Did I Ruin My Family’s Lives by Coming Out?

Dr. Olson,

I knew I was gay from age thirteen. I thought it would pass as I got older, but it didn’t. No one knew of my sexuality as my father was very against it. A men’s locker room was not a good place to share it either. Pressure got to me, and I married a woman and had a child.

We had a fantastic life together, but I always felt I was missing out on who I was. This past summer I finally shared with my family that I have always been gay. The weight of the world was lifted, but now I have destroyed the life of my wife and child. Three years ago, I met someone, and I love him. Will it get easier?


Dear Fife,

It does get easier.

The timelines for getting over this are different for different people. What is important is always to remember that it will get better. At times, it may get worse, too, like birthdays and holidays.

All of us had an idea of what life was supposed to be, but that image was a fantasy. We were promised that if we followed the rules, things would all work out. Often what we are grieving is the loss of that fantasy more than what life actually was like. I believe that we make the best choices we can make at the time we make them, given the circumstances of our lives.

Carrying the burden of this secret makes us feel lonely. We can’t ever connect with others the way we want because we’re so afraid of being found out. At thirty-two years old, I thought I had it all, everything I’d dreamed of: I had a wife and two daughters, had finished medical school and residency in psychiatry, had spent four years in the US navy, had a successful career, and had paid off all my school debts. But I felt alone.

Most of us believed the conflict we experienced would disappear once we were married and living the life that was expected of us. But it just didn’t happen. My wife was and still is a wonderful choice for me and a very good woman. But I couldn’t give her what she needed, and I couldn’t expect her to give me what I needed. Having a family made it even harder because I couldn’t be the father I always wanted to be. Deciding to leave everything we have behind for a world we don’t know and can’t imagine is a painful choice.

Like you, many of us believed we were giving up too much to live that secret. We wanted to feel whole. I often describe it as a predicament. We must choose between a bad option and a worse option; no good options are available. We have only three choices: fix it (not going to happen), put up with it (tried it, and it didn’t work), or get out.

I disagree with something you said. You did not destroy anyone’s life. We refer to that as “awfulizing.” You did turn their lives upside down for a while; that’s true. You took away their fantasy too. But was the reality of their lives really that good for them? Their lives were stable and predictable but based on a lie. Now they have an opportunity to know you as a complete person, and that takes time.

You have been living this conflict for years. They are just at the beginning of it. You can’t expect them to celebrate your newfound identity with you. They need time to integrate this new information. The difficulty for you comes from knowing that you have no control of how or when they do that.

Like many of us, you are probably a “fixer.” You love them and want to help them, but you can’t. They must create their own ways of dealing with this. When will this end? This is up to them, not you.

I came out after I found someone to love more completely in a way that I never knew existed before. I knew I could never go back to the compromised life I’d lived before. It has taken some time, but now my family understands this. They have come to love my husband and have included him in the family. They can see how I’ve changed and why.

None of us wanted our lives to turn out this way. This isn’t what we thought we were promised. But now I can connect with them more deeply and honestly. I no longer feel the loneliness I once felt.

My advice is to continue to tell all of them (including your ex-wife) that you still love them, just not in the same ways you thought you could. You can’t control if they love you back. In time, most will. For some, it may take a very long time.

Loren Olson