Ask a Queer Chick: Help! My Parents Won’t Let Me Talk to My Online Girlfriend.

Also: Should I break up with my boyfriend and date my lesbian co-worker instead?

[Photo: Black and white image of a queer couple holding each other. The person on the left has their face cropped, the person on the right is smiling.]
No label can determine the course of your life, whom you’ll love, and who will love you; you have to figure all that out on your own. rawpixel

Greetings, fellow 2019 residents! I apologize for failing to get you a column in December; as I am wont to do, I put off writing it until the last possible day I could turn it in, and wouldn’t you know it, that was the day my partner went into labor. (This did not, to be fair, come out of nowhere. He had been pregnant for quite a few months at the time.) So it’s a new year, and I have a new baby, and between the two I would estimate that my optimism for the world has been refreshed to, like, 16 percent capacity! I’m excited to hear from you this year, and honored to be the one to tell you that, yes, indeed, you are gay. Onward to the advice!

My whole life I’ve considered myself straight. I’ve been with this guy for like two-and-a-half years, and recently I started to realize how toxic our relationship is. He completely takes me for granted and honestly, I don’t even feel attracted to him anymore.

There is, however, this girl that I work with. She’s a lesbian and I consider her my best friend. I’m so attracted to her, and I’ve never felt this way about another girl before. She’s the only person I really feel close to. She’s gotten me through a lot of tough times, including a lot of problems I’ve had with my current boyfriend.

I know that my current relationship is ending, and I’m very tempted to try to start one with her. I just don’t know if she feels the same way about me. I’m very confused. I’ve never even thought that I might be gay, but in a matter of months I’ve gone from being totally into my boyfriend, to totally obsessed with HER. What is going on?

Something is definitely going on, and I have at least three theories! It’s possible that you’ve always had the capacity to be attracted to women, and this just happens to be the first woman you’ve met who really does it for you. It’s also possible that your current unhappiness has shifted your libidinal goalposts. Though people often talk about sexual orientation as something inherent and immutable, life experience has taught me that some women (who were probably always on the bisexual spectrum, but previously leaned toward different-sex relationships) are susceptible to a condition best described as Dude Burnout. When you’re just fucking tired of men, sometimes women start looking good to you in a way that they didn’t before.

You’re also socially isolated, planning to leave your boyfriend, and probably anticipating some intense loneliness. That suggests a third explanation for your unprecedented crush: You’ve developed an understandable attraction to the one person who feels like a stable presence in your life.

Wherever your desire came from, it’s here now, and that means it’s real and valid. Still, I want to encourage caution before you act on it.

For one thing, you still have a boyfriend. When you see the breakup coming, it’s tempting to start planning for the next person you’ll see naked, but you’ve been with this guy for more than two years and you won’t be finished processing that by next week. Rushing into dating someone new is not a sneaky way to fast-forward through those emotions. You might set them aside for a while, but they’ll find their way to the surface sooner or later, and they can end up causing a lot of difficulties with your new sweetie. This potential romance stands a better chance of success if you spend some time on your own healing first.

On the other hand, a few casual dates or hookups can absolutely be part of the grieving process. If you want to ask your co-worker out the second you’re single, do so with my blessing—just go in with the understanding that she probably won’t become the mother of your children.

Whether or not you get the girl, I’m actually more concerned about your current isolation. I don’t know if your soon-to-be-ex cut you off from other support systems, or if you’re just not very outgoing, or what, but the best thing you can do for your own mental health and eventual future love life is to find yourself some people. You need friends outside of work. You need hobbies, interests, a game night, a pen pal (sign up to correspond with an incarcerated LGBTQ person through Black and Pink), someone to take your phone when you’re drunk and considering calling your toxic former boyfriend, a person to help you get ready for your first date with the cute lesbian from work, etc.

If you only have one friend in the world, do not ask that person out—you need friends more than you need girlfriends, especially right after a tough transition like leaving a relationship. Ask your pal what she does with her free time; let her know that you’re trying to build your community, and ask her to introduce you to her buddies. If you want to, this could be an opportunity to let her know that you’re questioning your orientation and looking for more queer friends, but you don’t have to out yourself if you’re not ready. Volunteer somewhere cool. Attend an open mic or a book club. Work on creating a life for yourself where you can thrive and feel supported even if things don’t work out with the girl you like. Then, and only then, put your face on her face.

