My Boyfriend Messaged Someone on a Gay Site. Does That Mean He’s Gay?

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Dear Sugars,

My boyfriend and I have been in a monogamous relationship for over a year. Recently, I snooped on his phone and learned that he’d been on a site where men solicit other men for sex. My boyfriend answered one of the ads in graphic terms that he’s never used with me. It didn’t look as if anything transpired beyond that, yet I feel stuck.

I didn’t confront him, but I talked to him about sexuality and told him how normal it was to fantasize. He asked me if I was trying to tell him I was bisexual. I said that I only wanted to be with him, and he said he felt the same way. He was so at ease during our conversation that I believed him, but I’m terrified that he’s unable to tell me the truth because he’s buried it. I’m afraid he’ll go farther and cheat on me. I’m afraid he wants to be with men (though I know that looking at a site such as this doesn’t make him gay or even bisexual). I don’t want to lose him. I’d rather love him through this than be without him. We all have sexual fantasies, right?

I know you’re thinking I should talk to him, but I can’t. I don’t think he’s ready to face it, and I’m not ready to admit my snooping. I’ve decided all I can do is keep the lines of communication open. I want him to feel comfortable, and I also want him to know that he can be honest with me. He’s a good man with a great heart. Is it normal to have sexual fantasies about things that we have no intention of doing? How else can I walk through this with him? Is it O.K. for me to be patient, keep the communication open, and trust him, or are we doomed?


Cheryl Strayed: Yes, it’s normal to have sexual fantasies about things we have no intention of doing, Snooper, but your boyfriend’s activities don’t fall into that category. You didn’t discover that he has sexual thoughts about men; you discovered he engaged with one online. I understand it’s difficult and painful to confront your boyfriend about the uncomfortable truths you discovered, but you must.

Steve Almond: I imagine it’s so hard to live in this kind of doubt, Snooper. I understand your desire to avoid confronting all the hard truths here. But the reason you snooped on your partner’s phone in the first place is because you suspected … something. Deferring a confrontation with the truth of what you found won’t make it go away. It will only compound the feelings of guilt, shame and betrayal that you are both furiously trying to deny. You owe it to yourself, and to your partner, to have a candid discussion — or a series of discussions — about all of this. The path to the truth almost always leads through shame. But it doesn’t have to end there.

CS: You say twice that you intend to keep the lines of communication open, but by neglecting to be honest with your partner, you’re shutting communication down, Snooper. Your boyfriend didn’t tell you the truth during your gentle fishing-for-a-confession conversation because he didn’t have to. He’s also likely ashamed about his online activity — perhaps because, as you fear, he’s gay and he’s buried that; perhaps because his actions are a betrayal of his stated wish to be monogamous with you; and perhaps both. The only way you’ll know why he’s hiding this part of himself from you is by fessing up to your own shame: the revelation that you violated your boyfriend’s privacy when you snooped and learned something that surprised and hurt you.

SA: A lot of women who discovered what your boyfriend did would consider it a deal breaker. It speaks to your love for this man, as well as your empathy and tolerance, that you want to make the relationship work and that you’re open to the possibility that his fantasies include homoerotic desires. But you must not allow these virtues to become instruments of self-punishment. Your partner’s actions went beyond fantasy. He went outside your relationship looking for something, and that something has a particular meaning. That’s what you need to uncover with your partner, if he’s willing.

I imagine your boyfriend’s surface poise is masking a kind of inner panic, one exacerbated by the stigma that a predominantly heterosexual culture inflicts on gay or bisexual men. That’s why so many men continue to hide their true desires by ensconcing themselves within heterosexual relationships. I’m not suggesting this is your situation, Snooper. I have no idea. And neither do you. That’s the whole point. You’ve been together for more than a year now. It’s time you two shared an honest accounting of your respective desires. We can’t keep others from betraying us — even those who love us. But we can make sure we don’t betray ourselves, by summoning the courage to confront the truth.

CS: Your impulse to avoid confrontation is born of your wish for things to be as they were before you knew what you know, Snooper, but that’s impossible. Your relationship changed the moment you read those messages, though your boyfriend doesn’t yet know it. You no longer trust someone you thought you could trust. You’re uncertain of the sexual desires of someone with whom you are intimately sexual.

Bringing these facts into the open and up for discussion will not destroy your relationship. Your denial of them will. What will you do the next time you search your boyfriend’s phone and find more erotic exchanges with men? If you manage to resist snooping again, are you content to live with the agony of knowing but not knowing what your lover is up to online? You wrote that you’d rather love your boyfriend through this by remaining silent about what you found than risk losing him by addressing it, but I’m certain you’ll feel differently down the line. Truth is a quick and sharp knife, but it’s far less painful than the blunt bludgeoning of years of lies.