Ask a Queer Chick: My Girlfriend’s Ex-Girlfriend’s Ghost Won’t Get out of My House

Also: How do I find a relationship that will solve my problems?

[Photo: A woman looks in a mirror and appears frightened.]
Oh, the Dreaded Ex-Turned-Bestie, an entire genre of lesbian horror in her own right. Shutterstock

Happy almost-Halloween, friends! This is my favorite season of the year. It is also definitely among the queerest of celebrations, combining as it does two things we tend to love: getting dressed up, and summoning unholy forces of darkness to bathe this broken world in blood and tears. And also, candy. A friend asked me recently if I ever make up questions for this column, and I told her “never,” but I have to confess that in the spirit of the holiday I did sneak in one fictional query for this month. See if you can guess which one it is.

I’m a 33-year-old closeted lesbian. I grew up in a conservative, Christian household where being gay was a sin. I live at home, in a conservative city in the South where there’s no LGBTQ community, because I’m a caregiver for my grandma. My parents still say hurtful things about gay people. It sucks. I don’t have any friends or a social life. I’ve never had a date, ever, in my entire life. I’m incredibly lonely. I’m embarrassed for being a virgin at my age. I’ve tried online dating; I joined lesbian forums and queer sites hoping to meet someone, but I’ve had no luck. Women on these sites haven’t exactly been warm and caring. On one instance I was told because I’m in my 30s, still closeted, unemployed, and living at home, I should just forget about finding a girlfriend or getting married. I was also told because I’m allergic to both cats and dogs I should know I’m going to die a virgin. I know I shouldn’t take their comments to heart, but it hurt me. I’m starting to wonder if I should just give up and forget about finding a girlfriend (or even one date!) and about belonging to the lesbian community.

It was shitty of the people you encountered to say those things, and I’m pissed at them on your behalf. Even if you’re not interested in someone, there’s never a good reason to be cruel. Living at home isn’t inherently a deal breaker, and neither is being closeted or allergic to animals. What I get from your letter, however, is that you’re profoundly unhappy with your life—and apart from trying to meet women, you’re not doing much to change it.

I’m sorry to say this when it sounds like you’ve pinned your hopes of happiness on finding a partner, but “Hi, I’m miserable! Let’s date” is always going to be a hard sell. A girlfriend’s job is not to rescue you from your disappointments or wallow in them with you. Yes, a good relationship can make your life better, but it’s not magic—it takes time, work, compromise, and communication. As tempting as romantic fantasies about love transforming your life might be, the truth is that the more you work on transforming your life, the more likely you are to find someone to share it with.

What, aside from getting laid, would make you happy? Do you need a new job, a new hobby, a creative outlet, a therapist? (You could probably use a therapist. So could everyone!) What are your grandmother’s options besides having you as a full-time caregiver? What kind of work would you be interested in doing? Bear in mind that even if you love caring for your grandmother, she is statistically unlikely to live forever, and it’s a good idea to have some sort of plan for that eventuality. What kind of employment would allow you to contribute to your grandmother’s care while living farther away? Where might you like to live? Do you have a degree, or are you interested in pursuing one? Take some time to really think about the answers to these and other questions.

Girlfriends are awesome, and I hope you find one someday, but they’re not the only source of joy or meaning in the world. You need to do the harder work of figuring out who you are and what you want as an individual with needs distinct from your family, and then building a life in which you feel pride and self-esteem. Chicks totally dig that.

I know it’s pretty standard for queer women to remain friends with their exes, and I swear I’m not the jealous type, but my girlfriend’s college girlfriend died under mysterious circumstances and she’s still haunting OUR house ten years later. I’ve tried to be polite, express my needs—even bring in exorcists—but I’m just not comfortable with how much time they still spend together. My girlfriend has admitted that she doesn’t tell me every time she sees her ex in dreams, begging her to help solve her murder, because I get insecure. We’ve talked about moving, but my gf doesn’t want to be “one of those women who abandons her friends whenever she’s in a couple.” Am I crazy or does it sound like there are still feelings there?

