“My daughter and her best friend of several years told us last night they are girlfriends, and they are both so excited and happy. I’m happy for them, but unlike my daughter, her girlfriend is not out to her parents. I had told my daughter if she dated someone who was not out, I would hold her confidence, because I wanted her to be honest with me. But now that it’s a family I know, not an abstraction, it doesn’t feel very good to not be truthful with them. Is this really the best approach?”
Question Submitted Anonymously
Answered by Kirsten
Oh man. That’s quite a dilemma you have there. Why is it that so many things look very different when they move from the abstract to reality? In the abstract, a puppy seems like a fantastic idea. It will be so cute! Everyone will want to take turns walking it! You will housebreak it so easily! But in reality, you end up with newspaper-covered floors and an ever-growing puppy that no one wants to walk (it’s too cold! it’s too hot! it’s too early! it’s too late!) so instead it just pees on the kitchen rug.
But now let’s leave that cute yet disobedient puppy behind and get down to the heart of the matter. You gave your daughter your word that if she had an abstract girlfriend who was not out, you would not tell her abstract parents. But now your daughter has a real girlfriend with real parents…and to further complicate matters, these real parents are people you really know. Talk about a rock and a hard place. I’m of the belief that at its core, the coming out story belongs to the LGBTQIA person themselves, and that the story should be told when and to whom the LGBTQIA person chooses, which in my mind means that your daughter’s girlfriend ought to control the narrative with her parents. And based on your original pledge to your daughter, I am guessing you agree, which is why this situation is so uncomfortable for you. On the one hand, you want to support your daughter’s girlfriend and respect her coming out process, but on the other, you feel like you’re being deceitful with her parents by acting as if there’s nothing going on. So what can you do?
I’d suggest starting with a conversation with your daughter’s girlfriend. I’d be honest with her about your predicament, letting her know that while you support her privacy in the coming out process, keeping the truth about her relationship with your daughter a secret puts you in a really awkward position. See if you can uncover what she perceives to be the barriers to coming out to her parents, and offer to support her in negotiating the process. Would it be helpful to her for you to open the door to the conversation by talking with her parents about your experience with your daughter and your support for her? Is there some other way you can help her navigate this?
If she’s really not ready to come out, then I think you need to put some clear parameters around how she and your daughter spend time together. I’m not suggesting you try to keep them apart or be punitive in some way, but just be clear about expectations. I feel like if I were the girlfriend’s mom, and I let my daughter go to your house like I’ve done a thousand times before for what I think is a BFF sleepover, but then find out down the road that maybe that sleepover had a different vibe, I’d be pretty upset. So maybe for now, sleepovers are off the table at both houses. And I think you could open the door to a conversation with the girlfriend’s parents anyway–I think it’s great for supportive parents of gay kids to model that support to other parents, and to talk about how great their kid is and how the fact that their kid is gay is just one facet of their amazingness. Then maybe it will start to get a little easier for your daughter’s girlfriend to have the conversation when she’s ready.
I wish you the best of luck. Have you ever considered getting a puppy?
I’m Kirsten. I’ve been married to Richard for 20 years (!) and in addition to Lucy, we have 2 dogs and 4 ¾ cats (one of them only has 3 legs!). I work full-time at a non-profit social services agency. I’m basically addicted to Instagram and I love to read, bake, and make art. I’m dying to get a new tattoo. Suggestions? Find me on Instagram or Twitter @kjerstieb.
Want to become a volunteer writer? Tell us here!