Here's What To Do If You're Not Out, But You're Dating Someone Who Is

In my ideal world, gender would be #canceled. Of course, in the real world, it's not always comfortable or safe for queer angels to openly embrace their identities. Maybe you're more private about your sexuality or gender identity than your partner. Or perhaps you're not out, but you're dating an out person. Whatever the case, doing what feels right for you doesn't mean your relationship is any less valid or special.

"Each individual has to figure out what is right for them, and each person needs to decide what's at stake and what feels the safest and most comfortable in their process," Chris Bright, director of public training for The Trevor Project, tells Elite Daily. "The 'coming-out process' is deeply personal and very much about you and not about other people."

Though you may love your partner more than anything, when it comes to coming out, you call the shots. If your family or friends are not queer-affirming, coming out may mean risking your housing or physical safety. You may not be able to share your relationship with the world around you, even if you'd like to shout it from the rooftops. Though every partnership is different, if you and your SO have different levels of "outness," here are five ways to feel safe and supported.

Communicate your boundaries & your intentions.

Your partner may know a lot about you, but they can't literally read your mind. Maybe you aren't able to answer the phone in front of your mom, but you'd love to hear about their day, or you can't wait for them to meet your besties someday. Perhaps you're just not ready to tell your friends RN. Getting clear on your boundaries and intentions can help your partner understand where you're coming from. "A big piece is communication, making sure that you've communicated your needs and what would feel right for you and your relationship," Bright says.

If you're not able to come out to your family, but you would love for your partner to meet them, telling your boo that you wish they could come to family dinner may make them better about not being able to go. Additionally, if you're not ready to come out to your friends, expressing where you're at to your boo may help them understand that you're not trying to "hide" them, you're just doing what feels safe and right for you. "Having that difficult conversation might open up some empathy in your partner to be like, 'You're right, this isn't about me. This is about you, and this is hard on me, yes, but I signed up to be in this relationship. As long as I'm here, I'm going to respect your boundaries.'"

Bright attests that while it's OK for your partner to talk about how your different levels of "outness" affects them, it's important that your SO respects your boundaries and prioritizes your comfort and safety. "One thing to point out is, 'I know my needs and situation better than anyone else, and I need you to trust that this is what is safe and OK for me. I will move the mark or change the boundaries when it feels right to do that, but I'm not going to do it before then.'"

Think about each other's experiences, and adapt the best you can.

"I think the question of whether its 'OK' to date someone who's level of 'outness' is different than yours comes down to you and your adaptability," Bright says, "Your ability to say, 'You know what, this person is having a different experience in their life, but we're going to grow as we go, and not expect each other to be in the same exact place.'" As Bright shares, dating someone with a different level of "outness" can be complicated. Still, understanding the differences in your lived experiences and your needs can help you find what works for you.

"Have a conversation with your partner(s) on what your relationship needs to look like so as to have the most fruitful relationship possible," Seth Kaempfer, LGBTQ+ Equity and Inclusion Practitioner, tells Elite Daily. "Also, be open to communication from the 'out' partner (or partners) on how they feel about it as the relationship goes forward."

Communication and compromise are healthy parts of any relationship. Seeing where your partner is at and making sure that they feel loved and supported is part of, well, being a partner. Though other relationships may look a certain way, the only method for figuring out what works for you and your partner is to talk about it openly.

Figure out what works for you.

Listen, just because one (or both) partners aren't "out" doesn't mean your relationship is any less romantic, sexy, cute, fulfilling, or #couplesgoals. Though you may not feel safe or comfortable Instagramming about your anniversary or eating out in public, you can still find ways to celebrate each other.

"Have a conversation about the feelings," Bright says. "'Hey, we can't do this thing the way you want to, and I understand that doesn't feel good, so let's talk about what else we can do to make it feel better or to make sure that we're communicating our needs.'"

As Bright shares, hosting a romantic dinner at your house or finding ways to celebrate each other more privately may make you both feel special. Additionally, if your boo can't attend your family birthday soiree, planning a separate evening with them may validate how important they are to you. Additionally, speaking about PDA or what types of romantic behavior you feel comfortable with can be super important.

"Talk to them about where, when, and how all of you would like PDA to be expressed and how dates should look like," Kaempfer says. "Ask about the ways in which they want to receive affirmation and affection. Ways to show care could look like: sending them gifts while at work, spending quality time with them at home, or having consensual sex."

Know that you'll evolve together.

Don't get it twisted: It's always important to acknowledge the differences in your lived experience from other people (i.e., check your privilege, hunny). Still, if you and your boo have different levels of "outness," you can understand where you each are at while still making space for each other to evolve.

"A lot of relationships have this notion that you have to be who you're going to be from day one, and the problem is, we're all evolving," Bright says. "We show a version of ourselves early on that we think other people want to see, and we can't keep up that charade for too long because that's not us." Rather than completely focusing on your differences, think about the ways you and your partner will both change and grow.

In the simplest of terms: sh*t happens. Maybe next year, you'll get a higher paying job that allows you to pay for your own place. That way, you no longer risk losing your home if you come out. Perhaps tomorrow you and your mom will end up having an impromptu heart-to-heart, and you'll finally get to invite your boo over for family dinner. Although it's possible that you may never feel safe or comfortable coming out to your friends or family (which is totally OK), you may one day feel ready or able to open up to the people around you. Coming out can give your relationship room to grow.

"I feel like every five years you can look back and be like, 'Wow, I upgraded,'" Bright says. "'We have to accept that we’re each going to grow in relationships and become who were going to become together.'"

Remember that your relationship is valid.
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Make no mistake, feeling like your partner is hiding you can be indescribably painful. I can tell you from personal experience that getting hit with a text that says, "You can't tell anyone this happened," can feel like the Bitmoji cartoon of ripping out its own heart. Yet, holding space for queer people to express themselves in their own time and on their own terms is imperative. And if you're not ready or safe to "come out," it doesn't mean you don't love your partner and your relationship, it just means you're doing what you need to do for you.

"There may be any number of reasons why someone may make the decision not to come out, and we can't pretend that decision isn't going to impact one person in the relationship and not the other. It will impact both people," Bright says. "But, it still comes down to the individual decision that one is making. We each know our own needs and our own safety better than the other."

Though having a different level of "outness" may impact your partner, you are a flawless angel. You never need to do anything that you aren't ready or comfortable doing. Your relationship is real, valid, romantic, and sexy, no matter who "knows" about it, and you know what you need to do to feel safe and secure in your own life.

No matter how long you've been seeing someone, if you're not ready or able to come out, you never need to feel pressured. Though every relationship is different, talking about your needs and boundaries may help you find the best ways to feel celebrated and supported in your relationship. While compromise is never easy, trying to see where each other is at can be a great way to find a middle ground. At the end of the day, you and your partner are going to change, grow, adapt, learn, and expand as you build a relationship together, regardless of how "out" you are.

For more stories like this one, visit Elite Daily's Coming Out page.