How do you know if you’re not straight? Growing up, I never really had a crush on anyone, guy or girl, and had absolutely no interest in sex, or kissing, or anything of that nature. I’m now nearly 23 years old, and I’ve never had a girlfriend or boyfriend; I’ve never held hands or even slow danced with anyone. So if I’ve never had any romantic or sexual encounters or fantasies, how am I supposed to know how to identify or what I’m attracted to? To make things even worse, my father constantly makes rude jokes or remarks about LGBTQ folks. I’m a little concerned that maybe his attitude has subconsciously affected my ability to consider identifying as anything other than straight. So, how do I discover my identity, and how can I know for sure when I have zero experience?

Allow me to relieve you of the burden of believing that you must, or indeed can, ever know for sure what your identity is. It is okay to be uncertain! It’s healthy! Allowing yourself to just not know (or not know yet) gives you the space to ask questions, to experiment, to be flexible and pursue new things. All of that is extremely good and correct to be doing in your early twenties, and for the next seven to ten decades.

There might not be a right answer, or there might be any number of answers depending on your mood and the lunar cycle and whether Janelle Monáe is in retrograde. The answer might be different at different times in your life. Many, many people don’t know what they’re into until they’ve tried a bunch of different things, and it’s not at all wrong or embarrassing to be inexperienced at your age (or indeed at any age). You still have all the time you need to figure it out.

If you’ve been subconsciously stifling your attraction because you fear your father’s disapproval, establishing your independence from him (and perhaps getting some therapy to unpack whatever attitudes of his you may have internalized) should go a long way toward helping you face your authentic feelings. But there may never come a moment when everything suddenly clicks into place and you Just Know.

I’m not interested in assigning anyone an orientation, but I do wonder if you’ve done any reading about asexuality. Inexperience and uncertainty are nearly universal human experiences, but I think most people who experience sexual attraction have the odd fantasy or crush, even years before they’re sexually or romantically active. If you’ve never been attracted to anyone, and you’re searching for an explanation for that, it may be worth checking out some resources on asexuality and seeing whether they resonate with you. The Asexual Visibility & Education Network is a good place to start: There’s a discussion forum, which might be an opportunity for you to compare notes with asexual people and see whether their experiences shed light on your own.

Your orientation is valid, no matter what it turns out to be, no matter how many times it changes over the course of your life, no matter whether you put a name on it next month or 50 years from now. No label can determine the course of your life, whom you’ll love, and who will love you; you have to figure all that out on your own.

I’m a 16-year-old girl, and close to the end of October my parents found out that I’ve been in an online relationship with a girl for almost a year now. They weren’t happy about it, along with other stuff I was doing online. My parents are both women, and they already knew I was bisexual, so they’re accepting of my sexuality, but they don’t accept my relationship with my girlfriend. 

They said I don’t know what love is, but I’m pretty sure I do, since my heart flutters every moment I get to spend talking to my girlfriend and when they took away the contact I had with her it felt like knives stabbing through my heart. I was such a mess. Isn’t that what love is?

I only just turned 16 and still don’t understand a lot of things but I’m just trying to get my parents to understand that I love this girl and that I don’t want to have a life without her.

I am at exactly the age to read this and simultaneously be like “UGH PARENTS ARE THE WORST” and “go to your room, young lady.” I remember vividly the feeling that adults couldn’t understand what I was feeling in the throes of my teenage heartaches. And it’s true, they couldn’t. I can no longer understand it, not in the visceral way of someone going through it. But I can also see, as perhaps your parents can, where those passions fit into the larger scheme of a person’s life, and how short-lived they ultimately were—which doesn’t mean they were any less important.

You don’t say much about your relationship with your parents outside of this incident, so I don’t know how much trust to put in their good intentions. Some parents are simply controlling for the sake of being controlling, and if that’s the case your best bet is to simply bide your time until you can live independently. I know the distance between you and 18 feels immense right now, but I promise you it’s survivable. If your parents micromanage and second-guess everything you do, find some way to carve out space that’s yours alone, even if it’s only between the pages of your journal. You are almost an adult, and you do need and deserve some privacy and independence to develop into the smart, self-reliant human you’re destined to become, although parental intervention is still sometimes appropriate at this age.

