How should I handle talking to my Bi friend who I have a complicated relationship with?

Reply Sat 11 May, 2019 11:09 am
Hope this is an appropriate post. I feel confused and upset with myself. Sometimes writing out my thoughts helps me to understand them.

My close friend came out to me as Bi the other day. The only people who have ever known are a family member who he spoke to when he was much younger and has never spoken to about it since, some people in the gay/bi community from back when he was trying to figure himself out, and his wife. He met her around the time he was exploring being with men - they weren't in a proper relationship at the time - they later fell in love and he decided he wanted to marry and be faithful to her. He hasn't been with a man (or another woman) since.

Considering that I'm basically the first friend he's told, and especially considering that when I asked him whether he'd one day like to come out to other people he said yes, I feel I have a big responsibility to deal with what he's told me sensitively and supportively. He was really afraid to tell me. He cried for ten minutes before the words came out. He has really deep-seated insecurities about his sexuality that I won't go into here but it's enough to say it's actually painful for him to admit. Imagine if telling me made him feel rejected or put him off talking to other people about it (when he's ready). It would be awful.

The problem is... I'm completely in love with this guy and have been for several years. He knows this. We both realised after spending some close time together that there was a mutual attraction there, but we were both married. He said to me "you know this can never happen" and I said "I know", and we agreed to stay friends. We've become extremely close. There was a bit more flirting than there morally should have been, and the occasional inappropriately-long hug or touching of hands. Nothing more, and even though I've been tempted he's kept us both in check. Now, whether being close friends with someone you're utterly in love with is a stupid idea is a discussion for another time, but I'm really scared that my strong feelings towards him are tainting the way I've been responding to him telling me about his sexuality. I asked him lots of questions, which he liked as he's not been able to really talk about it for many years. But then at one point, where things went into quite a bit of, er, detail... I literally broke down crying. I tried to explain why but to be honest I don't massively understand it myself, except that I'm jealous and that perhaps I'd never quite given up the hypothetical fantasy of being with him one day (even though my rational brain knows there's no way) and I had a pretty sudden adjustment to what that fantasy would look like. I almost felt like I was thinking through the implications for the hypothetical me in the fictitious fantasy relationship. And then I felt horribly guilty because that's so selfish, he's opening up about something he finds very difficult, and I'm sitting there thinking about myself. And I'm not even his partner, I have no right to make any of it about me. At the same time, he's had over two decades to come to terms with who he is (and he still hasn't!), and meanwhile I had all this told to me over the course of a couple of hours. I guess also there's an element of feeling hurt that despite how close we are he's never told me before.

I actually said a couple of mean things about his marriage too (though I promptly apologised and explained I was just emotional - he's quite used to me unfairly lashing out when I'm sad), and worse still I think I did not hide my discomfort about a couple of the things he told me from his period of "exploration" that I did not like the thought of. I've told him he's got nothing to feel ashamed about and that I love him and we're going to be friends always. But those are words and I'm worried that my obvious non-verbal response is going to be making coming out seem negative, not positive. I don't want him to think I find his past behaviour disgusting and I am praying that my face did not tell him that. I've never felt a glimmer of secret homophobia in my life and I'm really very liberal with sex - I believe other people's sex is their own business and as long as they and their partners are good with it they can do what they want. I've heard far FAR worse stories and not felt any judgement or discomfort. So I can only put this down to how I feel about him specifically.

I feel like the smallest person for not being able to handle this well enough. He's so very kind to me and i desperately want to support him, and I'm so scared of messing it up. The realisation that I've been holding onto this fantasy is upsetting, and in some ways I know the best thing (not "easiest" but "best") for me personally would be to withdraw from our friendship. But I don't think that's best for him. I feel like that would be the ultimate rejection of who he is, at a time when he is looking for acceptance. Would me withdrawing be worse than me saying the wrong things and crying? I think so but am I wrong? Also, I love having him in my life and don't want to lose him. We have the kind of friendship where we can talk about things so openly. And the kind of friendship where we make each other smile. It's a friendship i don't know if I can give up no matter how hard it can sometimes be. We may not have a romantic or physical relationship but we both get something out of our strange friendship that neither of us finds elsewhere.

To add to the complication, I don't want to overstep my place in his life. He has a wife and it is not me. She doesn't want him to come out and she doesn't want to talk about it, according to him (though she was fine with him exploring before they married). But he feels he might never be happy if he has to hide who he is. All I could think to suggest was that he talks to her more about it.

Overall I feel like I'm really failing to give him the support I owe him. He has been there for me in my hardest times.

