Love is too beautiful to be hidden in the closet“ – Anonymous
In general, relationships are complicated. They are even more complicated when the relationship needs to be kept a secret because at least one partner is closeted or the relationship is taboo. Being involved in a closeted relationship means keeping just about everything a secret; the love you have for your partner(s), gifts you give or are given, vacations taken, etc. Keeping love a secret takes a toll.
This is something that I know from first-hand experience. After coming out to myself and my friends in college, I was ready to meet someone and fall in love. Eventually, I met someone in one of my college courses, who thankfully was out to his friends and family. He intrigued me. Over the course of the class, we bonded. Shortly after the class ended, we officially started to date. Unfortunately, because of his work and discomfort with being in a same-sex relationship with an age difference, we had to keep our relationship a secret. Initially, I did not mind because I was enjoying my time with him. He even inspired me to come out to my family.
Over time, it started to wear on me. I became increasingly anxious because I did not have anyone I could talk to. No friends and no family. I felt incredibly isolated. He and I talked about my feelings of isolation and the boundaries of our relationship. We asked ourselves several questions. Who knew we were gay? Who did we want to tell about our relationship? Who did we each feel comfortable telling about our relationship? What were the rules around publicity? (I.e., could we post pictures together?) How would you like to introduce me to your friends? And am I comfortable keeping our relationship a secret?
Eventually, keeping the secret got to me. I ruminated on the secret, constantly fearing being outed by others or by my own slip-ups. I had to make sure I didn’t blow my cover. I also recognized that I wasn’t authentic to all of my loved ones. Since I wasn’t being authentic, my anxiety, loneliness, and isolation became a clinical problem. I constantly felt anxious, hypervigilant, and hopeless. I started to lose friends because I closed myself off to the ones who didn’t know. Keeping secrets about myself became second nature. My grades began to slip because I constantly agonized over the secrets and lies I was keeping. My physical health started to decline. My blood pressure became so high my doctor expressed his concerns about the long-term impacts on my heart.
After years of keeping this massive secret, my boyfriend and I broke up. One reason for the breakup was the closeted relationship was no longer working for me. The impact of the secrecy on my mental and physical health was too great. Although the breakup was primarily mutual, it was still devastating for a number of reasons. It was the breakup of my first love, and I couldn’t talk about it with some of my closest loved ones because they still didn’t know about the relationship. I continued to feel so isolated. Eventually, I broke down and told my loved ones. Most, if not all, were disappointed I had kept my relationship a secret from them.
I sought out therapy to address my anxiety, loneliness, and isolation. I started to process everything a little more openly. We talked about my anxiety, guilt, isolation, and eventually heartbreak. Processing all of that was exactly what I needed. We discussed ways to manage the secrecy. I realized that at least being out to some of my friends about my relationship was one way of being out. Knowing I had their support was extremely helpful. We also talked about the doubt I experienced since we were keeping our relationship a secret. Through therapy, I learned that my relationship was a valid relationship, even though we weren’t ready to share it with everyone. Through processing, I also realized that it was his discomfort with being out as a couple, not mine. Realizing, logically and emotionally, that it wasn’t about me improved my mental health. Through processing in therapy, I was able to open up to my loved ones. I finally felt authentic again. Without therapy, I might still not be fully out.
It is important to note that each of the decisions I made in my life, such as keeping my relationship a secret and not coming out to my family and friends, were decisions that I made myself. However, after our relationship ended, I told myself I would never be in a relationship with anyone who I had to keep a secret. I learned about the negative impact being in a closeted relationship can have. If you are still closeted or in a relationship that is closeted due to your sexual orientation, know that therapy can be an amazing place to process the impact on you. There are a number of therapists who can help you process your closeted relationship and sexual orientation. Please do not hesitate to contact us when you feel ready.