Maybe you’ve been waiting to hear it for years. Maybe you never in a million years saw it coming. Whatever the circumstances, your friend just came out to you, and it’s a really big deal… for your friend. That’s right, buddy: this isn’t about you.
Still, it can be challenging to come to terms with such a big piece of new information. Your friend is still the same person, but you’re learning for the first time that your understanding of them may have been off base, that may rattle you. It’s totally okay to be unsure what to do next! Just remember that the important thing in this moment is making sure your friend feels loved and supported. Here are six rules for navigating your friend’s coming-out process.
1. Process your feelings about your friend’s news—with someone else. It’s okay to feel the way you feel! Maybe you’re hurt that your friend kept such a big secret for so long, or your anxious over your ability to support your friend. Either way, don’t make it your friend’s problem; however hard this moment may be for you, it’s almost certainly harder for them. Find someone to talk to about your feelings, whether that’s a therapist, a support group, or a friend or family member. Just make sure it’s someone who doesn’t know your newly-out friend—you don’t want to out them to anyone before they’re ready!
2. Don’t be nosy. Sure, you’re probably curious about when and how your friend realized they were different, or whether they have any juicy stories they’ve been keeping under wraps till now, but now isn’t the time to give your friend the third degree. Let them know that you’re there to hear anything they want to tell you, but don’t push them for details they’re not ready to share.
3. Shut up and listen. On the flip side, if your friend does want to talk to you about their feelings or identity, shut up and let them speak! Remember: this is about them, not you. They don’t need to hear your advice or opinions unless they specifically ask for it.
4. Ask them what they want. There are all different kinds of ways to support someone—maybe they need help meeting other people in their new community, or maybe they need a shoulder to cry on, or maybe they just need someone who isn’t going to make them talk about it. If you’re not sure what your friend needs, ask them! If they’re still not sure what they need from you, make sure they know that they can tell you what they need from you (or what they need you not to do) at any time.
5. Use the buddy system. Your friend may want to check out a support group or book club, or they may be trying to figure out how to come out to their parents. Whatever they’re struggling with, you can offer your physical presence as a resource—whether that means staying in the room as they come out to someone important or being their wingperson at a dance night. If that’s not what they need, though, respect that! Don’t invite yourself into situations that they want to handle on their own.
6. Be honest. If you’re genuinely not ready to talk to your friend about their identity without freaking out on them, tell them so. Emphasize your commitment to the friendship, and make sure they understand that your need to process this information on your own is about you, not them—tell them that you need space so that you can come back and show up for them the way they deserve. Ultimately, if you can’t be the kind of friend they need right now, they deserve to know.