Oh, the Dreaded Ex-Turned-Bestie, an entire genre of lesbian horror in her own right. If you’re obsessing over the time your significant other spends with a friend, it’s probably a sign that things aren’t going great in your own relationship. Ask yourself honestly: If it weren’t for all the spectral figures screaming in the middle of the night, would you be perfectly happy? Or are there issues that go deeper—disagreements about trust, intimacy, the thumping noise in the attic that no one else can hear?

It’s normal for your girlfriend to have friends and interests outside of your relationship, but if you feel neglected, it could mean something greater is amiss. One possibility is that you’re overly dependent on her. Do you have friends and interests and paranormal companions of your own? How do you pass the time while she’s communing with the deceased? It’s not realistic to expect your girlfriend to spend every waking, dreaming, or sleepwalking moment with you.

On the other hand, it could be that her sojourns with the other side really are consuming an untenable amount of her time, and perhaps her immortal soul. If you only see each other in passing; if all she ever says to you is “Is it raining?” or “REDRUM”; if you barely recognize her even when she’s not staring with the sightless eyes of one possessed by the dead, then the problem is that she’s not investing in your connection. Whether that’s because she’s spending all her energy searching for her ex’s mouldering corpse, or for some other reason, is somewhat beside the point. Relationships can’t survive without both parties participating, just like your girlfriend’s former flame couldn’t survive without her skull.

Yes, you and your girlfriend and an experienced medium need to establish boundaries with her ex. But before you can do that, the two of you need to be on the same page about what those boundaries should be. If your idea of happiness is spending tons of time together, and hers is digging up shallow graves with her bare hands by the light of the moon, you may simply be incompatible. Sometimes things don’t work out, and neither you, she, nor the whispering voices under the bed are to blame.

This very sweet and lovely person just admitted they have a crush on me, which I do not reciprocate. I’m not concerned they’re going to do anything drastic when I tell them I’m not into them, but I would really like them to know that I’m flattered and delighted without giving them false hope that I might come around. Please advise.

You must resist the urge to soften the blow, even in the hopes of salvaging your friendship. People, and especially women (you didn’t mention your gender, but most of my questions come from women), are socially conditioned to make bad news palatable. Don’t makes excuses like “I’m not ready to get involved,” or “I’m too busy,” when the truth is that you just don’t feel the same way. Be as direct as possible, even though it will feel brutal to say, “I enjoy your company but I’m not interested in getting sexually or romantically involved.” And recognize that, depending on the intensity of their attraction, this may mean they need to step back from the friendship until and unless it passes. You may not want your friendship to change, but for them, it already has—and limiting contact while they work through their disappointment may be a necessary form of self-care.

I come from a very traditional family of flesh-eating monsters. Since my human form is a woman of almost otherworldly beauty, my parents (and I) always just assumed that I would go out into the world and bewitch men with my charms, seducing them into a whirlwind romance before bringing them home to meet my family, who would ritualistically devour their bodies and souls. Thing is, I’m more and more sure I have an appetite for women as well. Should I say something to my family? Should I just show up with a female victim and let them figure it out for themselves? Or should I keep playing the part of the dutiful straight cannibalistic hell-spawn they all believe me to be?

One thing I believe with every (delicious) fiber of my being is that you shouldn’t come out by bringing a woman home to meet your family. If there’s even a slight chance your relatives will react poorly to the news that you’re a bisuccubus, it’s not fair to put your girlfriend in the middle of the confrontation. She’s going to feel like you’re throwing her to the wolves, even before she sees your relatives’ real teeth.

It’s OK to wait until you’re no longer dependent on your family and have established hunting grounds of your own before you share your truth with them. It’s also fine to tell them now, if you feel safe doing so. Many people and creatures you wouldn’t expect to be LGBTQ-affirming turn out to be surprisingly open when it comes to those they love. Talk things over with your family, and they may be more willing than you think to open their doors—and their cavernous, impossibly black void-maws—to whomever you bring home.

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