A lesbian in love with a man

I'm so tormented! I'm in love with him but not attracted sexually. Why can't I get him out of my mind?

By Cary Tennis
Published August 29, 2012 12:00AM (EDT)
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       (Zach Trenholm/Salon)
(Zach Trenholm/Salon)

Dear Cary,

I'm 24, a lesbian and in love with a man.  Or maybe "obsessed" is a better word. 

I met this guy through a friend last year.  He seemed nice enough, we saw each other occasionally in groups, he dated a mutual friend for a bit.  Sometime around Christmas, things changed, though.  He started texting me a lot -- at night, while traveling, just to say hi.  I was amused, though somewhat confused, and played along with it because I liked the attention, honestly.  We started hanging out on our own after a couple of months, as it turned out that we had similar interests and clicked really well as friends.  And then it happened -- one night we got really drunk and he confessed to having a "huge crush" on me.  I was honestly shocked, hadn't seen it coming at all -- why would he even have a crush on a girl who's openly gay?  My immediate response was to reject him as kindly as possible, explaining that while I really liked him, I'd never been into men and wasn't about to be into him.  He took it really well, we both agreed to carry on the friendship, and things were OK for a week or so.  But at this point the obsession kicked in.  I was in the middle of some huge life changes -- breaking up with my girlfriend of over a year, my parents were splitting up, and I was about a month away from packing up everything I owned and leaving my hometown for a new city 1,700 miles away -- and in a "fuck it" kind of phase, generally feeling like I was jumping off a cliff into a great unknown.  And I couldn't let the idea of his crush on me go.  So the next time we were drunk I flirted with him until he made a move to kiss me, and I let him do it.  Why?  I was craving physical affection that I was no longer getting from my girlfriend, I was flattered that he felt something for me, and I was just plain curious because I'd never really had any sexual contact with a man before.  And honestly, it was nothing special.  We went at it for a bit, but eventually I got bored and stopped him.  There was a lot of drunk fuss from both of us about it -- him apologizing for crossing boundaries, me for sending mixed signals -- and again, a promise to stay friends.  But over the next couple of weeks, I couldn't let it go.  I ended up in bed with him a couple times for more makeout sessions and cuddling which ultimately left me feeling uncomfortable and, I am sure, left him massively unsatisfied.  And then I moved away. 

For the next few months we were in contact almost every day, much more than any other friend that I'd left behind.  Three months later I went back to visit family and, of course, spent time with this guy.  He didn't make any move on me and I was very careful to not initiate anything, but several nights in a row he tried to convince me to get in bed with him, until I finally snapped and told him that it had to stop, that I hadn't come back to sleep with him, and that the reality of things was that I lived in a different state now, where I was spending a lot of time chasing other women around.  I hadn't intended to be harsh and later apologized for my tone, but it clearly hurt him and we had a very awkward goodbye.  I left suspecting that I'd just effectively ended this friendship that I really enjoyed and tried to just accept that these things happen.  But now, weeks later, I can't stop thinking about him.  I miss our connection.  I was comfortable with him in a way that I'm not often with people, especially men.  I've had more fun with him than almost anyone else.  On a more shallow level I also miss his attention.  He has a very charismatic presence (this actually seems to attract a lot of queer women to him in a way that I'm not entirely comfortable with), he's very conventionally attractive, he has a lot of social status, and I liked being around all this.  I feel like for some women this would all naturally be reason enough to have a romantic relationship with him, but I just am not interested in him sexually.  I thought about it a lot when I last saw him and I really do not feel the same physical draw to him that I do to women.  I actually wish I did, because I feel like it would simplify this situation greatly. 

So I just need to let him (or the idea of him) go, right?  Move on with my life in this new place?  I thought that would happen naturally after I'd gotten some closure during that visit, but it hasn't.  He's constantly at the edge of my mind.  I keep rehashing what we did, what I did, our last interactions, wondering what I should have done differently, wondering if I actually am sexually attracted to him and am subconsciously repressing it, like coming out in reverse.  It's wearing me out.  I'm tired of having my mind in two different places at once.  I'm grossed out by my own desperation over this guy.  We're not really talking much these days like we used to, so this is all my doing.  How do I quit obsessing? 

Needing a New Focus

Dear Needing a New Focus,

Every time you make contact with him in any way, you are reigniting a set of responses. Control your behavior and your feelings will eventually follow. So don't get drunk with him. Don't text him. Seriously: Not at all. Don't talk with him. Don't hang out with him. Physically, behaviorally, just back off. If you have to write him one letter explaining that you have to cut off communication with him for a period of time, then do that. But then really, seriously, stop.

If you can do that, time will indeed be your friend. The longer you can go without contact, the better you will feel. But every time you reignite this set of responses, you're going to be back where you started, obsessed and anxious and confused about why your feelings are so out of control.

I note that this began when you were under a lot of stress, and were "in a 'fuck it' kind of phase." Behind the "fuck it" response is overwhelm, stress and sometimes a kind of hopelessness or self-hatred, a desire to just give up and let whatever is going to happen happen. We hurt ourselves at these times. We let go. You can't afford to do that. Catch yourself. Whenever you're thinking, "Aw, fuck it," take note of that. Take note of what precedes that -- a disappointment, being overly tired, fear about the future, a romantic breakup. Say to yourself, OK, I'm having one of those "fuck-it" moments, so I'm just going to do something different this time. I'm going to do something nice for myself. Give yourself some of what you need then -- a massage, a good meal, maybe some sexual healing by yourself, whatever works for you.

If you set up alternatives in advance when you are feeling good and in control, they will be there for you when you are down and about to relapse.

It would be great if you were stable enough to play with him, take what you need from the interaction and control your responses. But you aren't stable right now. You have been going through some big changes and your emotional life is a little out of whack. So you need to do yourself a favor and give yourself a cooling-off period.

Perhaps you believe that you ought to be able to hang out with him without any problem. Such beliefs can lead you to disobey your own rules. The fact is, you can't hang out with him right now without creating problems. You know that. It's abundantly clear.

If you cannot set rules for your own behavior and follow them, that will tell you something valuable. It will signal that setting boundaries and following your own rules is a fairly significant life issue for you now. That will be something to examine and work on.

So: At the same time you are starving this old, troubling behavior, start cultivating the "new focus" you need. You know the things about him that attract you, so look for those things in a woman. Search for an attractive, high-status woman who can be a good friend, who is attracted to you and makes you feel the way he makes you feel. Set your sights on that. Make that your goal. Don't deviate. Keep looking for her. She's out there.

Cary Tennis

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