How to Date a Queer Person Who’s Not Out Yet

LGBT couples face a range of challenges that straight couples don’t — one of them is the fact that being in the relationship at all involves a vulnerable and sometimes materially risky project of personal reckoning first. There are plenty of reasons why we may meet someone we’re crazy about before we’ve gone through the tricky social and logistical process of coming out in all areas of our lives; but having a relationship with one foot in the closet can be hard on all parties involved. It’s difficult to feel like a secret in any part of your partner’s life, and it makes the logistics of sharing a life tricky. Here’s what I recommend if you’re dating someone who’s not (all the way) out yet.

Check in with how you feel about visibility

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Discussions of coming out and what it signifies can bring up strong emotions for everyone involved. It may push buttons related to your own coming out, or what it felt like the years prior in the closet. It may bring up feelings of resentment — I did the hard thing and came out, why can’t they? The prospect of a partner who’s not out may also bring up feelings around significance or the relationship’s future. You may feel that if you were really important to this person, they would come out for your sake; it may feel like they’ve already decided this relationship can’t really go anywhere. 

These feelings are all understandable and fair to have, regardless of whether you choose to share them with your partner and act on them. Before you start a conversation with your partner on this topic — or before resentment bubbles up and a fight about it breaks out — it’s worth thinking about what your emotional buttons around this topic are. What are the stakes to you? What are your fears and hopes related to this topic? Understanding your own perspective and being able to articulate it clearly will be enormously helpful in navigating this issue as a couple.

Listen to your partner’s perspective with curiosity and compassion

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There are a lot of reasons someone might not be out despite being in a queer relationship. They may have come into their identity only recently; there may be barriers related to religion or culture in their community; they may have reason to worry about ostracization from their family or community, or fear losing crucial financial or material support. You may already have some understanding of this, but if you’re feeling friction around the topic of visibility in your relationship, it may be useful to do some deeper listening. 

Try asking open-ended, non-judgemental questions of your partner about their history and choices regarding their identity. What does the idea of coming out mean to them? What does the prospect of staying in the closet mean to them? How do they see the future of their identity? What are their hopes and fears around this topic?

You may learn something you didn’t know about your partner’s thoughts on coming out — maybe their motivations are more complex than you were aware of, or their feelings on the subject have changed since you last spoke. It’s fair to also ask how they see this impacting your relationship in the future — how do they feel about navigating future relationship milestones, like moving in or potentially having kids? Hopefully your partner wants to hear your thoughts on this as well! Actively listening to your partner’s thoughts on this with a minimum of weighing in or trying to change their mind can help you approach this issue with equanimity and compassion for you both.

Talk about your needs and consider your boundaries

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In this and in all things, the reality is that you can’t control someone else’s behavior, only your own. It can be genuinely difficult to be in a same-sex relationship in which any members of the relationship are in the closet. At the same time, coaxing or giving ultimatums to your partner to change this state of affairs isn’t likely to improve your relationship.

Returning to your own interior experience and priorities, think back to what the idea of a closeted relationship means to you. What specific kinds of friction is it causing you? Is the core issue feeling hidden or secret in your partner’s life? A feeling of being unimportant or uncommitted to? Is it triggering internalized homophobia? Being able to name these experiences and sharing them with your partner can help you both address them directly. Even if it’s not possible for your partner to come out right now, is there a way they can make you feel more honored, more valued, or more seen in your relationship to alleviate the hurt you’re feeling. 

The biggest factor in your partner eventually feeling comfortable coming out may be receiving more support. Talking through the reasons why they haven’t come out yet, are there ways to address any of their concerns? If they’re worried about losing work in their industry or professional relationships, maybe both of you could work together on helping them change industries. If losing religious or spiritual community is a concern, maybe you could work together to research affirming religious services and attend together. 

It’s still true, however, that these measures may still leave you feeling frustrated or unfulfilled. While you can’t force your partner to come out, you can make choices about how you want to show up in this relationship — and if you want to be in it at all. If it makes you uncomfortable or feels bad to meet friends and family without them knowing who you really are to each other, you can decline. You can set boundaries about what relationship milestones you’re willing to share; maybe you’re okay with casually dating someone who isn’t out, but aren’t willing to move in with someone for a serious relationship if they’re still in the closet. Ultimately, your partner’s journey with their identity is their own — and you’re empowered to make your own choices about it to prioritize your own wellbeing.

Recommended Books:


Surviving the Closet: Learning to Live After Coming Out Later in Life

Coming Out Stories: Personal Experiences of Coming Out from Across the LGBTQ+ Spectrum

For More Articles Check Out These Recent Posts:

Coming Out Later In Life

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