Dear Wayne and Wanda,
At the beginning of summer, I started seeing "Pete." We have been friends for years and I've had a crush on him a long time. I never thought it would go anywhere or that he might feel the same, so when things turned romantic with us back in May, I was so happy. The problem is we have kept our relationship a secret, and while I'm ready to go way public with it, Pete simply won't.
He says it's because it might make things weird with our friends; we regularly hang out with the same group of about 10 people, and we've all known each other for years. With the exception of one couple, there hasn't really been dating or even hookups (that I know of) within the group. The one couple that did form is really serious, practically married. Pete thinks if we tell people about us, it will mess up the group dynamics and people will treat us differently.
We got in yet another fight about this the other night because the group's annual Labor Day cabin weekend is coming up, and I told Pete he needed to ask for a private bedroom for us. He refused and said it was "too soon."
Well I stood up for myself. I said I was tired of being treated like a hookup and he needs to respect me and acknowledge our relationship. Pete said he isn't ready for that, and when I said fine, we can stop hanging out, he got teary-eyed and pleaded with me to give him time. He said he feels like he is falling for me and begged me not to give him ultimatums. I feel like two months was time enough, but I've fallen in love with him and don't want to lose him. What can I do?
Meet Pete, a world-class compartmentalizer! He likes order, control, and everything tucked in neat little boxes! He also probably dines off those kiddie plastic plates that have separate areas for food so nothing touches, because ew, when things overlap like that, it's so messy and gross — or so thinks Pete, who no doubt wants everything in his life to stay the same forever and ever. Peter Pan is more like it.
With a friend squad as tight and long-standing as yours, it's unlikely a relationship or breakup with Pete would cause any worse tremors than a temporary period of awkwardness. Guess what? We're all adults, sometimes life is awkward, and it never killed anyone. Clearly the guy is scared, and nervous about his carefully arranged world getting shaken up and going sideways. Tough luck for him. Pete needs to get over it and put his big boy pants on. If he keeps you stuffed in this secret box, the resulting resentment will suffocate your affection and attraction and kill your chance at romance altogether.
Look, I'm not a huge fan of ultimatums, but I'm proud of you for sticking up for yourself and asserting Girlfriend Rights. Pete is more than a fling to you, and from his anguished and panicked reaction to your backing off, I would guess you mean quite a bit to him as well. Tell him you respect him, and that's why he's had all summer to warm to your coming out as a couple. And now it's time to just go for it. There's no reason you have to either wait for Pete's permission, or conversely, make some grand and dramatic announcement. Start by telling one or two of the friends you are close to. Trust me, everyone will know in no time – and in no time at all, it will be the new normal, and hardly a huge deal.
No offense, but either your friend group isn't as tight as you think it is or they're even better at keeping secrets than you and Pete are. Frankly, I'm shocked that no one has noticed, or at least made a sarcastic accusation, that you and Pete have been hooking up.
Two people (especially when one of them is as anxious as Pete) can't sleep together and hide it from their besties for two months. You've had to at least made some slips or given off some subtle tells: a hand grazing a lower back, eyes locking across the bar, someone using "baby" in conversation, you two always "sharing an Uber" after a party.
Seriously guys, even complete strangers can smell new romance and physical chemistry in the air. It's a pungent odor! And real friends know all of your smooth moves, magic tricks, hiding spots and poker faces. So I'd bet the house that someone has a sneaking suspicion that something is going on, has announced that suspicion to others, and that your "secret relationship" is the worst-kept secret in the posse.
And even if your friends are clueless now, they won't be for very long. If you think trying-to-be-sneaky-about-dating friends is pretty awkward and obvious, try being recently-broken-up-from-a-secret-relationship friends! Everyone will feel, and smell, the tension, depression and confusion in the air — also quite pungent.
So, for Pete's sake, tell Pete to grow up and go public with you. It doesn't have to be a big production. Some simple hand-holding, a quick kiss or any basic PDA will suffice. And I'm sure they'll all be very happy for the two of you, if not relieved that you've finally confirmed what they already knew.