Secret love affairs: sexy or detrimental?

I’ve never dated a married man, but I imagine it feels a lot like dating someone who is in the closet.

Coming into one’s own sexuality can be a beautiful experience. “Coming out” is a time when you are first starting to welcome your own sexual preferences and learning to accept and embrace your most authentic self. Being out and dating someone who is still “in the closet,” however, can not only make you question your own sexual desires, it can also be detrimental to your well-being.

A year ago, I found myself stepping out of the heteronormative closet, all while dating a girl whose actions were slowly, but surely, pulling me back into the closeted darkness.

Olivia, whose name I’ve changed in this article, talked to me about her desire to date girls like she was getting paid for it.

She had dabbled with the idea of dating girls in the past and had even dipped her feet in the Lez pool once or twice before, but for all intents and purposes I was her first female lover, and she was technically mine.

Initially, I thought I was okay with being with someone who was still in the closet, but as time went by, I began to resent her. I began to resent myself. I hated that I allowed myself to be in a relationship that forced me to feel like I was hiding a part of my life that to me, felt so natural. Dating her was the first time I ever felt like a secret, and it was a dirty feeling to say the least.

Olivia was, to borrow a phrase from journalist Jeremy Helligar, chronologically a woman but a girl to the bone, and the three months I dated her were the most mentally and emotionally exhausting of my life.

According to Science Daily, “lesbians, gays and bisexuals (LGBs) who are out to others have lower stress hormone levels and fewer symptoms of anxiety, depression, and burnout, according to researchers. Cortisol is a stress hormone in our body. When chronically strained, cortisol contributes to the ‘wear and tear’ exerted on multiple biological systems.”

Being romantic in private with Olivia and at times pretending like we were merely acquaintances in public caused me to develop severe anxiety and irrational insecurities. Olivia and I couldn’t hold hands or make eye contact for too long, and on social media it appeared to everyone that we were best friends, not lovers, so I longed for the moments when we could be behind closed doors and grew anxious when we weren’t. Only a few of our close friends knew were were dating, but to the world outside our closeted bubble, we were single and ready to mingle, and I often feared Olivia would take advantage of that.

Another aspect of our relationship that gave me anxiety was my fear of outing her, which is why I’ve changed her name in this article. Even if I wanted to tell my coworkers or people outside of our close circle of friends that I was dating someone, I couldn’t. I was a secret, and hearing Olivia acknowledge me as merely a friend broke my heart every time.

I’ve never had a “coming out” moment. I never posted a Facebook status saying “I’m gay,” and to the untrained eye, I am as straight as they come. For me, exploring my sexuality has always been a fluid experience. I like who I like, and there’s not much else to it. I’ve never attached a label to my sexual orientation, nor have I told my family about my relationships with women. Heterosexual folks don’t feel the need to “come out” to their parents, so why should I?

I am not ignorant to the fact that there are some individuals whose circumstances simply do not allow them to be out. I am fully aware of the fact that, for some people, coming out means being disowned from their family, kicked out from their homes or even sent to pray-the-gay-away therapy.

I understand that everyone’s coming out process is different, and while I don’t regret my relationship with Olivia because it taught me a lot about myself as a person, if I had the choice to date someone who was in the closet again, I wouldn’t.

It has taken me 23 years to comes to terms with every aspect of myself, and I refuse to let another individual make me feel insecure or ashamed for it. Dating someone in the closet taught me how to keep secrets, but from now on the only secrets I will be hiding are my own.