through the various feelings that come along with being a marginalized group.

But your queer community isn’t the only group that can love and support you! There are allies – some who may live right in your neighborhood. Maybe you can recognize them by flags or signs they hang in their windows. Maybe it’s their warmth and general welcoming vibe that clues you in. These are people who are glad you and your girlfriend are there and want you to stay. They are your community too.

There’s also your girlfriend who can support you. Does she know that you’re feeling self-conscious about being the only same-sex couple in your area? You should talk to her about this. She may have more experience in same-sex relationships and can share her wisdom and advice with you.

I think it’s also ok to express to your girlfriend that you feel funny that she takes out the garbage in her underwear, and ask if she could wear a robe or shorts or pants when outside the house. This request should be separate from the discussions about your feelings around being the only same-sex couple in the neighborhood as they really aren’t related. It’s common courtesy to practice at least a little modesty when out in public, and being outside the home – even for a quick trip to take out garbage or check mail – really should necessitate covering one’s underwear. This is the case regardless of one’s sexual identity or relationship status.

Also, it’s important that you feel some agency in your home, and I’m concerned that you don’t. You refer to the house you’re living in as your girlfriend’s place – a house she saved up to buy and then invited you to move into with her. Are you paying any rent? If so, you’re entitled to set some boundaries of your own; you’re entitled to express your desires in regards to your home – design choices, for example, or your comfort levels around all sorts of things, from temperature to noise and everything in between.

If you are not paying rent, I would highly recommend you start, or that you work out a budget that calls for a financial contribution from you that helps balance the power a bit in the relationship. When one person in a couple owns the home they both live in AND pays most of the bills, the power dynamic is skewed. If this is the case with you, I could see why you’d struggle with speaking up about things that might upset you. This is not a healthy dynamic.

Finally, as someone who is new to a queer lifestyle – your girlfriend is the first woman you’ve ever dated after exclusively dating men – you might benefit from talking to a therapist about the feelings you have around your sexual identity. I’m thinking that living in a small town where you are one of few queer people must be pretty isolating and that you maybe haven’t had the privilege of your identity being embraced and celebrated in ways it might be in more gay-friendly communities. A therapist could help you unpack the self-consciousness you’re feeling and guide you to not only acceptance but actual pride in who you are. (If you go this route, I’d suggest looking online for therapists that specialize in sexual identity – you may need to look outside your own area for someone who can talk with you over Zoom or the equivalent.)

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