This week, Danny M. Lavery and special guest Calvin Kasulke discuss a Prudie letter. This week: sad about FaceTime.
Calvin Kasulke: Oh no!
Daniel Lavery: There’s a lot to get to but I want to start with the thing that feels most pressing
which is that you cannot blame yourself for “reminding someone” of an abusive relationship by asking for something as reasonable as “can we be in separate rooms when you call your homophobic mother”
Calvin Kasulke: Yes I think that is a firm place to start. This is classic “conflict is not abuse” stuff but that is a reasonable boundary to set, and asking “are you going to call your homophobic mom every day” and going to the office when she does is miles away from isolating your partner away from her loved ones
But I’m hung up on this spare bedroom/office–the height of luxury–because you both have jobs and are apparently financially independent, so I’m wondering why your girlfriend insists on remaining closeted to her family!
Daniel Lavery: and while it’s reasonable to, say, not want to *invoke* her past abusive relationship in your conflict now
if you hold yourself to the standard of “I must never remind her of her past relationship” you will paint yourself into the corner
because you don’t *know* what might remind her of that relationship
your only job is to not behave abusively, which you’re already doing
Calvin Kasulke: Yes there is nothing you can do to Eternal Sunshine your girlfriend’s past out of her mind
Daniel Lavery: not to take on the blame of someone else’s past abuse
Calvin Kasulke: And fighting the battles of her last relationship is a losing game, for both of you.
What are your thoughts on this spare office boundary vs. the “lie about being roommates” situation?
To me, physical and financial safety are usually the main reasons to remain closeted, and neither of those things seem to be a factor here
And “fearing rejection” from family seems like an insufficient reason for an adult with a live-in partner to keep up the charade
Daniel Lavery: I have different thoughts here!
I think the most salient point is that the LW, for now at least, is comfortable being in a relationship with someone who’s not out to her family of origin
and while that wouldn’t work for me — at least it wouldn’t if they were also very close to said family — I’m not in that relationship
I think there can sometimes be complicating factors when it comes to outness, although I agree that oftentimes the fear of what might happen if you come out can be worse than what actually happens, even if what actually happens is flat rejection
Calvin Kasulke: Oooh, I disagree that she’s comfortable!
Daniel Lavery: oh, I mean the current boundaries aren’t working at all, absolutely
Calvin Kasulke: She says she refuses to play along with the roommate game and even being asked to go to the office makes her “feel awful”
Daniel Lavery: that IS a good point
Calvin Kasulke: And short of having her girlfriend communicate with her mom telepathically, I think they might be due for a real discussion about coming out to the family
Obviously we don’t have all the information here behind “conservative family” but I’m not sure what the girlfriend’s plan is re: coming out, staying closeted forever
Daniel Lavery: yeah I think it was, if not naive, more avoidant than is helpful, that they moved in together without having a details-heavy conversation about what living together and being closeted to her family was going to look like, practically
the OP’s perspective was “she’s going to silo her relationship with her family and I’ll just be cool with that”
Calvin Kasulke: Right yeah, that should come with the lease
Daniel Lavery: and the girlfriend’s perspective was something like “she’ll pretend to be my roommate n my daily calls, and we’re all going to be really close and really closeted at the same time”
so the basic question is “how do we handle this so i’m not being controlling and also don’t fall apart everyday”
and the answer to the first is just, incredibly straightforwardly, you’re not being controlling
Calvin Kasulke: It’s fine for them to have tried that and to discover these boundaries no longer work
Daniel Lavery: you have feelings about the ways in which your girlfriend has asked you to join her in a closeted relationship to her family
Calvin Kasulke: Right, which is not the same as being controlling
Daniel Lavery: and I do have real sympathy for the girlfriend; I get that the prospect of coming out to your family and losing the closeness you know is on some level conditional isn’t just as straightforward as “I have my own money, big deal”
Calvin Kasulke: Of course, I don’t mean to say that it will be easy
Just that it won’t be financially endangering
Daniel Lavery: hopefully!!
anyhow, I think the best thing you can do is just have the conversation with her you had with me in the letter
tell her it doesn’t work for you to pretend to be roommates and that’s off the table
if she’s totally uninterested in coming out to her family then you have to come up with a strategy where you can discuss who’s in what room for those calls
and if that strategy stops working
and you keep falling apart
it may be a sign that this arrangement isn’t going to work out
and if she cries or has a tough time, you can pause, comfort her, talk it through, etc — but you DO have to go back to that conversation again
and that’s not abusive or controlling!
Calvin Kasulke: Right, and again. It is normal for circumstances to change and to try new methods and new boundaries
Daniel Lavery: she needs to be able to talk about this with you
Calvin Kasulke: Yeah, crying when you broach the subject isn’t ideal if it keeps happening
Daniel Lavery: mostly I just want to stress that saying “It causes me pain to pretend to be your roommate” or “I’m having a hard time with your relationship to your family” is not the same thing as “Stop speaking to your mother and friends”
it’s fine, I sometimes cry during difficult conversations, the only problem is if you both think that someone crying means a conversation has to be forever avoided
you can take a break to cry and let yourself have big feelings and then continue
Calvin Kasulke: Right, crying cannot be a means to perma-ban a topic
It’s a big hard conversation and it might lead to more big hard conversations, either with her or her family
Daniel Lavery: and if you ultimately decide this doesn’t work for you — saying “I can’t be in this relationship because this connection with your family is hard for me” is not the same as manipulation or control
Calvin Kasulke: Right, and it is miles away from cutting someone off from their friends or family
You don’t need to be in a relationship with someone with indefinite plans to be closeted!
Daniel Lavery: you can, if it works for you — but it has to actually *work* for you in the specifics
wishful thinking and “I’m sure it’ll be fine” does not actually mean it’s working
Calvin Kasulke: And also, conditional love (from your girlfriend’s homophobic family to her, or possibly from your girlfriend to you so long as you lie for her) is not… worth it
Daniel Lavery: I do think we differ there
Calvin Kasulke: I mean, love is often conditional, but these are hefty conditions
Daniel Lavery: I get it, but I also think different people can have different responses to contingent/sometimes-distant relationships to family of origin
it takes a toll, it’s hard
but it may be worth it to some people in some conditions
and not worth it to others
Calvin Kasulke: For sure, but “FaceTime every day” is not super distant, and makes that a daily struggle
Daniel Lavery: oh, I agree that is definitely excruciating-sounding
Calvin Kasulke: yes we agree that this sounds UNCOMFORTABLE
Daniel Lavery: Good luck! these are difficult conditions even without the part where you’re stuck at home so much of the time
Calvin Kasulke: Probably worse, frankly! I am so sorry
If your partner decides to come out, she can try pairing it with other bad news!
I came out to my homophobic mom by also telling her I didn’t believe in God, maybe try that
Flood the system