Dear Carolyn: I have known “Sarah” for half my life. We are now in our late 20s. I came out to her as a lesbian two years ago and am dating someone.
Sarah is a conservative Christian, so I have made sure to be careful around her regarding our public displays of affection. I basically told my girlfriend we should act the same around Sarah as we would around family. The occasional kiss on the cheek or hand-holding, nothing more.
Recently, my girlfriend and I asked Sarah out to dinner. She initially replied maybe, then about an hour later told us she would come if we “chilled with the PDA,” and added, “I would ask the same if your girlfriend was a man.”
I am angry. I have been very careful around her, and was shocked at her request. I don’t really know what to do. My family is unsupportive so I hide a significant amount of my life already — they know but refuse to talk about it — and I don’t want to have to hide around my best friend. Any advice on how to proceed?
— Careful About PDA
Careful About PDA: Her beliefs do not carry an obligation for you to sugarcoat who you are, so you have already chosen to compromise yourself to please her where best friends typically wouldn’t have to.
Treating it as a PDA issue is a red herring, too. Bystanders have begged handsy straight people to “get a room” since forever, of course — but that “Ew, yuck, PDA!” can’t be cover for those who witness same-sex hand-holding to complain that they’re “okay with gay people but sick of having homosexuality rubbed in their faces” or whatever wording the Bigotry Lite Brigade is spewing.
So I hope you’ll challenge Sarah’s weak self-justification:
“Are you sure you’d ask the same thing if I were dating a man? Because I am already extremely careful about my PDA around you, and that’s something I wouldn’t do if I were dating a man. I would just be myself without even thinking about it.
“So I’ll ask the same as if your faith didn’t discriminate against me: May I enjoy the privilege of being myself around you, as-is?”
Say you don’t expect an immediate response, but instead hope she’ll give this some thought.
I suggest this assuming you want to maintain your friendship with Sarah. If this incident is enough for you to rethink that, then that’s your prerogative and don’t let her or anyone else tell you otherwise. In that case, a direct phrasing will do: “I’ve already held back to avoid upsetting you. So, no, I won’t ‘chill with the PDA’ — I’ve compromised enough.”
Re: Sarah: An important life lesson that people need to learn for themselves (yes, I did, the hard way) is that friendships aren’t always forever. Also, sometimes it’s better just to drift apart rather than provoke an argument: In this case, “Sarah” will know why even without her friend spelling it out.
Anonymous: True. But if “Careful” wants to say her piece for her own reasons, then I certainly hope she does.