If, however, your parents are basically supportive and respectful, it’s worth considering things from their point of view. Are they worried about your online security? Concerned that you’re spending time and energy on your girlfriend to the exclusion of other important things in your life? Being miserable every second you’re not talking to your partner is not a sustainable or healthy aspect of a long-term relationship; if you’re blowing off schoolwork, hobbies, or friends because being in love consumes all your energy, then I think your parents are right to be concerned.

Your offhand mention of “other stuff you were doing online” makes me wonder, too, if their concern is less about this particular relationship than about unsafe online behavior in general. Are you sharing personal information or sexual messages with people you couldn’t identify on the street? Are you sure that your girlfriend is who she says she is? There are a lot of shitty people in the world, unfortunately, and the internet means pretty much any one of them can pop into your phone and fuck with you at any time. It is the nature of where you are in life, at 16, that you will see the joys and thrills these new people can offer you as enormously more important than whatever risks are associated with these encounters.

It’s also your parents’ job to look at those risks straight on and to take steps to protect you, even when you don’t want to be protected. I don’t think a long-term outright ban on contact with your girlfriend is a wise idea—it’s more likely to come between you and your parents than to make you see things from their point of view—but if they’re concerned about your online activities and monitoring them more closely, you may have to accept that as (at least temporarily) the way of the world.

Your feelings are valid. If you think this is love, then it probably is. The all-consuming passion you feel now will ideally evolve into something that nourishes rather than eclipses the rest of your life. Love will mean something a little bit different every time you’re in it, and it may even mean different things with the same person over a long enough period of time. Every time you fall in love, you’ll think “oh, this is it, this is the real thing and whatever I felt before is a farce,” because every time you fall in love it remakes you a little bit, turning you into the person this particular love needs you to be. By the time you’re the age your parents are now, the way you feel today won’t even resemble what you believe love to be. But that doesn’t make today’s feelings less real.

Ultimately, your relationship will either last or it won’t; it will either survive whatever limitations your parents impose, or it won’t. I don’t advocate going behind your parents’ back. A better idea might be to approach them and say “I understand that you’re worried about what I’m doing online, but my girlfriend is important to me and I want to be in contact with her. How can I show you that I’m listening and earn your trust so that I can talk to my girlfriend again?” As much as possible, given the emotional importance of this discussion, try to maintain control of yourself. Don’t lose your temper or make sweeping statements about how you can’t live without your girlfriend. That’s only likely to strengthen their conviction that you’re unhealthily invested in this relationship. Instead, stress that you understand they want what’s best for you and you’re willing to work together to agree on reasonable limits.

How they respond to this suggestion will tell you a great deal. If they’re into finding a compromise that assuages their worries without cutting you off from your girlfriend, you can probably assume they really do have your best interests at heart. If they’re unwilling to even entertain the possibility of finding middle ground, then they might be focusing on control for its own sake because they’re not ready to acknowledge your growing maturity and the fact that they won’t always have veto power over your life.

I wish I could just say “listen to your parents, they’re trying to help,” but for some people your age the sad reality is that they’re not. I think you’re old enough to discern whether that’s the situation you’re in. Whatever the case, whether your parents are stifling you or setting reasonable limits that just happen to drive you up the wall, you can at least comfort yourself with the knowledge that this will not last forever.

However your parents struggle with this reality, you will one day be in sole and total control over your own life. You’re going to make mistakes. You’re going to break your own heart and a few other people’s. You’re going to fall for scams that, looking back, will embarrass you intensely. You’re going to regret at least one hairstyle. It’s hard for parents to step back and allow our children to be clumsy with their own emotions—just like how when you were really little, the age my daughter is now, your parents probably had to stifle the urge to grab every cup and plate out of your chubby hands so you wouldn’t spill. But if they had never let you make any messes, you’d never have developed your own sense of balance. You’d never know how much you could carry by yourself.

Need help being queer in 2019? Email me: [email protected]. Questions may be edited for length and clarity.