Dear Jody: Being second best

Q: I've been with my boyfriend "Hal" for seven years. We get along well and enjoy being together. I love him dearly and have adored him since the day that we met. The problem I have with Hal is that I'm second in his life; the number one person in his life, "James," doesn't know about me. James has been with Hal for 20 years. They were lovers in college, and I think they just got used to each other and never bothered to break up. That's my opinion, since he hasn't actually said that. I've come to that conclusion by adding up things that he's said over these past seven years.

Hal lives with James. I see Hal when he has time for me. Hal has to make excuses that he's doing other things or tells James that he is working or going away on vacation. Over my years of being involved with Hal, he has said that he will leave James one day. I've never really pressured him but certainly have encouraged him to do so.

Of course I would like to be number one. Who wouldn't? This past Valentine's Day just did me in. Usually I handle this holiday for lovers quite admirably. Hal gives James his time and me my time. I'm, of course, second on Hal's list for dinner and flowers, which he somewhat makes up for by telling me that I'm number one in his heart.

However, I'm beginning to question his veracity to me being number one in his heart. So, right during our big Valentine's Day dinner - two days after Valentine's Day - I ask him: "If I'm number one in your heart, shouldn't I also be number one in your bed?" (I say "his bed" because we usually meet for our "visits" either in my bed or a purchased bed, i.e. a motel.) He replied that our special dinner is no time to talk about it, so I obediently seal my lips.

Now comes St. Patrick's Day and I'm 100-percent Irish. I ask Hal if I could at least be number one on my ancestral day. He hems and haws and says that he'll check it out. That really ruffles my Irish feathers because I know with whom he is "checking it out." He can't even just out and out commit time to me without all his finagling. Why couldn't he just once say that he will do it because he loves me and that it's a special time for me, and then figure it out without reminding me of James?

Well, he called me this morning and said that he can go out with me for St. Patrick's Day's nighttime celebration. I'm, of course, grateful to be having him then, but my joy is diminished by an eternal state of being number two. My stress around all this might just cause me to get slammed on our St. Patrick's night out.

I've waited seven years to become Hal's one and ONLY. How much longer should I hang on? I would hate to leave and then find out that he was ready to leave James.

The Number Two Blues

A: As an Irishman, I would have hoped you would have spotted the blarney you've been handed for these past seven years. If I were you, I wouldn't count on ever moving up the ladder to the number-one position. And why do you assume that if you got to number one, you'd be the "ONLY" one in Hal's life?

Not having much information about you, I don't know why you'd allow yourself to be part of a covert arrangement like this for seven years. It doesn't say much about your self-respect. I hope you will consider getting into counseling to help yourself out of this situation and figure out why you got into it in the first place.

P.S. Getting "slammed" will undoubtedly bring you a bad hangover - and quite likely more grief - but don't expect anything good from it.

Jody Valley spent 12 years as a clinical social worker. She worked with the LGBT community both as a counselor and a workshop leader in the areas of coming out, self-esteem and relationship issues. Reach Jody at The "Dear Jody" column appears weekly.
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