Dear Dr Ren:
I am a 19-year-old lesbian in love with a straight girl.
Liz is my classmate. We’ve been talking about our feelings for a long time and she is very confused. We have kissed and she says she felt something. We have even slept together but nothing sexual happened. She keeps saying she can’t like me because she is straight.
Liz can’t accept that she is bisexual. We watched the movie Imagine Me & You and she said it’s our story. She tells me to be just her friend, and then she comes closer, takes my hand, touches my face, and says, “I can’t do this! You are a girl!”
This is driving me nuts!
She has a boyfriend, but she tells him that she doesn’t want to see him so she can stay with me. She tells me she likes me more than she likes him. I can’t stop thinking about her. None of this makes any sense. What should I do?
You so forthrightly state that you are “a 19-year-old lesbian.”
For you, that knowledge is clear and uncomplicated. You are frustrated that Liz “can’t accept that she is bisexual,” which is obvious to you or anyone observing her behaviour. Nevertheless, she is not necessarily playing games or being consciously difficult. She is struggling with a dilemma that does not fit her worldview.
Liz identifies as a straight woman and her feelings for you contradict that definition. This confuses her as surely as it would you were you to find yourself swooning over her brother, only more so because society has imprinted her to believe that being attracted to you is wrong. She has no frame of reference for this experience, likely no support system, and few role models. This is probably not something she can discuss with her family or her straight friends. Her isolation keeps her ignorant about her options and her fear overwhelms her. While her head and her heart are warring, she risks least if she stands still.
Still, she is drawn to you and identifies with the straight woman in Imagine Me & You. Her coming out process may be underway but how long it will take or where it will lead is anyone’s guess.
Sexual preference is not a binary system, rather it is a continuum. During your girlfriend’s awakening process, she may waver for some time before finding her eventual comfort level. Pushing her to decide is useless. You will have to determine how much craziness you can tolerate while she figures herself out.
In the meantime, you can minimize the negative effects on you by keeping in touch with your other friends. Stay active in the lesbian community. Bring Liz along occasionally. Introducing her to your queer friends will help her normalize being gay and give her a sense of belonging. So far, she may believe you are the only dyke she knows.
Though you may be Liz’s first lesbian lover, you will likely not be her last. Consider the importance of keeping this affair respectful and ethical for its duration. If you become sexual, make sure she recalls her time with you fondly. If you should be her only foray into same-sex coupling (it happens), ensure that the memory is one she cherishes forever.
Try to keep some perspective about the power of fantasy in this situation. Though we joke about winning the toaster oven, converting a straight girl is heady stuff. Remember that the chase is often more delicious than the capture. You may easily tire of her naiveté and hesitation once she is yours. Might you not long for a woman who longs for a woman?
Liz may walk away because someone else–male or female–catches her fancy, which would be appropriate behaviour given her age and circumstance. She may stay with her boyfriend. She might wish she could stay with you but lack the strength, courage or support to undertake the coming out process.
Regardless, you will have no regrets if you behave in a manner of which you can be proud. Strive for fairness. Allow for change. Expect some turbulence as Liz grapples with her conflicted emotions and protect your heart in case she decides you represent too hard a choice for her. You did not mention in your letter what Liz’s boyfriend knows about her feelings for you, although you did write that your relationship follows that of the film, in which honesty is a feature. As long as you are all open, no one can fault you for being unethical.
Nevertheless, when mutually embraced, affairs of the heart are glorious. You may want to set a time limit on your suffering and Liz’s indecision. Have all your relationships been steeped in such drama? If so, this may be as much about you as Liz. In that case, look inward. Otherwise set boundaries, be kind, and trust that with time you will find your answers.