“Don’t Hold My Hand”

For a gay man dating someone who’s not out yet, the question often is, Can this relationship be saved? Here’s how to figure out the answer.

By Chris Barillas

f you’re like most out and proud gay men—running to make that dinner date, working out in that downtown gym—the closet is where you hang your favorite Paul Smith shirt, not where you find a date. But what if chemistry and dumb luck conspire, and you find yourself dating someone still coming to terms with being gay? What then? Here are some tips that will guide you through this tricky situation...
Sit back and let them reveal themselves slowly.
hopefully to a satisfying and open relationship.

1. Listen and learn.
Once you’ve established the person sitting across from you at dinner is closeted, don’t shut down. Let them tell you their story. “It’s easier to make snap judgments, to brand someone a ‘closet case’ and walk away, than it is to put yourself in their shoes,” says Michigan-based author and counselor Joe Kort. Be respectful of other people’s experiences. “That’s true in any dating scenario, but when it comes to coming out, we tend to measure others against our own experiences. And that’s not always helpful.” Instead, sit back and let them reveal themselves slowly.

2. Check your expectations.
Understand that this situation isn’t likely to follow the same unspoken signals and rules you live by. There are going to be huge differences in how you both perceive things. If the mood suddenly changes; if he becomes disengaged and moody when it’s time to say good-night, don’t take it the wrong way. He may simply be terrified by what he’s feeling. “Things are going to progress in sudden stops and starts,” says Kort. “That requires patience.”

3. Give it time.
Don’t think a week or two is long enough for someone in the closet to “get on with it already.” Give the object of your affection more time, advises Gregory Cason, a California psychologist specializing in gay issues. “In a normal dating situation, you might not pursue someone who pulled back from your attempt at a kiss,” Cason says. “But for someone still struggling with their sexuality, that’s a very big step. Make a promise to yourself that you’ll give the
Taking it upon yourself to hurry someone out of the closet is a waste of time.
relationship, say, two months, and at the end of that time, gauge how you feel. If you think things are moving in the right direction, stay at it. If you’re unhappy and frustrated, at least you gave it a fair shake.”

4. Don’t push.
Taking it upon yourself to hurry someone out of the closet is a waste of time. “You’re not responsible for their progress, so let go of the fantasy that you’re going to change them,” says Cason. “People stay in the closet because they feel prejudice from the outside world and are insecure about their place in it. It’s an internal struggle they have to work through on their own. If you push too hard, you’re just going to push them away.”

5. Be yourself.
Leading by honest example is really the only thing you can do to help someone come out. If you enjoy gay restaurants, ask him to join you. If socializing with friends at the beach, in the country, or at gay hot spots in the city is important to you, make the necessary introductions and invite him along. Remember, he’s taking his cues from you: Don’t let his insecurities be your guide. Distancing yourself from your life won’t make him more comfortable; it’s your life he wants to explore.

Chris Barillas is a freelance writer based in New York.
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