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The In And Out Couple


If you and your partner have different ideas about what it means to be out, here’s how to cope.

By Brian Underwood

n some debates with a date — think chocolate vs. vanilla — it’s fine to agree to disagree. But when it comes to issues of sexuality — degrees of “out-ness,” if you will — it’s harder to navigate the difference. Pair a guy who doesn’t think being gay defines who he is (and thus doesn’t care to let everyone know about it) with a person who sees it as an essential component of his identity, and you’ve got a recipe for conflict, right? Maybe not. “If you’re willing to compromise and discuss your differences, you’re more likely to see what you have in common and the relationship can be successful,” says Brian Carpenter, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychology at Washington University in St. Louis who works with gay couples. Here, five situations that can create friction for this kind of gay couple—and how to make it work.

Situation #1: Your partner only wants to hang out in gay bars or restaurants
Sure, the Man Machine is great every once in awhile, but occasionally you’d like to
For some gay men, being out to their parents is that last frontier…
drink somewhere that doesn’t involve cage dancing or cruising. Your man, on the other hand, prefers to stick with his scene. “If this is your biggest gripe, consider yourself lucky—it’s a fairly easy one to move past,” explains Carpenter. Ask your boyfriend if he’d mind if you took turns planning dates. When it’s your night, you can lead him to any old restaurant, bar, or even other activity that you choose. If a beau is unwilling to compromise here, it may be a sign that he’ll be just as selfish when it comes to bigger issues.

Situation #2: Your partner is all about PDA—and you aren’t
Before bringing this up with your boyfriend, try to figure out why his behavior makes you so upset, suggests Yvonne Fulbright, Ph.D., author of Sex With Your Ex: And 69 Other Things You Should Never Do Again. Is it because you aren’t comfortable expressing affection with another man? If so, this isn’t something that he needs to work out. If it’s simply that you don’t think constant hand-holding or kissing in public is appropriate for any couple, let him know. “Tell him that you really enjoy your physical connection but would prefer to keep it private, as something that only the two of you share,” she adds. This will get your point across, without the sting of rejection that pushing his hands away carries.

Situation #3: Your partner calls you his “friend” to co-workers and pals.
“This can be a delicate situation since many gay individuals feel that they will be fired or denied promotions as a result of their sexuality,” explains sex and relationship expert Brian Parker, Ph.D. And many folks, gay and straight, don’t use the b-word until they’re
Explain why you prefer private gestures of affection to PDAs.
officially in an exclusive relationship. So ask your partner why he won’t say “boyfriend,” and tell him that his neutral names make you feel undervalued. If he can’t provide you with a legitimate response, it may mean that he isn’t comfortable recognizing you as his boyfriend—and it’s time to move on. If, however, he expresses a valid concern (“I work in a conservative office and I’m fearful of discrimination”), try to be understanding. One idea: Make a point to introduce him to friends in similar situations who might be able to offer support and advice on working with people who can be narrow-minded.

Situation #4: Your partner is active in the gay community and it makes you uncomfortable
It’s not realistic to ask a guy to give up a cause he’s passionate about any more than for him to expect you to cancel your weekly tennis lesson. So start by asking him what he expects from his partner in terms of activism—you may just find out that the perceived pressure to get on board with gay causes is coming from within, not from your guy. Then let him know what specifically you’re uncomfortable with—say, that you’re fine with going to parades, but you don’t want to attend protests. And try attending one of his meetings yourself. “This may help lessen your fears or anxieties about the causes he’s active in,” says Patrick Perrine, Ph.D., who is a matchmaker and relationship consultant for the gay community. Look, if you two disagree on certain root beliefs behind the politics or you can’t support his interests, you may not be a viable match. But as long as you’re both clear about what you expect, you’re applying to be his boyfriend, not his campaign manager.

Situation #5: Your partner isn’t “out” to his parents, and you wish he were
For some gay men, being “out” to the world is much easier than being “out” to the folks, so definitely start with empathy, says Jack Mauro, author of M4M: For an Hour or Forever—The Gay Man’s Guide to Finding Love Online. Start by asking your partner why this is such difficult step for him and try to understand his relationship with his parents. “You’ll most likely discover that his sexuality is the least of his demons and the issue may start to lose its importance to you,” says Mauro. Or try explaining that his reticence makes you feel stigmatized. “Ask him to think of the roadblocks he’s inviting by protecting his parents over his own happiness,” adds Mauro. Hopefully, he’ll get the picture, but ultimately, you have to realize that this is a lifelong issue for him—it’s not about you.

So, armed with these insights, see if you can make your “odd couple” pairing thrive. In some cases, these issues can be worked through and will diminish or vanish over time… in other situations, you may find that your head and heart lead you elsewhere. But learning to confront these scenarios is a vital step in achieving the relationship you crave.


New York City writer Brian Underwood has written for Fitness, Organic Style, Good Housekeeping, Cosmopolitan, Passport, and Women’s Health.
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