What can I do and say to make clear to him that he's a wonderful and lovable person and that any part of him that makes up some of what he is, is a good thing? What can I do to make myself respond more positively and lovingly when we talk about it? Will he forgive me for saying something stupid or will it be hurting him more than he will let me know? He says we don't have to discuss it if it's too hard (see, he's still thinking of me! Argh I love him) but I know he wants to. He's struggled not having anyone to open up to with this and at times has sunk into depression. I just want to help, but I feel like I kind of suck at being a good friend right now. If anyone has any insight into good/bad experiences of coming out, what helps and what doesn't, please tell me. He is such a great person, he deserves for me to be better.
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Reply Sat 11 May, 2019 12:14 pm
First things first. You're being used as a therapist. That's exceptionally unfair to you, particularly as he knows how you feel.

So step back. You don't need to be the shoulder he cries on or his sounding board. Like you said, he has a wife for that, and you ain't her.

Next time he brings it up, say something like, "I appreciate your confiding in me and I want you to know that coming out and being who you are, those are both wonderful things. But these talks are kind of hard for me. I'm not a professional and you may do better talking to one about this particular thing."

Will it help? I have no idea. But you need to get it across that this is killing you, and you can't really help him properly, anyway.
Reply Sat 11 May, 2019 02:33 pm
Thank you for your reply. I understand what you're saying, but a little context might make it clear why I feel I need to be that shoulder. First: he actually has had proper therapy. But it was years ago and before his marriage. And there is something different about talking to a therapist and talking to a friend, isn't there? He doesn't have tons of friends and I'm the only one he has trusted with this. Second: I mentioned he's been there for me, but I really ought to stress how much... I went through first a big bereavement (this is before we had feelings for each other) and later a period of significant mental health problems (once we'd become close), and to say that he was a shoulder for me to cry on would be a crazy understatement. He checked up on me not just daily but practically hourly. When I pushed him away time and time again - sometimes being honestly a little cruel - he kept coming back to help me. One time when I was having a full-blown anxiety attack at work and was stuck to the spot behind a tree, he came to literally rescue me to be with me until it passed and walked me back to where I needed to be (I should point out - we then worked in the same place; we don't now although we work nearby and meet up all the time).

It might sound like I'm being naive and being used. I've accused him of using me many times myself, in many ways. I've accused him of keeping me on hand but at arms length and I know he knows that whatever happens I will drop anything to be there when he wants me to be - despite the same not always being true the other way round. I have at times felt like a toy being put back in the box when he has better things to do. Believe me when I say we have explored this at length and that this accusation deeply upsets him, but that we've realised it's simply untrue and that it's in fact just me dealing badly with the situation. I am, quite honestly, just upset that he can't be with me, and confused about where he draws his moral lines (which are entirely different from where I'd draw them, but the thing about morality is that it's entirely personal). Believe me when I say he is not the bad guy here. He is imperfect, he is human, as am I. He is vulnerable and insecure, as am I. We exhibit it in different ways - mine is transparently neurotic, his is controlled and has a confident front. And one thing we have in our friendship is a really great understanding of our weaknesses and an ability to be vulnerable around each other.

This in fact explains why I am (so far) the only friend he has felt able to confide in. And if you really love someone (as a friend or otherwise), aren't you supposed to support them and try to make them happy even if it's something that is hard for you?

It does trouble me that perhaps it's my need to keep him close that makes me want to be the person who can be there for him, even if I'm not the right person to be there for him. I guess that's why I'm encouraging him to talk to his wife. But I still want to be his friend. I cannot overstate how much he means to me and how much I feel I owe him. I've never seen him express so much deep-rooted pain, and I just want to make it better. Whether I can or not, I don't know - but should I not try? Don't I owe him that after he was there for me?
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Reply Sat 11 May, 2019 07:58 pm
Sounds like regardless of how strong these sexual urges are, he’s not going to act on them with you. He and his wife apparently put each other first, and you need to accept that.

Your challenge is to figure out how to navigate a friendship that has its limitations.

Reply Sun 12 May, 2019 01:21 am
Sure. But I feel like maybe this has gone a bit off topic (my fault). I can deal with our friendship. My question is - how can I make him feel supported in coming out?
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Reply Sun 12 May, 2019 02:38 am
Also, just to clarify: I am female and straight. He does have feelings of attraction towards me, but that's not the point of this post. Sorry, I probably made it difficult to understand the point because I was too long-winded. I've had friends come out to me before but this is quite different because of my feelings - I'm not handling it well.
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