Ah, Unrequited Love...
There are few things worse than being an LGBT person in love with a straight friend.
It’s finally fall. Vanquished are the heat and sweat of summer: my sworn enemies. Usher in the chilly breezes, bright leaves, and pumpkin-flavored… everything. Fall is a season of nostalgia. It makes me think a lot about the memories I’ve made with the people I love - and some with people who are no longer in my life.
I think that’s why the topic of unrequited love has been on my mind lately. As a gay man, I’ve had my fair share of mistakes and missteps when it comes to love, particularly of the unrequited variety. You’d be hard-pressed to find a topic more relatable to the LGBT community than that of falling in love with a straight person. It’s somewhat universal, at least from who I’ve talked to and from what I’ve personally experienced.
And it’s universally miserable.
For most of my life I was convinced that I was doomed to repeat this painful cycle of unreturned feelings, almost exclusively for straight men. It hit me hardest in high school, when I wasn’t out and wasn’t able to surround myself with a supportive LGBT community. When you’re young and closeted and trying to fit in, your suffering is a very isolating experience. I, quite literally, had no one to talk to about how I was feeling.
The unfortunate reality is that young LGBT people essentially have no choice but to fall for straight people. I think things are changing, but for the most part it’s still incredibly difficult to come out in high school. Because of that, high schools are full of straight people - or, at least, people who haven’t come out yet.
When surrounded by heterosexuality, your romantic feelings have nowhere to turn. For most people, high school is a time in which your heart is a cacophony of conflicting emotions at all times. Young humans feel everything more deeply, because they are still learning how to process the complexities of our emotional spectrum. Because of that, young LGBT people are bound to fall in love with their straight counterparts - whether it’s someone in their chemistry class who never even looks at them, or their best friend.
For me, it was always my friends that I fell for. I would argue that’s how it is for most people who experience unrequited love - whether gay or straight. When you’re spending a lot of time with someone, you get to know them on a level that opens the door for deeper connections to be made. In a way, strong friendships are similar to romantic relationships - so it’s a slippery slope into falling in love with the wrong person.
It’s likely that, gay or straight, most people who fall in love with a friend tend to keep it to themselves and suffer alone. I think this hits LGBT people much harder, however, because if you aren’t out to anyone, you literally cannot discuss it without outing yourself. For straight people, they could always talk about it in vague terms or pick a trusted friend to spill the beans to. For closeted young LGBT people - like me - that just wasn’t an option.
I don’t want to be dark, but when I look back on my life from an extremely zoomed-out view, my later high school years contained some of the worst things I’ve ever experienced. It’s difficult to write about because of how personal it is, but suffering through loving someone who will never love you back is extremely difficult - even more so when you have to deal with it alone. Layer on the shame of thinking your sexuality is wrong, and the stress of trying to keep that to yourself… and you can see how it would lead to a lot of pain.
Closeted LGBT people not only have to hide their true feelings, but they also have to pretend to like another gender completely. When you're in love with your straight friend, you have to give them advice about their own struggles with love, and you have to watch them date and be happy with other people - people who you know will never be you, because that person just isn’t wired that way.
These struggles, as I’ve mentioned, are not unique to the LGBT community. But it’s much more complicated, much more painful, and much more difficult when you’re a gay person in love with a straight person. The heart is much, much dumber than the brain. Even when you know that someone can never love you back, your heart tries to convince you that anything is possible.
The funny thing, looking back on my own personal struggles, is that several of the “straight” men I was in love with in high school or college have since come out as gay. If I spent too much time thinking about that it might upset me, but instead I choose to be amused by it. I’ve come to discover that life is full of little twists and turns. That’s what keeps things interesting.
My point in writing this post is to let other LGBT people, especially young LGBT people, know that what you’ve experienced or are experiencing is completely normal. No matter how alone you feel, or how dark things get, or how much it seems like nothing will ever get better… it will. You are never alone. Generations of LGBT people before you have experienced it, and most of us have survived it.
I’d like to end this post by saying that I am here for anyone who needs it, whether I know you or not. Especially youngsters who might, somehow, find this blog. You can always talk to me, no matter how alone you are feeling. Your thoughts, emotions, and secrets are safe with me.
Unrequited love is a mean beast. But it’s a conquerable one. It just takes time.
This post is brought to you by Future Looks Good by One Republic, because it’s a song that reminds me things can - and will - get better. You just have to hold on. It’s been added to my blog playlist, which you can download on both Spotify and Apple Music. Enjoy.
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