Ask a Queer Chick: I’m a Lesbian and Married to a Man I Don’t Love. What Do I Do?

Also: How do I be myself when I don't know who that "self" is?

[Photo: An unhappy woman lies in bed while her husband sleeps]
You deserve the freedom to go after your joy, and your husband deserves a shot with someone who can reciprocate his affection. Shutterstock

Good morning, chickadees! It’s almost summer! Make sure you’ve got your summer body ready by wearing comfy clothes, blasting songs that give you confidence, carrying sunscreen in case of spontaneous pool parties, and eating ice cream as often as you feel like it. And remember, you don’t have to go to every block party, street fair, Pride tailgate, and music festival on the calendar; sitting on the porch with a book and a beer totally counts as a “prior commitment.”

I’m a lesbian. I’m also Asian, Muslim (which in my case means conservative), and married to a man. I thought getting married would resolve everything. But it hasn’t. It only complicated things. It’s unfair to my husband that I don’t love him. It’s unfair to my parents-in-law. And I wish I had the independence of being single. 

I have had one lesbian relationship with my best friend which I can never forget and my heart still hasn’t mended. I watch Netflix shows about LGBTQ people, and wish I had watched them before getting married. If I had, I wouldn’t have gotten married. I don’t know what to do. 

Oh, dear heart, you know what to do. You know what you have to do, because there’s no other option. You just don’t know how to break free from your inertia and do it. I can’t tell you a magic way to make that happen. All I can tell you is that you’ll have to be brave, and you’ll have to believe that the life you could have is better than the one you’ve accepted.

You know that you’re a lesbian; you’re not in love with your husband; you want to be single; you even know that if you’d seen TV shows about LGBTQ people earlier in life, you wouldn’t have married this man. This is one of the many reasons representation matters, by the way—stories and images of queer people contribute to the understanding that queer is a thing you can be, and that queer folks have options beyond “throwing yourself into an disappointing straight relationship and hoping your inconvenient feelings disappear.”

So, I mean, yeah, there’s no way around this and you know what I’m going to say: You’ve gotta get a divorce. You are way too young to spend the rest of your life locked into a marriage you regret and resent. (You didn’t mention how old you are, but I don’t care; if you’re 99, you still deserve to get a divorce and spend your hundredth year having glorious romantic escapades with ladies.) You deserve the freedom to go after your joy, and your husband deserves a shot with someone who can reciprocate his affection. He might not see your asking for a divorce as a great favor right now. But he’ll be happier in the long run than if you stay together and eventually grow to hate his guts.

Getting a divorce is also the only way you’ll stand a chance of getting over the ex that left your heart in a shambles. Of course you haven’t moved on: From the vantage point of your current lackluster relationship, she was the one great lesbian love of your life, and you’ll never find that passion again. Ending your marriage gives you a chance to look for love in your future, not your past. Eventually, you’ll meet a new woman, and she’ll fuck your heart up in a whole new way! Repeat anywhere from two to infinity times.

You mentioned your conservative brand of religion in the same breath as your marriage, so I’m guessing you see it as another major obstacle to coming out. As an atheist, I don’t have an intuitive grasp of the issues LGBTQ people of faith deal with in coming out. However, I want you to know that you are not alone. Many other LGBTQ Muslims have experienced what you’re going through, and if you don’t know any in person, there are myriad online resources to help you navigate any tension you might feel between your identity and your beliefs.

This will be hard! And scary! You’ll have to give up stability and certainty and the life you have now—a life that, for all its miseries, at least you’re used to. People are very good at getting used to things, even terrible things, and so it can be tempting to avoid the fear and the struggle for the bleak comfort of familiarity. There will be moments when you’re like, “Do I really have to do this? Can’t I just keep gritting my teeth and escaping into queer Netflix at the end of the day? Am I really brave enough to cut ties with my husband and his family and probably some of our friends and the couch we picked out together? Maybe I should stay. Maybe I can stay.”

But in the end, I don’t think you’ll stay. You’re right that I get a lot of letters like this, but yours stands out for one reason. There are no rationalizations here. You’re not trying to sell me on your husband’s virtues, or the benefits of your married life. I don’t hear you trying to talk yourself into being happy. You are very honest with yourself: You regret the choice to get married.

