I'm a guy in love with a lesbian

I know it'll never work out romantically, but right now she's falling apart and maybe I can help.

Published October 10, 2005 11:18AM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

I'm a guy, and I've been very much in love with a lesbian for over a year now. I met her through a friend, knowing she was gay, and fell for her instantly. I'm young -- 20 then, 22 now; these kinds of things happen. I spent a few weeks just happy to know her, then a month or two struggling with the situation. How could I get by so thoroughly desiring someone I could never have? Where do I draw the line, emotionally? A person in love acts different toward the object of their affection than they do around anyone else. I've found it difficult to be around her as a friend sometimes because I think the affection I show, modest as it may be, is belittling to her identity.

I've dealt with the desire. It's the other stuff that's killing me, especially now. To put it simply, this girl needs a friend willing to sacrifice for her in the worst possible way. She has a drinking problem that is getting worse. Her relationship with her mother is quickly going downhill, and she is upset over her extended family's homophobia. She seems to be a magnet for straight girls looking for a good, experimental time. She sleeps around, looking for love, only to call herself a dirty whore. Close friends have abandoned her. She feels like (and has said) no one cares about her.

It's bad. She has stopped therapy, is off her medication, and is starting to lose it. The only people she trusts to help her are either ex-girlfriends who can't deal with her anymore, prospective girlfriends who are simply looking for something else, or old confidants who live across the country. There are other people who seem disinterested. I feel like I'm the only person willing and able to do something.

And that's the problem. She won't let me in, essentially, and I can't find a way to get in without pushing buttons I'm not allowed to push. She will tell me things, and open herself up to an extent, but the bottom line is, there is a barrier she is not willing to let down. Part of this is age (she's five years older than I am at 27 -- maybe not a lot later in life, but enough at this point), and part of this is because I'm a guy.

I always thought the guy part maybe wasn't true, but as far as I know she has never emotionally opened herself up to a guy before. Then, the other night, while drunk, depressed and emotionally lost (for various reasons), she dropped a bombshell on me:

She was raped when she was 12.

I didn't know how to react. I couldn't even cry. She might even be lying, actually -- she was drunk, and she sometimes like to play off of the desires of others. But there's a really good chance she was telling the truth. It would explain a lot: why she has never really trusted guys; why when she gets depressed or lonely she won't let me come near her. She spent the rest of the night alternating between desperately trying to explain herself to me and trying to distance herself as much as she could by either abruptly changing the subject, openly wishing other people were there (some of the same people whom she said didn't care), or literally sitting in the corner. I don't know how to handle this. I really don't think I can go up to her out of nowhere and say, "Hey, about that rape thing -- did it really happen?" And even if I could, what would I do after that? What would it mean to me?

Either way, I'm in a situation where I know she needs help, and she knows I love her, but because of extreme circumstances I may be the person least equipped to do anything about it. And yet there is no one else. What do I do?

In Love With a Lesbian

Dear In Love With a Lesbian,

What you need to do is get her back into therapy and back on medication. How do you do that? You can't just drag her into the little room with the comfortable chair and the full box of tissues. You have to first learn everything you can: How long was she in therapy, who was her therapist, what medications was she taking and for how long?

Talk to those who were close to her while she was in therapy. She must have discussed her reasons for being in therapy with some people -- family, friends. She may have told them she hated it and that it was not doing her any good. She may have resented her therapist. She may have felt that the drugs she was being given were simply being used to control her. She may have felt that the therapist did not really care about her. She may have thought she had good reason to quit therapy and stop taking the medication. And, indeed, the therapist may not be the right one and the drugs may need to be adjusted or changed. But the bottom line is that she has some genuine problems that at one point she was taking structured, conscious steps to alleviate. She wasn't floundering. But then she got sidetracked. Something happened. Maybe she had a bad session, or memories arose that she felt she could not discuss with her therapist, or she found more relief in drinking and acting out than in the sometimes tedious and wearying process of trying week after week to bring order and clarity to her management of emotions and her decision-making process. So maybe it made sense to her to take a vacation from that.

But after she got sidetracked, she got worse. It is likely that she will continue to get worse. The longer she flounders, the more emotional upset she will experience, the more harm she will do to herself, the unhappier she will get, and the harder it will be to get back to where she was. Right now, she's in a terrible situation. She needs love and stability and she's not getting it. You indicate that she is being exploited sexually by other women. And naturally she is using alcohol to block out certain feelings that may bring a sense of terrible panic and fear when they arise.

So she needs to get back on track and start getting better again.

I don't know exactly how you go about getting her to revisit her therapist. That is why I suggest simply learning as much as you can first. Perhaps an idea will come to you. Perhaps in talking with her, she herself will suggest something she would like to do. Perhaps she would like to spend some time in some kind of clinic. You could contact her therapist and say that she is in bad shape and you are trying to help and ask for suggestions. Her therapist may know of opportunities that might appeal to her.

There are a couple of things we all know: You can't really stop a person from drinking and taking drugs if they're driven to do it, and you can't really force a person to actively participate in a course of psychotherapy. But you can intervene and take your chances. You can put someone in a program to dry out and confront some feelings in a safe environment. And you can make deals with people -- that if you let me take you back to therapy, I'll stick by your side, I'll keep your parents off your back, I'll cook you meals and let you sleep on my couch, whatever.

People will break deals, of course. People will screw up. What you are trying to do is help. That doesn't mean you can solve every problem she has. What you want to do is shore up the positive elements in her life that are keeping her together; you might call it harm reduction. If you love her, that's what you can do to prove it.

It won't be easy, but it will be the right thing to do.

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