The thing is, you make that same choice again every day you stay. You make it because the alternative is huge and scary and overwhelming, but you still make it, and you can stop. You can make a choice—now, today—that you won’t regret years from now. One day you’ll look back on it with bliss and relief, because it was the choice that set you free into a world richer and more possible than you have yet imagined.

I’m a 23-year-old girl. I’ve dated and had sex with guys, but I don’t like it at all. I kiss a guy and want to freaking puke or punch them. I have crushes on girls, but my parents are extremely homophobic. They literally boycott a store if they see a gay person in it. I used to have a best friend that was gay. She was dating another girl who thankfully went to another school in another state (if not I would have punched that girl). I had a huge crush on my best friend, though I didn’t know I wasn’t straight at the time, and she eventually cut all ties with me because of it. I don’t know how to try to date a girl or even come out. I know all of my family would pretend I don’t exist, and I’m OK with that. I just want to be me and be with who I want to be with. I don’t know how to do that. Can you give me some advice? I’m planning on returning to college in the fall as a junior (I took a three-year hiatus because I was raped and now have post-traumatic stress disorder). How can I start there being open about who I am? I don’t know how to be myself anymore and my “self is not straight at all. 

How long has it been since I extolled the virtues of therapy in this column? Too long, probably. I am a vehement believer in therapy—group, one-on-one, talk, EMDR, whatever seems most appealing to you—and in trying someone new if you don’t click with the first therapist you see, because everyone deserves, and most of us need, mental health support. Destigmatize therapy! Shout your mental illness! Take medication if you need to! Don’t try to carry all your shit alone! This has been an Official Queer Chick Public Service Announcement. If we were having this conversation in person, I’d be speaking at an uncomfortably loud volume by now and you’d be taking a step back.

Anyway, so therapy! You should go to it for your PTSD, but you should also definitely go to seek support in developing healthier conflict resolution and communication skills. You mentioned wanting to punch people twice in your very short letter, and I know it was mostly hyperbolic, but I also think you kind of meant it? And the details of why your friendship ended are fuzzy, but reading between the lines, it seems like maybe your unspoken attraction (and jealousy) manifested in hostility or passive-aggressiveness that hurt your friendship.

It seems like, whether as a result of your assault and PTSD or your repressive, homophobic upbringing (or both, or something else entirely), you feel safer with the idea of lashing out physically than talking about your feelings. You’re fantasizing about punching dudes you kiss and girls who date your crush instead of saying, “I’m very uncomfortable and unhappy right now!” This is a great thing to go to therapy about. It’s not “abracadabra, your brain is fixed”—it’s a chance to practice difficult skills and develop healthier coping mechanisms.

I’m starting with therapy rather than with coming out and dating, because being unwilling to express yourself effectively when you’re upset is likely to be a romantic hindrance. Lesbians, sorry to stereotype, BUT IT’S EXTREMELY TRUE, fucking love talking about their feelings. If there were an all-gay Spice Girls cover band, they’d be like “If you wanna be my lover, you gotta stay up ’til 4 in the morning processing our hopes, dreams, triggers, insecurities, and deepest secrets.” Queer clichés aside, you might be able to get in chicks’ pants while remaining closed off emotionally, but in any serious relationship there will eventually be disagreements, strife, disappointment, and anger. When that happens, you’re definitely not allowed to punch your girlfriend, or even joke about it.

You don’t have to be Certified Issue-Free before you can ask a girl for her number. The axiom that “you have to be happy with yourself before you can be happy with someone else” is totally off-base. Struggling, unhappy, traumatized, conflicted, and generally screwed-up people can and do find love. Nice to meet you, I’m Exhibit A! But the more you practice working through shit outside of a relationship, the more equipped you’ll be to work through shit in one.

As for the coming out itself, the good news is that starting college again after three years off gives you a pretty great opportunity to stealthily come out. When you meet new people, simply talk about your queerness as though it’s a basic fact about your life, like “I’m from Missouri, I’m allergic to eggs, I’m gay, and I’m a sociology major.” If you treat it as an interesting but not life-changing detail, most people you meet will do the same. You can make an announcement to your family if you want, but you also have a dispensation from me to simply not bring it up until after you’re done with school. You have way more than enough to deal with already; managing your homophobic family’s reaction to your queerness can stay on the back burner for a few years.

You’ve done an amazing job of surviving the obstacles in your life thus far. I hope now is your time to thrive.

Got a question? Email me: [email protected]. Questions may be edited for length and clarity.